Four Steps to a Less Stressful, Less “Debtful” Christmas
By Matt Bell
Christmas can be one of the most joyful times of the year—a chance to spend extended time with family and friends, enjoy special meals, and drink in the sights, sounds, and meaning of the holiday. Unfortunately, it can also be stressful and expensive.
Retailers generate 20 percent of their annual volume from the year-end holidays, and they pull out all the stops to generate that volume. That’s one reason why gift giving is such a common budget buster. Many of us overspend on gifts, and find ourselves overly stressed as we try to make the holiday live up to our lofty expectations. Here are a few ideas for dialing down the stress and expense of Christmas so that we can turn up the volume on the meaning and joy.
1. Be like Santa. Say what you will about old St. Nick, but don’t accuse him of not planning ahead. Every Christmas, he makes a list and even checks it twice. Taking a lesson from his playbook could help us survive the holidays in better financial shape. Make a list of the people you typically buy gifts for and how much you plan to spend on each. Take the total for the year, divide by twelve, and then put that amount into a savings account each month.
2. Be like Scrooge. I’m not suggesting that you take Scrooge-like behavior to the extremes of, well, Scrooge. However, think back to last year’s Christmas. What presents did you get? If you can remember even one or two items you’re doing better than most people. Chances are you can’t remember most of what you’ve received over the years. And here’s the really bad news: neither can the recipients of the gifts you’ve given.
Try to identify at least one person on your list—more, if you can—who might actually welcome this suggestion: “let’s stop exchanging gifts at Christmas.” This isn’t about stinginess; it’s about sanity. You’ll both save time by not having to shop for each other, and you’ll save money. Most of the best Christmas memories are generated just by spending time with the people we love. My guess is there are people in your life that will welcome the suggestion to stop exchanging gifts. Then again, there are some who won’t. For those, read on.
3. Mouse around. When shopping online (certainly less stressful than trying to find a parking place at the mall anytime after Thanksgiving), items are placed in a virtual shopping cart. At checkout time, sites often ask whether you have a promotional code. Just because you don't have one doesn't mean you can't find one. When you're asked for a promotional code, keep that website’s page open while opening a new browser window or a new tab. Then use a search engine and type in the name of the retailer, the word "code," and other terms like "promotional," "discounts," or "coupon." There's a good chance you'll find a code you can use. Or look for codes on sites like currentcodes.com, couponcabin.com, couponmountain.com, mommysavesbig.com.
One other online shopping tactic is to use comparison-shopping sites like pricegrabber.com, shopping.com, and shopzilla.com. After entering the name of the product you’re looking for, the sites will tell you who’s selling it for the best price. A few minutes spent on these sites will help you save money. For example, I looked around for the best price on a Cannon PowerShot SD 1000 digital camera. Best Buy offered it for $199 with free shipping, while Shopping.com found a company offering it for $172.95 with free shipping.
4. Get an earlier start next year. If you insist on store-bought gifts, instead of heading to the nearest mega-store at the crack of dawn the morning after Thanksgiving and then elbowing your way past the crowds clamoring for discounted DVD players, buy gifts throughout the year. Keep your gift list handy and when you find a good sale on an appropriate gift for Aunt Mary, pick it up and set it aside until Christmas. You’re much more likely to find good sales if you do your shopping well before you hear reindeer on the roof.
Here’s wishing you a stress-free, debt-free, merry Christmas.
This article was written by Matt Bell, whose free personal finance eNewsletters (moneypurposejoy.com) are sponsored by Christian Community Credit Union (mycccu.com). Christian Community Credit Union is a financial institution that shares your values and puts your money to work building God’s kingdom. When you place your funds with the Credit Union, you help support hundreds of churches and ministries around the globe.