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Anyone who knows me or has been following our blog for any length of time knows that I love to find ways to save money. I wouldn't exactly call it a passion, but it's definitely a hobby.
For me, saving money is an issue of stewardship. You see, my husband and I started out our married life in debt. Four kids later and struggling to live off one income, we decided our current lifestyle wasn't working. Don't get me wrong....we didn't live exorbitantly. There were no fancy cars or European vacations. However, we were still living outside of our means and under an uncomfortable load of debt. We simply weren't being good stewards of what God had given us.
Several years of belt-tightening and making hard financial decisions taught us a lot of life lessons and, eventually, we were able to live a debt-free lifestyle.
Probably the biggest lesson we learned through this was how to be intentional with all of our purchases -- from sandwich baggies to vehicles, we have learned to evaluate each purchase, consider whether it is really necessary, shop for the best price, and put it in context of our larger financial goals.
Christmas gift-giving is no exception!
So, here are my 8 Simple Money-Savings Hacks for Debt-Free Christmas Gift Giving.
Make a budget and stick to it.
We use the envelope system for budgeting. (For a simple explanation of the envelope system, see this article on Dave Ramsey's blog.) A certain amount from each paycheck goes into an envelope for Christmas. The money accumulates in the envelope year-round (beginning in January) and we do not tap into the cash for anything other than Christmas presents.
The benefit of this system is that we know exactly how much we have to spend on Christmas and can plan accordingly. Even when purchasing online with a credit card, we are very disciplined to take the money out of the Christmas envelope, deposit it into our checking account, and then pay off that amount from the credit card so that no balance accrues.
Once the money is gone, Christmas spending is over!
I am much more careful and thoughtful with my Christmas purchases when I know I that have a certain dollar amount for each person. And it is much easier to reject all the marketing tricks that retailers begin employing in October to grab more of the consumers' holiday dollars!
If you don't use the envelope system, you could set aside a certain amount from your tax return for the following Christmas. The point is to have a certain dollar amount physically set aside (in an envelope, savings club account, etc) that is designated for Christmas. Commit to only spend that much money, no matter what -- even if you find an "amazing" Black Friday deal that would put you over budget.
This means lists. Even if you aren't a list kind of gal, you need a list. And check it more than twice! Keep lists of people you are buying for, ideas for the kids/spouse, gift wrap items you need (don't forget extra tape!), items needed for DIY gifts, and even special ingredients for holiday baking.
Staying organized helps you avoid last-minutes trips to the store for all those little, but important things you forgot. These trips cost far more than many people realize.
First, they cost you time and gas. Second, studies consistently show that stores use tricks to entice shoppers to spend more money. And it works. How many times have you gone into the store for a loaf of bread and a gallon of milk only to end up buying 5 more things?
Fewer trips to the store mean saving more money.
Having a thorough list and sticking to it has a much bigger advantage, though, and it goes hand-in-hand with sticking to a budget. Making (and using!) a thorough list means more intentional gift giving. You have already considered all the proposed gift ideas for each person on your list, done your "homework" of researching the best price (I usually do this from home in the comfort of my jammies in front of the computer!) and decided on the best option(s) for each person before you even go shopping.
For the kids, I like to consider the ideas they have given me (along with any I have come up with on my own) in the context of
If my child wants a cute and cuddly stuffed animal they saw in the Toys R Us catalog, but previous stuffed animals have just collected dust in his/her bedroom before eventually being donated to a thrift store, then why would I purchase another one? I want to use my dollars wisely and not encourage consumerism in my child.
Now, please let me put this into perspective. The goal here is not to make a huge deal about finding the "perfect" Christmas present or making my child's Christmas "complete" by giving the best gifts possible. The goal is simply stewardship. Remember, we want to use the resources God has granted wisely. It's not about simply buying a set number or gifts or spending a certain amount of money on each child because it's Christmas and that's one of the ways we celebrate. Instead, it's about being thoughtful and intentional all the ways we spend money, including gift giving.
Start planning your Christmas shopping well in advance. This includes the earlier points of making a budget and being organized. Don't wait until a couple of weeks before Christmas to decide how much to spend (ideally, this should be done the previous January when you set up your annual budget) or what you're going to buy for each person.
For the immediate family, keep a running list all year long. Every time someone mentions something they'd really like to have, write it down. A couple of months before Christmas have the kids begin working on their Christmas lists. I usually aim to be done with the majority of my shopping by Thanksgiving so I can enjoy the holidays more.
The earlier you start shopping, the more time you have to shop around (either on the Internet or in physical stores) for the best price, wait for an item to go on sale, look for extra percent-off coupons, etc. Last-minute shoppers get the fewest bargains because they've run out of the time and need the item now, regardless of the price.
Also, some stores will honor price adjustments for previous purchases within so many days. So, for example, if you determine that you've found the best price on an item and purchase it at Kohl's Department Store, and then it goes on sale the following week, they will honor the sale price and give you a refund for the difference! LifeHacker has a complete list of stores that honor price drops.
Never pay full price.
*These links are not paid referral links or endorsements. Sisters with a System does not receive any compensation through these links. These are simply resources we have used in the past to save money.*
As I said before, the benefit of starting early is having more time to find the best bargain. This applies not only to shopping around for the best price, but also looking for discounts.
For online purchases, always check websites like Retail Me Not or Coupon Cabin for a promo code before making a purchase. You can also check the store's website for current coupon codes or printable coupons (for in-store purchases).
Honey is another site I've recently begun using. Simply set up a free account, add Honey to your Chrome extension and it automatically looks for promo codes to add to your cart when you shop online. Although I haven't been using it for long, it has already popped up several times on Amazon with money savings on my purchases!
Buy throughout the year.
One of the benefits of having a Christmas envelope is that the money is available throughout the year if you find a good deal.
I frequently do some Christmas shopping in the Spring at the annual Teach Them Diligently homeschool conference where I'm sure to find good books, Lamplighter Theater audio dramas and other items that are staples in my Christmas gift-giving.
Buy off season.
Budgeting and saving money includes all the extras like gift wrap, bows, gift tags, etc. Those things can really add up!
The absolute best time to purchase gift wrap, trimmings, ornaments, and other seasonal items is right after Christmas when these items are marked down 75 to 90% off! If you have the storage space, this is the perfect time to stock up on these items for next year's gift giving. This includes tins, cellophane baggies, and labels for homemade food gifts.
Also, many times you can find wrapping paper in non-traditional Christmas colors (like purple and green) and patterns that can be used for other gift giving throughout the year. Tara and I usually stock up on wrapping paper for birthdays right after Christmas for just a few bucks!
Buying off season can also apply to gifts. Ornaments, decorations, and other generic gifts can be purchased and put back for gift-giving to neighbors, teachers, the mailman, etc. or as additions to next year's gift baskets.
DIY gifts and giftwrap.
If you don't have the space or desire to store wrapping paper until next year, you can still save money on paper by making your own. The Dollar Tree has plain white paper. Have the kids customize it with paints or stamps (finger-painted hand prints are especially fun for toddlers!). Or, leave it white and tie a colorful ribbon around the package.
You can also make your own gift tags. We have saved cards from previous years and cut out the pictures for DIY gift tags. Or, use "scraps" and embellishments from other crafting projects (scrapbooking, card-making, etc.)
Think outside the box with gift giving.
Gifts don't have to come from a store and be wrapped neatly in a package. Here are some unique ideas:
Did I hear an audible gasp at this suggestion? Okay, I'm going to admit it and on the Internet for all eyes to see: I have bought my children used items as gifts before.
Before you give a shudder of disgust, let me explain. We're not talking about underwear from Goodwill, here! (Um, my apologies to anyone who has ever actually bought underwear from Goodwill.)
When all my kiddos were little (think the 5 and under crowd), I would occasionally find really nice, barely used toys at garage sales. Money was very tight back then, and it occurred to me that I could purchase the item, sanitize it with bleach when we got home, hide it until Christmas or the child's birthday and they would never know or care that it didn't come new from a store. I once found a Fisher Price Little People farm set (barn, animals, farmer, tractor, etc) for a fraction of the cost of a new one.
As the kids got older, we found other gently used items that would be out of our price range if purchased new. For example, we once bought a huge box of Thomas the Train tracks and trains on Craigslist for the same price we'd paid for a new starter set from Toys R Us.
Ebay is another great place to look for secondhand gifts, especially refurbished electronics (iPods, iPhones, etc.). Often you can get these with a warranty, just the same as you would a new product. When deciding if an item should be purchased used vs. new, I will ask myself, is it important that this item be new, or will we get just as much use and enjoyment if we purchase it used? Sometimes, purchasing new really is the better option. For example, if the cost savings of purchasing a used item is minimal or if it significantly extends the life or usability of the item by purchasing new, then we definitely purchase new.
There is also a used bookstore nearby that purchases books for store credit. I have taken in books we no longer want or need and traded them for gently used books to give as gifts. (Most of our American Girl books were purchased this way.)
Not only do we sometimes save money on gift-giving in this way, but it also teaches the kids from a young age that we don't need the latest and greatest of everything. Now, as my teens have income of their own to spend, they have learned to be very careful with it. In fact, many times, their first instincts are to look for it used first. (Except underwear!)
I hope you've found a couple of new ways to save money this Christmas! If you have any new ideas, I would love to hear them.
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