I know what you are thinking: Christmas and frugal living do not exactly go together. If ever there were a time when even the most ardent savers take a break from the budget, it is the year-end holiday season. Presents for family, friends, and colleagues, mass card mailings, parties, eating out – the list of festive spend frees goes on and on. But it’s only once a year, we reason, and who but a Scrooge would even think of penny pinching at Christmastime?
Well, the problem with this thinking is that Christmas spending has a way of getting out of hand. Think about it. The Christmas buying season traditionally starts with Black Friday and continues unabated for a solid month before Christmas. Throughout that month we receive a steady barrage of advertising from every known medium. Mailings, television, emails, you name it, everyone is tempting you with free shipping and a host of other special deals as you are reminded of that additional gift your spouse or child is longing for. By the time the new year rolls around, we find ourselves facing a new block of debt that we will spend the next three months paying off.
So what’s a poor boy to do? Must we cave in to mindless spending, or is there some way to have a happy holiday without wrecking our goal of financial freedom?
Fear not, there are some solid money saving strategies for this most wonderful time of the year. Consider the following:
First, stay out of the stores – at least for now. Wherever possible, buy your gifts online. This simple practice is fraught with rewards. It saves you time and headaches in traffic and lines. It spares you the need to stroll through 20,000 square feet of display temptations. It eliminates the need for that meal out while “I’m out anyway.” In short, it allows you to make your list, check it twice, and stick to it once and for all.
Depending on where you live, online shopping can also save you sales tax, in addition to travel expense.
What about shipping costs? Not a problem. Amazon ships for free for orders over $25. Omaha Steaks offers free shipping with regular opportunities and so do most of the popular online retailers. The key is to order sufficiently far in advance to avoid the need for expedited shipping.
Speaking of advance shopping, save even more by shopping a year in advance. It’s a forever overlooked secret that the best time to purchase annual holiday staples is the week after Christmas. Just think about it. Have you ever visited a store during those final days of the year? If so, you will see display cases full of Christmas cards marked down by 75%. Same with wrapping paper, lights, and tree ornaments. All of these, of course, are items that are just as effective next year as this. So why would you ever purchase such things during the month before the holiday?
The same strategy can be applied to gifts, although it is a bit trickier. Here, you have to worry about shelf lives, style changes, and the possibility that the recipient might purchase the item over the ensuing year. I find, however, that toys and other children’s gifts can safely be bought a year in advance, particularly since mom and dad tend to be the primary source of large toys and related children’s items.