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Holiday Shopping Tips

Holiday shopping can be such a whirlwind that many forget to take the time to stop and think before they shop. Then after the dust has settled they think, “Huh, I didn’t think I spent that much.” Having a set budget and knowing the ins and outs of holiday shopping can be your best defense from a holiday financial hangover.

The Budget

The most helpful step in planning your holiday shopping adventures it so establish a realistic budget based on your current cash flow and financial obligations. You will need to identify your current monthly income and expenses, which will guide your spending for the holiday season. It is important that once you create a budget you stick to it. Here are a few helpful steps for creating your holiday budget:

  • Make a list of who you really want to give gifts
  • Determine your current monthly income and expenses, in order to recognize how much money you will have left over to put towards the holidays. Remember, if you travel for the holidays, or host any parties, these costs should be included in your expenses.
  • Once you make your budget of how much you can spend, allocate that amount to the people on your list. Now that you have your holiday list, be an educated shopper and compare prices. You might be able to save $20, $30 or more if you find the same product online or at another store. You might have to invest some time into shopping, but in the long run it will save you in the wallet.
  • Do not go into the stores unprepared and fall into the trap of impulse buying. Plan your trip and gifts out in advance and stick to your plan


Money Saving Measures

Even with all the budgeting in the world, the holidays can still be financially taxing. You may start out strong, and then the last minute expenses hit you. But there are preventative measures you can take to help avoid this. One of the best ways to watch how much you are spending is to buy gifts with cash whenever possible; do not use credit cards. If you only pay in cash, then when you run out, you run out. Keeping track of how much you are spending is much easier if you have the money physically on hand.

Another important habit is to shop carefully. Make use of sales, coupons, and internet sites, especially those with free shipping. Also, don’t rush to shop. Can you purchase gifts after December 25? Perhaps give gift cards that can be used at the after Christmas sales. You can also see if the store or stores you are shopping at have a layaway program. Layaways allows you to pay a little bit each week, interest free, so by the time you are ready to give the gift it is already paid for.

Gift Cards

If you are buying gift cards, be wary of fees or terms of usage that could erode the value of the gift. Some gift cards lose value if they are not used within a certain time, or have a fee associated with usage. And be sure to ask if the card is valid for online use. While it's not an issue for most retailers, some companies do not allow online use.

And be careful about getting your gift cards from "bulk gift card places" like the grocery store. A common scam is to go into those stores and take (not pay for) a handful or two of the cards, bring them home and copy down the numbers, and then bring them back to the store and put them back on the rack. Then someone will buy them and activate them, allowing the scammer to use the numbers. They get free gifts, and some poor sap gets a card with no (or little) money left on it. So only buy gift cards from the specific places they are for, and only get them right in front of the registers.

In addition, try to stay with companies that will be around after the holidays. Some companies close right at the end of the year and then any gift cards you bought from them and even merchandise you may want to return to them will result in the individual being left out in the cold. Beware of buying a gift card from a company or establishment that may be in financial difficulty. If the business fails, the gift card may become useless.

Return Policies and Warranties

Understand the seller's return policy before you buy a gift. Some sellers charge a restock fee or will only refund the amount of a purchase at the price at time of return, not purchase. These policies could cause your gift to be worth less than you paid.

When buying electronics and the sales person is trying to sell you a warranty, make certain to read the manufacturer's warranty. Although warranties are generally a good idea, it can often take several months for a replacement or repair to go through.

For example . . .

“I purchased a camera from with the store warranty which I was told would replace the camera if anything happened within the two years. After a month it died. The real story was first it had to go through the manufacturer's warranty which was to see if they could fix it. My camera was sent off to who knows where and then three months later I finally got it back. Basically, the warranty from was very misleading and certainly not worth the cost.” – Lisa Baskfield, CPA, Owner and CEO Baskfield and Associates

Online shopping

The rise of online shopping has opened a whole new world of possibilities for taking care of the holiday list. With competitive prices and deals galore, it’s no wonder shoppers are visiting stores less and less. If you are ordering online, make sure you check the total price, cost plus shipping and handling. The price may appear cheaper than buying elsewhere, but shipping and handling can make items more expensive.

You should also make sure to do your research. Not only are there a growing number of sites competing to offer the lowest price, but there are also coupon websites popping up that list current web deals and coupon codes. Independent retailers are even starting to offer specials on Facebook and other social media outlets. One handy tool to try is Google’s “Google Product Search”, which helps you find items for the lowest price.

If you are shopping for people out-of-town, take advantage of online shopping by having it shipped directly to the recipient. But make sure not to wait till the last minute, the slowest shipping method is always the cheapest. You can also save on shipping by ordering from fewer places; often places will offer free shipping once you hit a specified total.

As with shopping in-store: know your limit before you start. It can be very easy to get carried away while shopping online, so have a set limit before you even turn on the computer. And while it may be tempting, do not get caught up in shopping for yourself. It can be easy to find all the little things you need while shopping for others, so instead of blowing your budget on yourself, write them down on your wish list for those shopping for you, or make a note to check back after the holidays for extra steals and deals.

Spread your shopping out throughout the year. If a store has a huge sale in May, there's nothing holding you back from getting something from that sale as a Christmas gift, right? Buying throughout the year will benefit your budget during the Christmas buying crunch time and it'll also take away the stress of needing to buy at the last minute. Sit back and have a cup of coffee while you're watching all of the other "suckers" get their last minute gifts!