Have you heard them yet? They are out there already. You won’t hear them a lot yet, but they are there. Often they are in the background, dominated by some other message of “You need this” or “Your kids want that”. But if you listen closely, you will hear them. It’s the twinkling of silver bells, jingle bells, sleigh bells, or whatever else you want to call them. Perhaps the better description is “the harbinger of all shopping madness that precedes the sacred holiday”.
Yes, the Christmas advertisements are already running. They are on the television, in the newspapers. It won’t be long and we will have the same apathetic view of Christmas ads that many of us already have about election ads.
And yet, it seems they work; or else the corporations wouldn’t spend the billions that they do on the silly things. After all, “Black Friday” is called as such because, for many retailers, it is the first time in their fiscal year that they actually operate in the black (or with a positive cash flow). Regardless of your opinions on timing, verbiage, gaudiness, or any other factor of Christmas advertising, we will all most likely end up spending some amount of money on someone over the holidays.
You may be expecting us to advocate that you have that magical Christmas in which you spend absolutely no money on gifts and yet give each person a unique gift that they will absolutely cherish forever. Hey, if you can pull it off, go for it. But playing the numbers, I don’t think that is much of an option for most of us. Instead, all we ask is that you answer the calling of those twinkling silver bells in a more responsible fashion.
If you need a little guidance or perhaps just some inspiration, here are some tips to make sure the ringing of the silver bells doesn’t become a ringing in your ears when you get the bill.
SAVE AHEAD – So this Christmas will be fast upon us. Ideally, you set your Christmas budget last January and have been saving ever since. After all, put aside a mere $50 per week and you could be having an interest-free $2,600 shopping spree for this Christmas. Even if you haven’t been setting money aside, it is never too late to start. Being intentional about it will help you to prioritize your spending and can help shore up some of those spending leaks. Using a credit card and carrying a balance only means you are paying more (sometimes a lot more) for the same item than if you had paid cash.
AVOID THE BAIT – I like to go fishing on occasion. You put a nice, fat, juicy worm on your hook, maybe even dress it up with something flashy, and then throw it out there in front of unsuspecting fish that just can’t resist. Looking for a meal, they quickly become a meal for me. DON’T BECOME A FISH!!! Especially on Black Friday but on other days as well, stores will offer an apparently great deal on one item to get you in the store. Then they hook you and get you to buy everything else on your list at the same time (come on, it’s a convenience thing).
- Know your prices. The higher prices of those other items can quickly outrun your savings on the one item you went in for. Check ads, check on line, and shop around to make sure you are really getting a deal. But remember, traveling 50 miles between stores to save a couple of bucks doesn’t really make sense either.
- Is it really a deal? Even that ‘sale’ item may not be such a good deal. Perhaps they raise the regular retail price or compare the sale price to the suggested retail price rather than what they usually sell it for. Again, look around and make sure it really is a good deal rather than falling for something that is little more than flash.
SHOP YOUR LIST – Get ahead by planning ahead. Before hitting the aisles, put together a list that identifies exactly what you want to get each person. As you put the list together, also write down next to their name how much you want to spend on them. In the left margin of your list, keep a running total of what you plan to spend. Yes, it does add up quickly. When you finally hit the stores, only buy what is on the list. If it’s not there, you don’t buy it. Even if you add it to the list later and go back, make sure you go home to add it to the list. This gives you a cooling off period to evaluate how that purchase fits with your overall budget. Do your budget a favor and avoid the impulse purchase.
GO GREEN, SPEND CASH – If you are spending cash, it means you have probably saved up and we have already talked about that. Spending cash does something else for those on a budget. When using plastic, we don’t even have to hand the card over to the cashier. We just swipe it and put it right back in our wallet seemingly unchanged. With cash however, we have to give it up and physically see that it is not coming back. It is a visual reinforcement that we are giving up our hard-earned money in exchange for stuff.
BUDDY UP – As I started working on my own wish list, I realized my list was dominated by larger items that are beyond the budgets of most people shopping for me. I just struggled to come up with those items that were more affordable (I’ll leave it to you to make the conclusions about how much ‘stuff’ we have). If you find yourself shopping for someone with the same kind of list, buddy up with another shopper. Perhaps go in with your sibling or parent. You will be able to buy the person that larger item that they really want and can share the expense, avoiding the temptation to overspend your budget.
Looking back through each of these ideas, you will see the common theme of awareness. Know how much you have to spend. Know how much you have available to spend. Know how much you have already spent. There is nothing that will ruin the Christmas cheer like getting that credit card bill that is double what you thought you spent. No, no fraud there other than your own mind scamming itself into overspending your budget.
Let’s make sure the only ding-a-ling this holiday season is the ringing of the bells in the Christmas advertisements. Be intentional and have a plan. If you would like help setting a plan, our counselors would love to help you out even before you hit a financial crisis. A little work now can help ensure you aren’t visiting us later for a more traumatic issue. You can find out more about our services on our website.
written by Breck Miller
images courtesy freedigitalphotos.net