Make a budget. Hold a “state of the union” about holiday expenses with your spouse, significant other or anyone with whom you expect to buy gifts this year. It may not be fun, but knowing in advance how much you can spend will alleviate a lot of stress. Make your holiday budget all-inclusive: gifts and holiday cards for everyone on your list, wrapping paper and stamps, decorations, food and drinks for parties and during shopping excursions and whatever else requires a cash outlay during the holiday season. Don’t budget for more money than you have or know you can save by the deadline.
Save now. Like, immediately. There is still a month to go and for anyone paid weekly, that’s five paychecks before Black Friday. Fix a budget now and stash some cash for the big day. Given the magnitude of many holiday discounts, $30 out of each paycheck stretches pretty far. To ensure the savings intended for Black Friday are actually used for that purpose, consider setting up a targeted bank account. Many employers let employees divvy up their take-home pay into multiple accounts.
Save up gift cards. Any cash-like asset can be put toward a holiday shopping budget, so get in the habit of saving up gift cards. Dig out old ones that may still hold a few dollars and take them along when you shop; every little bit helps. Alternatively, search a site such as Gift Card Granny and buy a few unwanted gift cards from a marketplace that sells the plastic at a discount off its underlying value.
Pay with cash. Once you’ve decided on a holiday budget, stick to it. Credit cards are the enemy here — they tempt you to spend now and worry later. Be firm and reject the siren call of credit when hitting the holiday sales. Pay for this year’s goodies with cash, check or debit card so you don’t spend more than you have. Steel yourself to walk away from holiday sales once you’ve hit your holiday budget limit.
Purge to make room for new. Everyone has something to get rid of and there’s still time to try selling it. In some parts of the country it’s still warm enough to host a garage sale. You can also post sale items to Craigslist or with a local buy/sell/trade group on social media. You’ll make room for the flood of new gifts while padding the holiday budget with a spot of extra cash.
Make a list and check it twice. Holiday spending, especially on Black Friday, can easily turn into a cash-flow catastrophe. Seemingly everything is on sale everywhere, luring too many consumers to spend, spend, spend. To help stanch the outflow, make a list of recipients and the amount you’re willing to shell out — and then stick to it. Have a plan of action ready even before the Black Friday ads start rolling out.
Clip and save. No need to go coupon crazy here, but if you spot a coupon for something on your list, use it now. It’s always worthwhile to check some of thebest coupon and deal sites. The same goes for store cash: Investigate the offerings from local merchants. Kohl’s, for example, frequently runs Kohl’s Cash promotions. If you have a similar medium on hand, spend it now on something for the holidays.
Shop early. Once confined to the Friday after Thanksgiving, big discounts are increasingly leaking into the rest of November. Some retailers now offer a few “Black Friday” deals in advance. In the past, Amazon has released deals all week leading up to Black Friday and Walmart has hosted a “Super Saturday” sale in early November featuring Black Friday-like deals. Similar promotions from these and other retailers are likely this year. If an item on your list is advertised for less than your budget allotted, grab it. You’ll get a running start on your shopping and save along the way.
Sign up for alerts. Want to be among the first to glimpse those coveted Black Friday ads? There’s little time for browsing once the crowds descend, so sign up for email lists, “like” retailers on Facebook and follow them on Twitter for an early look-see. Signing up for a Google Alert with the search query “Black Friday” will fill up your inbox with Black Friday ads and related coverage. With all that information at your fingertips, you’ll know which items to target long before Black Friday arrives.
Track your budget. Even if you shop early, be sure to keep your budget up to date. Print out a copy or store it on your smartphone and always carry it with you. Mark down how much you’re spending and where and regularly check your progress against the plan. Accountability goes a long way toward keeping your finances straight during the holiday shopping season.