Totally Her 11/4/08 - Totally Her
Don’t Make Your Budget A Casualty When You Buy Holiday Gifts

Holiday shopping is a lot like paying income taxes: you dread it when it rolls around each year, you know you can’t get out of it, but you put it off as long as possible anyway. Of course, there are some individuals who pay their taxes as soon as they get their W-2; these are also the same individuals who shop for the holidays in August. However, the majority of people can’t quite get it together that quickly when it comes to finding gifts for everyone on their list.

The trouble with this methodology is that it ends up costing you money, says the California Association of Marriage and Family Therapists. They advise shoppers to plan ahead and start early to avoid last minute impulse spending, as well as overspending, to try to please everyone for whom you are shopping. That’s the best way to survive what they call a “financial meltdown” this season.

Here are a few more ideas they offered in a recent press release:

Make a list — Make a list of everyone for whom you are buying a gift, and put a dollar amount next to their names. When you shop, be sure you stick to that pre-determined amount for each person.

Keep it realistic – Tell your kids, family and friends that you’re keeping the costs down when you shop for the holidays and then be sure you follow through. Start saving as soon as possible – Put aside as much as you can each week to help get you through the holiday season. Paying cash will eliminate after-holiday, debt, including those exorbitant finance charges.

Get a head start – Try to finish gift shopping by Thanksgiving at the latest to avoid the holiday rush.

Shop online – Shopping online saves gas and time. Also, many virtual retailers offer special discounts and savings on shipping/handling costs in order to attract shoppers.

DIY — Try giving a home-made gift in stead of a something you bought. This is especially appreciated if the gift is something the recipient can use as part of a hobby or an activity they enjoy, like a basket of gardening tools, or flavored cooking oils. Plan ahead so you aren’t stressed to finish them on time.

Start a family exchange – If buying separate gifts for all the family members is too costly, put everyone’s names in a hat and let each family member choose a person for whom they will buy a gift. Gift exchanges allow each person to buy one special gift so you won’t go broke.

Use a rewards credit card – If you must use a credit card, use a rewards card to get the most out of your dollar. Those holiday purchases can help you earn miles for a cheap or even free vacation later in the future.

Okay, now you have a list, you have your cash, and you’re just itching to get started. But before you have at it, take a couple of minutes to read these tips about where to look for the best dollar stretchers this season. They appear courtesy of bargain shopping expert Karen Hoxmeier of, who divulged them in a recent interview:

Look to apparel for the biggest discounts — Clothing retailers are being hit hard by the poor economy and are discounting the current season’s merchandise earlier than they normally would. They are practically giving away last season’s merchandise. Head to your favorite clothing store and scope out the clearance racks!

Take a trip to the big-box retailer — Mom and Pop shops typically have lower operating costs, making it possible for them to offer better prices. However, big-box stores can offer volume discounts, special financing on big ticket items, and they aren’t as adversely affected by selling clearance items below cost.

Watch your timing — Stores sell clothes a season ahead, that’s why you can never find a pair of sandals in July. Shopping off-season for clothing can save you a ton of money. Buy a winter coat in January and swimsuits in September, when they have been moved to the clearance section. If you want to save money on electronics, waiting is the way to go! Look at the iPhone. The introductory price was $599. Just 3 months later, the price dropped $200. The first plasma TVs were priced over $5,000. Today, you can get one for under $1,000. New technology gets not only gets cheaper with time, but it also gets better. Remember how large the first cell phones were? Enough said!

And what about Black Friday, is going out into the sea of shoppers really worth it? Karen thinks so, if you follow one simple rule, “If you stick to buying only the ‘Door Busters’, Black Friday is a great day to shop! The stores rely on the door busters to get shoppers in the door. Fortunately for them, people tend to buy other things, making the hit they take on the door buster item worth it. Look through the ads, snatch up the bargains and get out!” Make that your mantra this November 28th, and all that braving of crowds will be worth it.