Making the Holidays Thrifty

December 11, 2008

December 12, 2008 — When it comes to holiday spending, you can be thrifty and sensible without being Scrooge.

Many factors can put a damper on the joys of the season, but taking a realistic approach can help you reduce stress and celebrate in healthier ways, without plunging into debt. The University of Virginia Faculty and Employee Assistance Program has gathered advice from several sources on how to avoid overspending for the holidays without dampening your holiday spirit.

A recent Associated Press poll showed that many health concerns associated with stress have an even stronger relationship to illness in times of  financial worry, Ida Perea, a staff consultant at FEAP, said.  "The challenge often becomes trying to manage your physical and emotional health and your finances at the same time," she said.

Be practical, she advised in FEAP's online newsletter, about how much you spend and use credit cards.

Before you embark on a frenzied shopping trip, consider the tips below.

• Consider setting limits. Suggest to family members that this year you place a ceiling on gift costs, or challenge everyone to make gifts.

• Plan a gift budget. Set the amount that you can afford in advance of shopping. This requires that you make a list of those family members and friends who receive a gift from you. Then set an amount that you would like to spend on each person. Of course, the amount does not have to be the same for everyone.

A list will help you stay on track and not forget someone, as well as help you stay within your means.

For the truly organized shopper, this list can serve the added purpose of becoming a record of your purchases. Next year, it can remind you that you already bought that perfect gift for your sister last year.

• Plan to use cash. We actually tend to be more frugal when we make the decision to part with real dollars from our wallet. When we use credit or debit cards, we often will make more impulse buys as we near the register. Also, using cash will insure that you stay within your pre-planned budget.

Think about it: A bargain is no deal when its cost is added to an existing credit card balance, requiring that you pay for that item and the interest that will accrue over time.

• Layaway is an option again. Some stores have reinstituted layaway plans, which allow you to make payments on your gifts, on a schedule. This is an opportunity to select your gifts early and have the store hold them until you can finish paying for them.

• Shop from home. Purchasing gifts on the Internet is here to stay. We save the cost of driving from store to store and can shop at our convenience. We can compare prices.

Don't forget there are several Web sites that can even provide you with discount codes for an extra savings on your planned purchase.

• Shop when the stores are less crowded. Weekends are the busiest time to shop, particularly earlier in the day. Early-bird specials are a bargain, but only when it's an item already on your list. When at all possible, shop during the afternoon and evening hours. Many shoppers will have left for the day. Not only might you find a great parking spot, but you will also have time to eat a good meal before heading out to battle the crowds. Exhaustion and hunger reduce your ability to stay on task and make wise decisions.

• Give a different kind of gift. Whether you'll be part of a large group or alone much of the time, volunteer for a needy cause or choose to donate to a charity instead of buying expensive gifts.

• Remember your values. The holidays are supposed to be a time for giving, sharing, caring and being with family and friends. They are not about what you buy, the crystal on your dinner table, which parties you attend or whether you drown your kids in toys. True contentment and satisfaction: priceless.

— By Anne Bromley