It’s that time of year again when we’re all being pressured to bankrupt ourselves so we can prove to people that we care about them enough to shower them in material possessions. I don’t enjoy being so cynical about the holidays, but the fact is there are many among us who really are dreading this time of year for the strain it’s going to put on finances. But it doesn’t have to be this way.
From better spending strategies to smarter gifting, here are ways to save money on gift-shopping this season, whether you’re buying for Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Festivus… or that one friend who just had to be born on New Year’s Day (we get it, Alex; you wanted attention from day one).
Really, the biggest thing you can do is to have a plan. Know what you’re buying before you buy it. Make a budget. Shop just as long as you need to shop and get out of there when you have everything you need. In short, don’t let yourself impulse-buy. As with most spending struggles, a little restraint can go a long way.
But maybe you enjoy holiday shopping and having a strict, rigid plan would take all the fun out of it. In that case, there are some other ideas to implement. They aren’t as foolproof as “JUST FOLLOW THE PLAN,” but you can certainly put them to good use.
Get all the discounts you can. Don’t even think about it, just do it. Everybody shops at least partially online these days, right? Go hit up those websites that compile discounts for every online retailer known to man and enter all the discount codes they can give you. Get on social media and stalk your favorite retailers to find any Facebook- or Twitter-exclusive coupons or deals. Are you shopping in-person? Don’t be afraid to ask if there are some deals you simply don’t know about. At this point some would even advocate “bartering,” or more accurately, “talking to a sales rep and making thinly-veiled threats that you’ll take your business elsewhere if they don’t give you a discount on the spot just because you had the wherewithal to ask.” To this I say: be careful, and for the love of goodness, be nice. Such a move would be very risky, but hey, if it didn’t have a chance of greatly paying off, we wouldn’t be talking about it, now would we?
Other than that, just be smart with how you’re spending. Think of little things like the payment methods. If you’re buying in-person, maybe pay with cash just to be completely certain you not only have the money, but you won’t get saddled with nasty interest rates from your credit card company. Or if you do have the money, maybe do charge that credit card if you have a nice little cashback bonus program on it. Perhaps you can even get a store-specific credit card which may entail automatic discounts. And whatever you do, don’t give into the temptation to buy something for yourself. I can’t vouch for this, but I’m sure somewhere out there on the big wide Internet is a tutorial on how to con your loved ones into buying those frivolous things for you instead.
Once upon a time, on a cold December morn, I was discussing holiday shopping with some passing acquaintances. The topic arose of the cruel irony of how people overspend to maintain the approval of everybody in their lives. One of these acquaintances decided to impart their wisdom upon us…
…and they literally said to just buy gifts for fewer people.
Those of us in earshot at first assumed this was an edgy sort of so-genuinely-literal-that-it-cycles-back-to-being-sarcastic quip. Yeah, sure, you can save money on gifts by buying for fewer people, just like you can save on gas by pushing your car off a cliff. But they meant it. They really thought it was a good move to simply whittle down the list of people you’re buying for and not care about the feelings of those cut out.
But… maybe they’re right? Maybe at some point you need to weed out certain people from your life, and perhaps shafting them on holiday gifts is as good a time as any to do it. Maybe that’s the best path for you, the reader. But quite frankly, I’m not comfortable with such a drastic step at this point in my life. I’m sure many of you also don’t want to just coldly drop people by the wayside during the holidays of all times, and I’m not just assuming that because the integrity of this article depends on that being the case.
Here’s the solution: share and share alike. My acquaintance was half-right in that you really can just buy fewer gifts for fewer people, but the way to go about this isn’t to deprive people of gifts, but to split both the giving and receiving.
Splitting the giving is the easier option. Secret Santa and White Elephant gift exchanges aren’t just for painfully awkward office parties or broke college kids living in group homes, they’re for people who are close enough to each other to know what any other person in that group would like. With these exchanges, everybody gives and receives one gift equally without anybody having to overspend by buying for everybody. If that’s not enough, pull more than one name each. Problem solved.
Now let’s say you’re trying to buy for people with whom you aren’t close enough to easily enter a platonic gift-giving circle. This is where you have to get creative, but it can be done: can you feasibly buy one single present for multiple people?
If you can figure out a present that can be shared and people in your life who would be willing to share it, you may have just found yourself at the gift shop located on Easy Street. You may already be doing this without realizing it. Have you ever been a guest at a wedding and bought one item for both the newlyweds? Can you pull that off again with a not-so-newly married couple? Or an engaged couple, or a dating couple, or maybe even some roommates?
This works especially well with family. Not only will the adults likely not put up a fuss if you jointly buy them something they both would enjoy or some household necessity they can both use. But if you’re really good at gifting, you might be able to get something the whole family can share: maybe a board game, maybe some yard furniture, or maybe just even a shrewdly-picked gift card. A common move is also to buy one present for all the kids in a household. This would be a smart move, but be sure to make it clear that teaching your nieces and nephews how to share is their parents’ problem.
What else can be done? Flip the script and share the purchase of a present so a few of you buy something for one person (or, again, buy for multiple people if you want). You could also share what was once someone else’s: buy secondhand when it’s reasonable to do so, like if you can find something in good condition. Or you can share your skills and trade: make your own presents. What do you do – either for a living or for fun – that you can parlay into a gift? Build a toy, paint a picture, cook some snacks, construct some furniture, write an amazing little story they’ll want to read again and again, or put together a photo album arranged and curated as only an actual college photography major could. Heck, offer to do big favors as gifts for people if they’re things you do at work all the time anyway: fix their car or computer, plant some flowers, tutor them on something, clean up their résumé and try to find them a job, or whatever you already do regularly that might be helpful. Maybe it might be annoying to take your work home with you, but it’s the holidays, and it’s not about what you or I want. It’s about making the other person feel loved, appreciated, and happy and I think we often lose sight of that.
If you want to save money on your holiday shopping, you have plenty of options. You can pull off a holiday season without hurting any feelings, breaking any hearts, or getting any calls from the bank asking if your card was stolen on the basis of self-destructive spending activity.
Do you wanna hear something that’s, well, stupid, but true? The best gift you give anybody this season might just be you giving yourself a sense of financial mastery.
(But I’ll admit, that thing you’re ogling at on Amazon on the next tab over is looking pretty cool, too.)