Article Index

October 19, 2012

SeasonOfSavings

The holiday season is approaching, and with family gatherings, gift giving, increased travel and holiday splurges it’s an expensive time of year.  We are rolling out a new series of great tips to help you save money this Thanksgiving and Christmas, and yes you should start planning early to achieve the best savings!

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1. Use Cash. You have probably heard/read that “cash is king” many times, but when it comes to saving money on the expensive holiday season, the worst thing to do is pay for it on credit. The fees and interest of credit will only add to the expense, and you are much more likely to spend more than you can afford when using credit. You need to budget and save for this cost year round so that you are prepared and don’t find yourself “in the hole” in January. Debit cards are certainly better than credit cards and more convenient than cash, but beware that even though you can’t spend more than you have (unless you have overdraft) you will likely spend more than you should. Keep the cards at home and bring cash in your wallet when you go shopping. You can’t spend more than you’ve got, and you’ll probably feel the expense of what you’re buying more tangibly when you hand over those $20 bills from your bank account.  Paying with cash will likely save you a lot of money this holiday season.

Family Feasts

turkeyDinnerDo you host the annual turkey dinner for your extended family? There are many ways you can save on the costs of the occasion.

2. Try alternating hosts each year between you, your parents, or your brother/sister so the financial burden doesn’t always fall on you.

3. If you really enjoy being the host, make it a potluck style dinner, where you cook the turkey and your signature stuffing (or whatever your favourite dish is) and ask others to bring the dessert and side dishes. Slow cookers are perfect for keeping mashed potatoes hot, and you can find lots of recipes and tips for potluck dishes ideal for travel.

4. Make sure you plan your meal ahead of time so you can buy your ingredients in advance when they are on sale, and/or you have the time to collect and use coupons. If you know you’ll be making your family’s favourite pumpkin pie again, stock up on pumpkin puree and spices early when the prices are cheaper and there’s still plenty on the store shelf.

Gift Giving

Each year you have a long list of people you will buy gifts for, and probably a loose budget you have in mind for each.

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5. Start by cutting down your list. Do you really need to buy a gift for all the coworkers in your office, your child’s school principal and other acquaintances? No, no you don’t.

  • If there is an expectation of gift exchange with someone you have a less than close relationship with, discuss with them in advance that you are cutting back this year, and maybe suggest going for a “Christmas” coffee together as a way to celebrate the season without breaking the bank.
  • If you feel compelled to give something, consider a simple card with a heartfelt note, and maybe a candy cane attached, people love candy canes.

 6. Find gift alternatives. Now let’s say you have close relationships with a lot of people, such as a large extended family, who you struggle to find gifts for each year, or just buy gift cards in bulk to ease your stress. Again, discuss with them in advance that this year you would love to change things up.

  • Go with the “Secret Santa” approach, where you can focus on getting a thoughtful gift for just one person in the group.
  • Arrange to spend time together with food or an activity in lieu of gifts. How can you fit all this extra bonding time into your busy holiday schedule? Your hours spent shopping for gifts will be cut by a fraction, and your social time should be much more enjoyable and stress-free to boot.
  • Another great idea is to donate to a charity in honor of a family or group of friends. Let them know you care by giving to a deserving and meaningful charity – both sides will appreciate the gesture and it will save you money over the cost of individual gifts. Make sure you consult your gift budget and set your donation at an appropriate amount. You could also combine the bonding activity idea with giving to charity by volunteering your time together, helping at a food bank or soup kitchen for example.

7. Now that your list is down to those closest few in your life who you really want to give gifts to rather than just feel you have to give to, it’s time to cut down that budget. Take a look at last year: you probably thought that about $20 for your sister would suffice and then ended up spending $25-$30 to get her something a bit nicer, plus tax. Or maybe you thought, “She’s my sister, I need to spend at least $100 on her because she means so much to me.”

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  • Give your budget a break and don’t equate the expense of the gift with how much you love the person. A meaningful gift that you found in October for 50% off is much better than paying full price at the last minute or even a full value gift card for the store you bought it from.
  • Don’t think you have to spend your full budget for each person, instead look at it like a challenge to do it for less. When you budget $50 and find a nice gift for $30, give yourself a pat on the back and put the $20 savings on your credit card debt. Don’t add something else worth $20 to the gift, and don’t look at it as overflow to spend on other gifts. The goal is to save money on each person and also save you money overall for the whole holiday season.
  • If you are a bargain hunter, don’t wait for holiday sales as they usually never match the pre-holiday season sales you can find before the shopping fervor begins.
  • If you’re a crafty person, make hand-make gifts and home-made treats, which people love to receive and cost a fraction of retail items.
  • To make your gift budget go further, avoid giving gift cards and money. Find gifts that make more of an impact than just their monetary value, and none will be the wiser but your happy bank account.

8. Shop online. You can easily comparison shop and find great deals without the cost of gas, parking, eating out, and the stress of crowds and time constraints. Many online merchants even offer free shipping when you spend a certain amount, so find sites where you can purchase multiple gifts at once, and give yourself plenty of time for the free shipping option to arrive before the big day. Also make sure the site has a secure server to protect your information, and check out their return policy to make sure you feel safe and comfortable purchasing online. Of course, you will need to charge your credit card to shop online which goes against the #1 rule for saving money this season: use cash. You do not want to be paying interest on your gifts well after they’re given and throw all of your savings out the window. So make sure you have the funds available to pay the bill, and really consider pre-paying on your card so you won’t accidentally spend your money on something else.

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Travel

9. If you have to fly somewhere for the holidays to visit family, make sure you pay less for your ticket. Check online for seat sales, buy your ticket early, and fly mid-week if that’s a possibility. If you’re flying to the States, it may be worth driving to the nearest American airport and flying domestically from there -- look into that option -- you may save hundreds of dollars and get a more direct flight, as is often the case.

10. Save money on gas. You may find yourself driving all over town and nearby towns visiting friends, attending events and doing shopping. Try to plan your trips to consolidate your nearby stops into one trip. Watch the pump prices and fill up when it’s cheap, and consider public transportation if it’s convenient enough and will save money over gas and parking costs.

Extra Costs

xmasMailboxDon't forget about the other costs of the season you may splurge on, and can easily cut out. Custom photo Christmas cards, new dress clothes and shoes for yourself, your husband and kids, seasonal treats and eating and drinking out. Make priorities, treat yourself selectively and don't over-indulge.

11. Save on Christmas cards. If you absolutely love doing Christmas cards, look into making them yourself, buying them on sale, or including your own photo rather than getting a custom-made photo card. Or mail your great Aunt Betty a traditional card and send free or low cost e-cards to your more web-savvy friends and family to save on postage and costs, while still letting them know you're thinking of them.

12. Save on dress clothes. Do you really need a new holiday dress? Yes, then what else can you cut back on? It's easy to find second-hand dress clothes for kids in excellent condition as they were usually worn only once, and at a fraction of the cost of new.

13. Save on eating out. If you know you have a busy week ahead, stock up your fridge and pantry with items for quick and easy meals, or make casseroles or batches of cooked meat to freeze and pull out as needed. A little bit of preparation will go a long way to help you save you the high cost of take-out and restaurant meals.

 

 14. Make a budget and stick to it or beat it. Now that you know where to cut costs and are inspired by all the ways you can save this holiday season, sit down and write out a tangible plan, a budget that you are accountable to and that will challenge you to spend less this year. Make a list or spreadsheet, and assign a value to spend on each person’s gift, each dinner or event, and try to include all the expenses you can think of. Then update the budget every time you spend money, noting how much you spent and how much you saved so you have proof of your efforts. Keep a copy of it with you when you’re shopping and be accountable to it, you will thank yourself later. Remember to think of these numbers as the maximums. This physical budget is very important to keep you on track with your holiday spending and savings.

 

That wraps up our “Season of Savings” series, we hope you have found some helpful ideas, share them with your friends, and most of all have a wonderful holiday season full of love and savings.

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