It’s hard not to get caught up shopping for wow-factor gift after wow-factor gift when you’ve got kids to spoil during the holidays. But big bills will bring the opposite of joy in the new year! According to a recent Debt.com survey, half of shoppers will need to use credit cards to cover their holiday spending. While it can be hard to course correct your finances this late in the year, there are simple things you can do to prevent overspending without cutting into your holiday cheer.
Know Your Budget
First, you have to create one, of course. Apps like Mint help you manage your cash flow, which makes budgeting for gifts easier come the holidays. Plus, with your financial numbers at your fingertips you can make more informed spending decisions–whether you’re swiping through your list or strolling the store aisles. Many banks and credit unions also offer their own online tools, says Howard Dvorkin, CPA and Chairman of Debt.com. Visit your bank’s website or local branch to take advantage of these free services.
Find the Best Deals
Trae Bodge, Smart Shopping Expert at TrueTrae.com, recommends checking with your favorite retailers regularly to stay on top of what promotions they’re offering. Some retailers (like Target, Best Buy, and Bed Bath & Beyond) offer price matching to help you feel more confident that you’re getting the best price, too.
Technology can help with your spending confidence, too. There are plenty of plug-ins that help you receive price alerts for the best deals, says Dvorkin, who recommends camelcamelcamel for tracking prices specifically on Amazon. Deal sites like Slickdeals.net can also give you visibility into the very best cashback offers and coupons out there, according to Bodge, who says they have millions of deal seekers voting up and vetting deals. “Often these deals can be stacked on top of a retailer sale increasing your savings,” she notes.
Use Up Gift Cards
According to a new CreditCards.com study conducted by YouGov.com, 47 percent of U.S. adults have at least one unused gift card, voucher or store credit lying around. While you can’t use them to buy other gift cards, you can put any unused balances on your own gift cards toward thoughtfully-picked out presents for your loved ones. “Use them now before you lose or forget about them,” recommends Dvorkin.
Earn Cash Back
Sounds ideal, right? But remember, cash is cash, which is different from earning “cash” that you have to redeem at a particular retailer during a particular time frame which, while appealing, leads you to spending more in the long run. Many credit cards offer cash back on eligible purchases, but you have to know your benefits to make smart spending decisions and sometimes these cards carry a higher yearly fee.
For a no-fee alternative, try Rakuten, a cash-back service that pays you back a percentage of what you spend online and in-store at 3,500 retailers when you shop through the app, site, or use the browser extension (The web browser extension also alerts you if you can find a product for less at another site!). Work it into your shopping routine and you’ll receive a paper check in the mail every three months.
Save on Shipping
Many retailers offer free shipping in return for spending a certain amount of money in a single transaction, making it all too easy to get sucked into additional spending just to hit the threshold. To avoid breaking your budget at checkout (or abandoning a perfect gift that’s in your budget before added shipping costs), check your gift list to see if you can purchase presents for multiple friends or family at one retailer at the same time. This definitely takes some pre-planning, but can save you money and time in the long run since it also means fewer shopping sessions and boxes to open and break down upon delivery.
Once the holidays start closing in, Bodge recommends shopping in-store or giving digital gifts so there’s less risk of rush fees–or shipping delays! For busy parents who just can’t find the time to step in-store, curbside pickup is a holiday miracle that saves money and time. The only caution: beware of hidden bag fees!
Gifts get all the talk, and with so much emphasis on the perfect presents it’s no wonder so many parents create debt trying to make the holidays magical for their kids. “I use the holidays to teach my children that the most fun gifts don’t have to break the bank,” says Dvorkin, who gives his own kids coupons for free or low-cost experiences (in addition to merchandise, of course). Shift the conversation to together time and need vs. want as much as you can. When the whole family is looking for things outside of the box to appreciate, there’ll be some money left for the college fund.