Once again, ’tis the season. To be jolly? No, to be shopping. One recent news report included the extraordinary statement that "holiday shopping is no longer discretionary spending." No wonder the month of December can be a source of stress rather than joy for so many of us.
Here are a few suggestions that might help you do your holiday shopping more consciously.
1. Examine your own beliefs about Christmas spending. One way to begin this is to quickly write down answers to the following questions: What do I believe about money and each of the following? Christmas? Presents? Giving? Spending? Receiving? You may uncover some "money scripts" that aren’t necessarily true but that govern your spending. Examples might be "The more money I spend, the more I am showing love" or "I have to buy gifts for everyone in my extended family." This exercise can help you consider whether you might benefit from changing some of your holiday shopping patterns.
2. Take a deliberate look at your expenses and your available income, and then set a spending limit. For couples, it’s a good idea to do this together.
3. If, after examining your budget, you need to cut back on Christmas spending, communicate that to your family members as early as possible.
4. Consider creative ways to limit holiday spending. These might include drawing names instead of getting gifts for everyone, giving homemade gifts, or giving gift certificates for services such as babysitting, snow removal, lawn care, cooking, or housecleaning.
5. Once you’ve decided on your spending limit, do your shopping with cash. Studies show you will probably spend 15% to 30% less than if you use a credit card, and you’ll save yourself that miserable January "credit card hangover."
6. If you must use credit, do so consciously. Use only one card, check the balance often, and keep a running total of your purchases to help you stay within your spending limit.
7. Make a list before you go to the store to reduce impulse buying. If you need gift ideas, browse ads, sale flyers, catalogs, and the Internet before you go shopping.
8. Don’t wait till the last minute. For some people, shopping early means buying gifts in August; for others it means getting to the stores before December 15. However you define it, shop earlier rather than later. Waiting until a few days for Christmas means you have fewer choices, less time, and more stress.
9. Use a system that fits your style, but get organized. Some people plan ahead far enough to pick up gifts throughout the year. Others get everything done in one well-planned shopping trip.
10. As much as possible, avoid "black Friday" and other busy shopping times. Fighting your way through crowds of other shoppers is stressful, and it’s too easy to get caught up in a "gotta have it" frenzy.
11. Look for sales and comparison shop. Do as much of this as possible through phone calls and reading ads instead of running from store to store. A couple of places to consider checking online include www.wow-coupons.com and www.gottadeal.com.
12. Consider planning now for next year. As you do your shopping, keep track of what doesn’t work well. Then think of ways you can do something different next year. Many people buy next year’s ornaments, gift wrap, and cards the week after Christmas when they are bargain priced.
Doing your holiday shopping more consciously can make this time of year truly a season to be jolly instead of stressed. I hope these suggestions help you enjoy giving, receiving, and spending time with those you care about.