'Tis the Season for Saving

Having cost-conscious holiday festivities.

As we approach the home stretch of the year, the holidays are in full swing. If you’re like most of us mere mortals, you’re scrambling to finish all of the holiday planning and shopping in the little time remaining before celebrations. Unfortunately, when you’re sprinting from one thing to another, you may not pay close attention to holiday costs. And they add up quickly! Don’t let the mad holiday dash break your bank this year. Keep your holidays happy and financially in check with these simple tips for staying cost conscious throughout the season.

  • Virtually access coupons. Sign up for e-mail newsletters from your favorite retailers and you’ll be surprised how many discounts you will start receiving. Also, register for the newsletter on www.couponcabin.com, which is always chock full of great offers. Keep track of them in your inbox by setting up an e-mail folder such as one labeled “Deals and Coupons.”
  • Brainstorm. It’s not impossible to find heartfelt presents for your loved ones that are on budget. The key to coming up with great gift ideas is to take a minute to walk in the shoes of the person receiving the gift to understand the recipient’s wants and needs. Once you are clear on that, set a budget and brainstorm before you spend a penny on gifts. If you’re stuck, sit down with your family after dinner one night for idea hunting and gathering. Dedicating moments both personally and collectively with your clan to think up gift ideas can save you a mountain of money and sanity down the road.
  • Establish your game plan before you head out to shop. It can be tempting to rush right out and get your shopping done. But you can save yourself time and aggravation by mapping out your shopping before leaving the house. Make a list of each store you need to go to and what items you want to buy in each store. Next put the stores in a logical order, determined by the least steps or driving miles needed for the shopping trip. If possible, make note of where each item is in each store so you’re not riding the escalator upstairs when the item is downstairs. Also call ahead to confirm the store has the item in stock, asking if the item is expected to go on sale. If the sale is occurring when you call, or if the item is in high demand, make that store your first stop. Head to the other stores accordingly.
  • Save money by going online before you shop on foot. Before heading to the mall, browse for gift ideas and find the best deals online. For example, Best Buy may have a video game your nephew really wants, but Target might have a package deal where the same game comes with a second game, which seems perfect for your niece. Now you know where you can get the most for your money, and you have another gift picked out.
  • Shop early and shop late. You will generally find the best deals early in the season and after the season. In my family, we used to ask for one must-have gift for the holidays and then shop the sales for other items after the holidays. This saved my parents a ton of money, and we kids usually got more gifts as a result. Another tip: If you are not seeing a loved one in person, wait to get that person a gift on or just after December 26 when prices plummet.
  • Organize your gift giving online with www.giftelephant.com. This multi-purpose Web site shaves hours off to-do lists. The site tracks the gifts you’ve given, records what you’ve received and can even generate postcards and thank-you notes to send.
  • Stick to your budget with gift cards. Gift cards are an excellent way to remain on budget because you can buy them in specific dollar amounts. They’re also great to receive because people use them to get things they truly want and possibly need. For a personalized take on such a present, package it with an item from the store where the card is good toward. For example, offer soaps from a bath and body store. Or, present the gift card with something like the GiftCard.log from Buttoned Up. Available at www.franklinplanner.com, this wallet stores up to 16 gift cards and tracks their balances and expiration dates. It pairs perfectly with gift cards and comes in handy for all of the cards you’ll probably be receiving this holiday season.