Every year, you resolve (firmly!) to stick to your holiday budget. And every year, you find yourself being whisked into a marathon of gift-buying. (Sure, it’s a cute cell phone case, but does your sister need another one?) Why does this perfect storm of spontaneity and extravagance arise, and how can you stay on track this season? Our tips will help you wise up to retailers’ sneaky tricks, as well as the roots of your own spendy tendencies, so you can make smart choices — without sacrificing generosity.
1. Scope Out the Extras
When drawing up your list, go beyond gifts. Prep for all the other expenses that are likely to crop up — from travel to greeting cards to parties and (head-slap!) tips for the babysitter, the hairstylist, and others. Shipping alone is a major budget buster: Sending a pair of jeans to your sister in Chicago from Phoenix can cost a sobering $14 at the UPS ground rate. Be a supersmart spender and plug any extras into your handy GH holiday planner.
2. Ready, Set…Go Shopping!
It may sound counterintuitive, but since the start of the recession, the earlier you begin your shopping, the less you’re likely to spend, reported a 2012 survey by the American Research Group. Procrastinators estimated that they spent a wallet-draining $250 more than early birds, so schedule that mall run sooner rather than later.
3. Tie Your Hands
A dazzling dress, a gorgeous picture frame, the cutest throw pillow…you can’t avoid the allure of all the items on display this time of year. But if you want to avoid unwanted splurges, resolve not to touch them. Handling an object sparks possessive feelings, says research in the field of haptics — the science of touch.
One study by researchers at UCLA and the University of Wisconsin-Madison found that holding even an ordinary item like a coffee mug increased people’s desire to buy it — and made them willing to pay as much as 10% more for it. So make “Look, but don’t touch” your mantra.
4. Stop the Momentum
You know how you sometimes buy, say, a sweater for your sister-in-law only to then snap up a scarf and (what the heck!) new earrings, too? A study by Yale and Stanford researchers dubs this the “shopping momentum effect” — buying one thing seems to unleash your inner spendthrift. How might you avoid getting caught in a whirlwind of impulse buys? Take a breather after every purchase, even if you’re shopping online — anything to interrupt that rush of spending!
5. Unsubscribe from E-mail Alerts
It’s fun to get e-mails from favorite retailers about upcoming sales and promotions — but consumers who receive e-mail marketing are reported to spend a whopping 83% more when shopping, industry data show. Your best defense: Unsubscribe from those tempting e-mails…at least until the holidays are safely behind you.
6. Forget Yourself
With big sales around every corner, it’s natural to want to pick up a little something — or two — just for you. In fact, 59% of your fellow Americans reported buying “me” gifts during their holiday shopping last year, according to the National Retail Federation (NRF) — the highest number it has ever reported.
Worse, self-gifters said they’d spent a shocking $140 on average. Given that NRF stats say the typical person budgets a total of $750 for the holidays, that’s almost 20% spent on someone who isn’t even on the list!
Bottom line: Remind yourself that you’ll be receiving gifts from others this season; your budget will thank you.
7. Let the Deals Come to You
You know you could get that Xbox or makeup kit for less, but how do you find a deal when you need one? Just plug the items you want into the website or app of Hukkster — one of the top price-trackers, thanks to its speed and accuracy. While you could wait until the last minute, when huge discounts often emerge, you don’t want to gamble regarding gifts for loved ones. This free service sends you an e-mail or a text alert the minute the price on your chosen item drops so you can snag gifts at 20%, 30%, or even 50% off.
8. Give Well for Le$
It’s a holiday hazard: thinking only a present that costs a bundle can express your sentiments. But challenge yourself to put your creativity to work. Surprise a coworker by framing her favorite Instagram photo. Borrow a neighbor’s car for an “errand,” then return it car-wash clean. Or give your friend a personal coupon or two for a night of babysitting or your famous veggie lasagna.
9. Save on Gift Cards
Given how convenient (and cheap to ship) they are, it’s no wonder these cards are the fastest-growing category of holiday gifts. But they can get expensive. The most common denomination given is $25 — which multiplies quickly. To save, look for holiday deals (many retailers offer bonus gift cards when you purchase a certain dollar amount on them). Online, check Gift Card Granny, a reputable marketplace where you can buy other people’s unwanted like-new gift cards for Kohl’s, CVS, iTunes, and thousands of other merchants at an average of 15% off. Happy holidays, indeed!