How to choose the right gift for everyone on your list for less
By John Nolasco, MoneyCrashers.com
Americans spent more than $57 billion dollars over the Thanksgiving weekend, and we’re just getting started. Of course, the holidays are a time to relax and enjoy the company of loved ones, but shopping for them can not only put stress on your bank account, it can put it on your relationships as well.
You’ve got to reign in any loose spending tendencies so that your personal finances don’t suffer, but at the same time make sure your friends and family get the gifts you feel they deserve. Unfortunately, these two things are easier said than done. If you want to save cash and pick out the right gifts, you have a bit of homework to do. Follow these tips to get yourself started.
1. Establish your budget
The first step when it comes to holiday spending is to get a budget in place. Allot yourself an exact dollar amount to spend on gifts. Then divide up that sum and assign each recipient on your list an amount. Immediate family members and best friends are likely candidates for more expensive gifts. Once your budget is in place, stick to it like religion. If for some reason you do have to deviate from it for a particular recipient, make cuts from another so that your total balanced budget doesn’t fluctuate. The goal here is to figure out how much money you can afford to spend without incurring credit card debt, and to be disciplined enough to stick to it.
2. Ask your recipients
You’re going to lose some of the element of surprise if you employ this strategy, but you’re also going to save some money. You can guess all you want, but the best way to know what a friend or loved one wants is by asking. Try to get more than one option so you can take advantage of the best discount available. If you’re not comfortable directly asking people what they want, inquire with their friends or family members for some ideas. The more you know, the better your chances of getting the right present and keeping your costs down.
3. Consider giving gifts from the heart
You don’t have to drop a ton of cash in order to give the right gift. A football fan might enjoy a handcrafted scarf to keep warm during the game, and just about anyone is going to treasure a complimentary house cleaning or home-cooked dinner. If family members recently had children, offer to watch the kids for a night or two to give them some much-needed respite. If you like working outside, offer to do some free grass cutting, gardening or snow shoveling after the first snowfall.
4. Take notes
Keep a running list of notes for potential gift ideas throughout the year. Even if you’ve already bought presents for certain people, start next year’s list now — it’s never too early to save money. Always keep your gift radar tuned, especially when spending time with friends and family members, and note any ideas you gather through conversations and experiences. If you own a smartphone, download the AudioNote app and record your notes vocally. This can not only save you money, it can do wonders toward reducing your stress level when it comes time to build your gift list.
5. Use gift cards
Gift cards are great to fall back on when the holidays are bearing down and you’re at something of a loss for ideas. If someone on your list is a fishing enthusiast but you don’t know a reel from a rod, pick up a gift card to Bass Pro Shops. If a family member just had a child but you don’t know exactly what they’re in need of, a gift card to a favorite baby store is sure to be more than welcome.
6. Stack your savings
Now that you’ve chosen the right gift for everyone and they’re all within budget, here’s how to save money on them. If you didn’t get everything you need on Black Friday, keep researching the Internet and retail circulars — specials continue until Christmas. To find great deals on your gifts, sign up for a coupon and discount code website like ShopAtHome.com, which can help you get significant discounts. For the gifts you plan to buy online, ShopAtHome.com can help you receive additional money simply by accessing retail websites through it. Also, remember to get gift receipts for everything you purchase so your recipients have the option to maximize their own savings, as well — that way you’re truly spreading the holiday cheer.
John Nolasco frequently talks about smart spending, deal hunting and frugal living. He lives in Florida with his wife, three children and dog.