Every holiday season, millions of Americans head to the nearest shopping outlet, online or off, to spend hundreds of dollars on gifts for their friends and family. Nearly 3 in 4 Americans shop every Thanksgiving weekend, according to an annual survey by the National Retail Federation (NRF), to score deals on Thanksgiving Day, Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, and Sunday.
In 2017, the NRF found that consumers plan to spend an average of about $967 during the holidays. More than $600 of that will go toward gifts for family, friends, and coworkers, and another $200-plus on holiday-related purchases like food and decorations for parties. Consumers will spend another $141 on non-gift purchases for themselves and their families.
These numbers are up 3.4% over 2016 holiday spending, and we can only imagine it’ll continue to increase. More and more people are starting their holiday shopping early, too, with the shopping season stretching back into October, when 41% of consumers start the holiday hunt. Only the majority of those ages 18 to 24 will wait until November to begin their holiday shopping.
Holiday shopping accounts for a $678 billion industry. What can you do to better prepare yourself this year?
Here are some tips for both spending — and saving — during the holidays.
1. Lists aren’t just for Santa
Make a personal spending budget and write down the names of everyone you plan to buy for, plus how much you want to spend per person. It can be easy to jot down a lot of names, but if you’re looking to spend a specific amount — or keep your inner circle a bit tighter when it comes to gift-giving — it will be important to make a list (and check it twice).
For example, say you want to spend the most money on family members, then friends, then coworkers. Perhaps you’d like to make your coworkers personalized cards or baked goods, or organize a potluck as your celebration for the holidays. While getting lavish gift baskets can make anyone feel special, they’re mostly just a nice gesture during the holidays. Don’t feel obligated to spend money on your coworkers — or your boss, for that matter. No one knows your budget or lifestyle better than you, and that’s a particularly touchy topic whenever you’re working with someone who may make more — or less — money per year than you.
Next, work on your friends list. Perhaps you have an agreement, spoken or unspoken, with some friends that you just don’t buy each other gifts, or you only make purchases on each others’ birthdays. With some friends you may be able to be honest with them if you just don’t think a gift is in the financial cards this year. They should be understanding, and at best they may be grateful that you brought it up first. Perhaps they also are looking to trim their list this year — without any hard feelings. It can be a difficult topic to broach!
Finally, your family often comes first when you think about big purchases during the holidays. If you have children, they’re probably wanting the hottest new tech toy. (A partner may want the adult version of that latest gadget, too.) But if you sit down and make a budget with your family, letting them in on specific amounts that should be spent, you’ll breathe a lot easier once Christmas morning comes.
2. Trim your tree — and your budget
While making your list of gift recipients, you’ll want to be sure to budget a specific amount per person. You may want to do it so it’s not noticeable. Although there’s no need to be embarrassed about financial hardship or wanting to save up, oftentimes people do feel shame. They want to be able to spend the same amount that they spent last year, or spend as much as their friends or coworkers are spending on their family. It is easy to compare yourself to others, and hard to let go of that comparison. But try.
Let’s say your Christmas shopping budget is normally $500 and you want to save $100 this year. You can start by trimming a little bit off of each person’s gift allotment. If you have 10 people to shop for, they won’t notice you spending $10 less this year per person — but you will.
Finally, if you’re planning on traveling for the holidays, see what sort of flights are cheapest and the best time to buy by using a site like Kayak.com. If you are a college student looking to visit home for the holidays, you’ll likely be better off traveling after Thanksgiving but well before Christmas to have an early celebration with family. Or, you can wait until after Christmas to do your holiday travel in January. It could be the difference of a few hundred dollars.
When you delay a Christmas celebration, you also can take advantage of post-holiday sales for a late gift exchange.
3. Go for the deals
Sales and free shipping are two of the top deciding factors of where people will shop around the holidays, according to the NRF. Two-thirds of consumers say they shop on Thanksgiving weekend because the “deals are too good to pass up.” But are they?
If you buy all your holiday gifts in one day — say, Black Friday — you may be overspending on some items. Many local businesses also participate in Small Business Saturday, two days after Thanksgiving, offering possibly more personalized or unique items than you can get off Amazon or a big-box store. And, even if you like to plan, sometimes the best deals are given to those who wait, with last-minute specials right before Christmas. You may wonder if it’s worth it to spend all that time in the store rushing around with other procrastinators. Next time, try scoring deals on heavily discounted sales right after the holidays — timeless gifts that aren’t trending and will still be on your loved one’s wishlist next year, or even next year’s Christmas tree.
A few other tips:
- If you can’t wait, some websites allow you to sign up for alerts on products when they go on sale. Try Slickdeals or others.
- Instead of buying the latest tech, try the refurbished route on last year’s model. Avoid shipping fees and any upsells, like warranty protection, that may not be worth the price.
- If you have a credit card that earns cash back, you can also get a little extra money in your pocket for what holiday gifts you put on it. Just make sure to be responsible and pay off your credit card right away so you don’t accumulate interest.
4. Focus on experiences
You hear this on repeat often this time of year, but it’s worth mentioning in this article: The holidays aren’t just about presents.
You can volunteer your time and talents — such as crafting Christmas cards or knitting sweaters — for a friend or family member as a “gift” to them, or offer to babysit for a neighbor. You can also spend time with family volunteering during the holidays, such as at a local animal shelter or food pantry.
Your family also may want to institute a “no-gift” policy for Christmas or the holidays and simply focus on experiences. Those experiences may cost money, but it’ll involve no unwrapping (or wrapping in the first place), no stress around what gifts to pick out, and no comparing your gifts to what your friends received. Create a new family tradition, like going to the movies on Christmas Day, or choosing a vacation destination for the following year. If you have AAA, you can often save on both movie tickets and trips in addition to preparing for the worst with car and home insurance benefits.
5. Stay realistic
Do you want to host the best holiday dinner with all the trimmings at your house this year? If you have the space for it, and the budget, go for it. If not, then take a step back. Perhaps you can go in with a close neighbor on hosting a joint holiday party and split the cost of food, decorations, and more. Or ask your family members to each bring a side dish instead of leaving all the prepping and cooking up to Grandma.
You also want to have realistic expectations for gifts. If you don’t want to rack up credit card debt, make a pact with yourself to only buy gifts with cash. That’ll reduce any splurging or impulse buys for yourself, too.
You may also be interested in the following personal finance articles: