Twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. It’s a repetitive cycle of familiarity that’s supposed to push us from month-to-month in order to fulfill a calendar year, and that works great, until November.
Once the holiday shopping season is upon us, the understanding we had with the last ten months is thrown askew. Not enough hours, not enough days, not enough time. The moment you start to plan, you’re already behind. Suddenly, the meal that took ten minutes to prepare in June now takes three hours! Instead of welcoming the challenge, you panic. You fight your better instincts, throw caution to the wind and end up relying on the convenience of credit cards and impulse buys. By mid-December your finances are a mess and receipts clutter the floor like a fresh fallen snow. You say next year will be different, you’ll have a plan, and you know what? Because you’re reading this — you will.
NetCredit’s 30 – day holiday survival guide is filled with tips specifically aimed to alleviate the financial stresses of the holidays. No more losing sleep, hours or days. It’s time to win, save and embrace the challenges of the season. End the year right, and start the year better.
Create A Gift List
Here’s a great rule: Not everybody you’ve come in contact with over the past year gets a gift. Create a gift list of family and friends before you start your holiday shopping. Making sure there is a structure of expenditures in place will help you stay focused and keep your finances in check. The moment you begin to deviate from a well-thought-out plan is the moment when your plan fails. Mom gets a gift; the man who fixed your furnace does not.
Compare Prices Online
The gift you want is always cheaper somewhere else. Just a quick online search of the item in question will pull up a wide variety of prices. Information is key to a successful purchase. Find the product and price that fits your budget and purchase accordingly. In fact, most stores usually have a “Price Match” guarantee to ensure your business.
Wait Before You Buy
Saving money means cutting down on impulse buys. By granting yourself a window of self-negotiation between 48 hours to 30 days, you’ll often find that the urge to purchase has passed. Mastering this simple skill of waiting will save you money now and in the future.
In a world where everyone wants to work less, sometimes it can benefit you to work more. Picking up extra hours and staying late works in several ways; overtime often leads to a bigger paycheck and when you’re working a lot, you don’t have as much time to spend money. This is particularly helpful if you’re doing a job you love.
Don’t Buy Coffee
Coffee is essential. Eggnog lattes, candy cane frappuccinos and pumpkin macchiatos are delicious, which basically makes them essential during the holidays. If you can save up to $21 a week, by brewing a regular cup of coffee at home, just think about how much you can save when you make those fancy seasonal drinks at home. Get yourself a good insulated travel mug and whip up this warm holiday delight before heading out. You’ll be thanking yourself in the long run.
Cash If You Got It
There is no need to worry about interest rates and monthly fees when you choose to pay with cash rather than a credit card. After setting your holiday spending budget, decide how much you can safely pay for gifts without compensating the cost from a credit card. In other words, paying with cash today does not mean adding a new bill to your credit card tomorrow.
Install Energy Efficient Light Bulbs
Watch the price of icicles drop! Those nostalgic incandescent bulbs that adorn your roof during the long winter nights, can cost you almost $20 dollars a season to stay lit. By switching to energy efficient LED strands that seasonal price drops to $2! Although they might cost a bit more initially, swapping out your old traditional light bulbs for longer lasting LED lights are a great money in your pocket and chimneys lit.
Install A Programmable Thermostat
Sometimes you’ve got to spend a little to save a lot. A programmable thermostat is another investment worth taking. By setting it to either cool or heat during certain hours, you can formulate a plan that will take advantage of your schedule. This is a great way to make sure money and resources aren’t wasted while you’re out shopping for gifts or traveling to see family.
Host A White Elephant Party
If you’ve never done a White Elephant then you’re in for a treat, because White Elephant parties are awesome! Instead of buying all your friends a gift, you just buy one. Set a price limit to be spent on a wrapped unmarked gift ($10 is a good start) by each attendee. Throw in a potluck option and you’ve got yourself a cheap, easy, fun, festive and memorable night all-in-one.
Set A Limit
No spending limit means no spending rules, and without rules, we have anarchy. The key to a successful holiday season is creating a spending plan and sticking to it. First, formulate a budget that fits your financial needs. Then make a list of those you plan on giving gifts to. Finally, divide accordingly and conquer.
Book Travel Early
Early is better, period. Do not wait until December 23, to book your flight unless you want to see a significant drop in your finances. A “Prime Booking Window” is anywhere between 3 weeks and 3 ½ months.2 If you plan on flying anywhere for the holidays, this should be one of your very first tasks.
Seal-Up Your Home
Sometimes the most tedious chores are the ones that have the biggest payoff. Spend a day evaluating your home and maximizing it for proficient energy use. Sealing up your windows is a great way to keep your thermostat efficient, house comfortable and bills low. No one likes to see energy dollars slip through the cracks, especially when it’s preventable.
Buy In Bulk for the Holidays
Be the host with the most! Whether you’re entertaining family for a weekend or friends for a night, make sure you’ve stocked up on the essentials. Convenient party staples such as disposable flatware, frozen appetizers, trash bags and beverages are all cheaper when bought in bulk. Long term items such as toilet paper, tissues and batteries are not only holiday essentials, they also have some of the biggest warehouse savings.
Use Reward Points
Just about every retailer has some sort of reward program for consumers and it is always in your best interest to take advantage of these perks. Sign-up is usually as simple as giving your email address. By creating a separate email to filter all these programs through, you can quickly access all the coupons, points and perks in one place before you begin to shop.
Black Friday / Cyber Monday
No one likes getting up at 4 a.m. Yes, it may be a hassle, but the deals make it worth it. If you’re willing to brave the crowds there’s definitely savings to be had. If crowds aren’t your forte most stores offer similar deals online as well. Both days offer huge price reductions and free shipping to go along with it. Go out? Stay in? Either way get you’ll uncover big savings — but remember to plan ahead so you don’t over spend.
A Date With Your Receipts
The key to sticking with a well thought out budget, is making sure you track your progress. Take some time to gather the receipts you’ve been saving and sit down once a week for a money date. Review your accounts, update your budget and track your spending against your predetermined budget to stay above financial distress throughout the holidays. Try a budget tracking app or online tool to help you streamline the process.
Get a Sunday paper, make yourself one of those delicious holiday coffee drinks and get to clipping. It’s tedious work that really does payoff. If you can find a store that offers a double coupon day, then that’s the day to go. Don’t be tempted to use a coupon for something you wouldn’t normally purchase just because of the deal. Stick to you spending habits and saving money will be super easy.
Winterize Your Car
Weather and climate changes not only affect you, they can also affect your car. A little bit of car maintenance can go a long way in getting you through the cold months. Replacing cracked or worn windshield wipers, changing over to snow tires and monitoring the oil and coolant levels will not only keep your car running smoothly, but also keep you and your family safe. Properly inflated tires and a clean air filter can improve your gas mileage. But perhaps the best bit of advice is to let your car warm-up before hitting the malls.
Move The Holiday
If you’re going to attempt this, you better do it quick. Talk to your family; see if they’d be open to push any gift-giving holiday get-togethers back a week or two. This will allow you to take advantage of post holiday sales, avoid last minute impulse buys and potentially save money on travel expenses.
So many positives: Save on stamps. No wondering if, “They got my card?” No licking envelopes. No leftovers. They’re environmentally friendly. Digitally, you can get creative with sound and video. The best part is, they’re free!
Reduce cooking costs and time by investing in a crock pot/slow cooker. The holidays are stressful enough without having to worry about cooking a hearty meal at the end of the day. A slow cooker allows you to put all the ingredients in one vessel first thing in the morning and have a completed meal done by the time you get home.
Make Extra, Freeze More
If you’re going to cook, there is no harm in doubling the recipe and freezing another meal for a later date. If you know you have a busy week ahead filled with visitors and parties, it might be worth spending a few extra hours in the kitchen on the weekend and creating a whole week’s worth of food to freeze and reheat during the busy time. Being prepared during the holidays is half the battle.
Negotiate (Lower Interest Rates, Prices, Fees)
Sometimes all you have to do is ask. Call your credit card company and ask for a lower interest rate. If you sign up for a service, ask for fee’s to be waived. If you’re purchasing a big-ticket item try negotiating on a lower price. Most cell phone, Internet, satellite radio and cable companies will forgo sign-up and installation fees just to keep you as a customer. It never hurts to be forthright.
Get Your Furnace Serviced
Efficiency equals savings. Everything runs better when it’s maximizing its potential and your smooth running furnace can save you a ton in heating bills. For a small cost hire a HVAC professional to come out and give your furnace a thorough inspection. An efficiently running furnace can save you as much as 30% on energy bills.3
Clean Out The Closet
When the short’s get packed, winter’s back. The changing of the seasons is a great time to deep clean those closets. If you haven’t worn it in the past few months and don’t foresee a reason to wear it in the next few, maybe it’s time to give it a new home. Reselling old and outdated fashions online, through consignment or donating for a tax deduction, will not only pad your budget for this season’s hottest looks, you’ll, have plenty of room for your new Holiday closet. Speaking of which…
Start one now and you’ll be thanking me next year. What do you do with all the leftover wrapping paper, boxes and unwanted gifts? Instead of throwing them away, pack them away or store into a closet to be used next holiday season. Then before heading out to the stores, check your holiday closet for wrappings, bags and gifts that can be used before you make any purchases. Just because you didn’t like the wicker snowman your aunt gave you last year, doesn’t mean your friend Kate won’t love it this year.
Learn Company Benefits
Take a trip to your HR Department and find out what kind of benefits you have access to. Some companies offer discounts with preferred brands that could save you big on your holiday shopping. Find out how you can maximize your retirement funds or better organize your 401k. January is just around the corner so if you’re thinking about, making any policy changes to your insurance plan, now’s the time to do it. Make sure you’re not overpaying for coverages you wouldn’t normally use.
Take advantage of your local library. When you’re on a budget during the holidays, a trip to the library be a wonderful experience for the whole family. From books, movies, CD’s and digital downloads there are plenty of thing to keep the whole family occupied and together during the cold winter nights. Most libraries even offer free passes to many local sights and museums, which could turn your trip into an adventure! Best of all, it’s free!
Gift Your Services
Unquestionably one of the most thoughtful gifts you can give is your time. If you’re good at something show off your skills by gifting them to another. Create personalized gift certificates showcasing your talents i.e. cooking, landscaping, building, or photography. Assuming you only give gifts to those you truly appreciate, the gift also allows you to spend quality time with some of your favorite people.
Alright, you’ve gifted your service, and your time, now how about your creativity? Bake a pie, put together a gift box full of homemade cookies, sew a scarf or cobble some shoes. If you put in the time, your gift will be appreciated so much more than grabbing a gift on the fly. The only caveat being fruitcake. Don’t bake. Don’t buy. Don’t do fruit cakes — ever.
Give An Hour
Friends, family or neighbors it doesn’t really matter who, but every once in a while, the parents need a night out. Sometimes the best gift you can give is time. Create a coupon or personalized gift card to take the kids. Two hours, four, overnight?! Give the parents a break, they’ve been working overtime during the holidays, they might even use their freedom to nap.