[Estimated time to read: 4.5 minutes]
‘Tis the season to be jolly. Right?
It has officially begun.
While kids count the days until Christmas morning, hanging their stockings by fireplaces and making their wish lists, some adults count the days until Christmas and groan at the thought of terrible traffic, crowded shopping centres, and of course, the expense.
Naturally, your financial hangover after the Christmas season will depend on your spending.
But these nine holiday shopping hacks might just save you a financial headache after the merriment has subsided. While they may not seem like anything new (and perhaps even a little obvious), we think it's worth highlighting them, especially for those who are less organised and for whom the panic is setting in...
- Set a reasonable budget. Most shoppers get lost in the excitement of the season and swipe their plastic to their hearts’ content. This is especially true during Black Friday and holiday sales, when people are lured into buying goods just because they are a bit cheaper. To save you the pain of having to deal with a colossal New Year’s debt, set a budget and follow it. Christmas is one day - don't ruin the whole of the next year for it.
- Book travel tickets early. We hope you have already done this?! As expats, we often face the choice of where to spend Christmas - something we referred to in an earlier blog as a First World Problem. If you do plan on making the journey home to see family and friends, make sure you book your tickets at least 12 weeks before (I forgot this year, but seeing the difference in price, I doubt I will again!). Set a reminder in your phone if you are likely to forget. Incidentally, it can sometimes work out cheaper to book a one-way ticket and then a return ticket for your journey back. You can always change the dates later on, and usually relatively cheaply.
- Make a list (and check it twice). Before joining the crowds of Christmas shoppers, it is best to set your priorities right and make a list of items you need to buy, or people you need to buy gifts for, as well as your budget for each individual. This will keep your shopping organised and will hopefully put a halt on unnecessary splurging.
- Give charity gifts. It can be easy to waste cash on tat. Why not make a real difference this year and buy someone a charity gift (where the money goes to a good cause), which could include school supplies or even a goat.
- Use IOUs. It's often heartbreaking to see Christmas presents in the January sales. If you are considering a big ticket purchase for someone, like a games console, why not wait - giving your loved one a homemade 'IOU'. With the extra you will save, you can probably buy them a little something extra too. Win win.
- Use voucher codes. When placing orders online, spend five minutes before you check-out looking up any potential voucher codes for that store. Enter the code and wham, you could get huge savings you didn't even know existed.
- Need to borrow? Then get a 0% card. It's far better to budget, but there are some who may need to borrow. Look for the longest 0% spending cards, but always plan repayments to clear well before next Christmas, and definitely before the 0% ends, as the hike in APR will be shocking. If you can’t get 0% and it was your only option, frankly, don't buy presents. Just enjoy time with family and friends and focus on a financially good new year.
- Be creative and make your own gifts. If you still haven’t recovered from last year’s Christmas debt, it is probably best to rethink your gift-giving strategy. Hand-crafted gifts are good alternatives. Aside from the obvious personal touch, the cost is usually much less.
- Shop ahead. OK, so it's probably too late for it this year, but why not plan to do this for next Christmas? One of the reasons Christmas shoppers spend a lot during the season is because they always shop at the last minute, or keep waiting for great deals until it is just two weeks before Christmas. If you have a long list of people to buy gifts for, it is probably best to start shopping as early as September. This way, the weight of spending will be more balanced. It’s not just about getting better deals - it’s also about managing your cashflow so you spread the burden of all that buying across several months’ pay cheques.
The excitement of the Christmas season can definitely take you off course when it comes to saving. And as an expat, you're probably looking forward to seeing family and want to shower them with gifts.
But remember, come January when the credit card bill arrives, you could be set back financially for several months.
And then there is that wedding in April....
It's the bad financial habits that prevent us from being truly financially-fit. Christmas is therefore a great time to remind yourself of your financial goals and how you can achieve them. But a reminder is simply not enough. Commitment, as ever, is key.
Why not download our new ebook below on 'Five offshore investing books to make you rich' and learn from some of the greatest investors of all time. Their books may even make the perfect Christmas gift for a friend.
Got any more hacks we didn't mention? Leave them in the comments below.
Editor's Note: This post was originally published in December 2014 and has been updated.
Image credit: Skippyjon