Christmas used to feel so far away as a kid. I remember when the time between October and December felt like an eternity. The 25th could not come fast enough. But then I grew up and felt like the time in between was too short. I realized maybe my wallet couldn’t handle Christmas just yet.
I’m sure some of you know the feeling. There simply aren’t enough hours in the day and days in the week. If I barely can manage my time, how can I manage my bank account? Before I know it, December 25th will be pounding on my door.
Don’t get me wrong — Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas — are still my favorite times of the year. I could go for throwing holiday parties, sniffing pine in the air and kissing under the mistletoe all year long. (Okay, to be honest, maybe the mistletoe tradition is kind of outdated.)
But it still doesn’t make up for the fact that it’s a strain on the wallet, especially as a college student. After two years of struggling to make ends meet in December, I devised a plan to help prepare me earlier on.
These certainly aren’t Wall Street-level strategies. They’re actually pretty simple and commonsensical. But don’t be fooled. They work.
Here’s what I did.
5 Easy Ways to Save Money and Avoid Holiday Shopping Stress …
1. I compiled a list of who’s and what’s.
I wrote down everyone I planned to buy gifts for, what I planned to get them and the approximate cost of those items. Using my spiffy undergrad brain, I figured it probably was safer to estimate higher prices than lower! The average American who took part in holiday shopping in 2015 spent $905; 30 percent of Americans spent more than $1,000. My total came to around $800. As a 20-something on a shoestring budget, this was not okay with me. I lowered my budget to about $500.
2. I prioritized.
To lower my costs, I cut out the least important items. “Important” to me meant prioritizing immediate family, but for someone else it might mean prioritizing items by price. This step is also important in case of an emergency. About a month before Christmas in the year I devised this plan, my ‘98 Honda Accord died on me. I needed a new car — stat. Though it didn’t come to that, I would have known which gifts to “eliminate,” had I not been able to afford them.
3. I implemented a fun strategy to save money.
One of my favorite strategies is so simple that I laughed at my friend for even proposing it – until I tried it and saved nearly $400 in six months. I now use this technique all year round. The strategy? Pay in cash, and save your change. If you can’t go card-less then, at the end of the night, log on to your online banking and round up to the nearest dollar on every purchase. Then transfer the remaining change to savings. (If you spent $3.30 on a pack of gum, transfer 70 cents to your savings). To speed it up, add $5 to the change. Now you’re saving $5.70.
4. Start purchasing gifts in advance.
Part of what made holiday shopping so stressful for me was the sheer amount of gifts I had to purchase in one short time frame. What I do now is divide my total shopping cost (from step one) by the number of months in advance I begin my shopping. This year I’m beginning in October, and I plan to spend $600. I’m allotting myself $200 to spend every month until the holiday, and I’m making sure to purchase the most important items first. I also like to search online for any coupon codes I can use.
5. My new tip: Make daily “waste of money” purchases worth something.
Coffee is my vice. Something about rolling through the Starbucks line helps me tackle my tasks. Rather than set an unrealistic goal of “no more coffee ever,” I am going to add a “consequence.” For every coffee purchase, I must save X number of dollars. I’m going to start by transferring $2 every time I make a coffee purchase. Like I said, it’s a new strategy, so we’ll see how it goes. But I figure it certainly won’t hurt. I’ll either save more money or cut back on coffee when I don’t want/can’t afford to transfer. It’s a win-win.
What about you? What simple things are you doing to avoid holiday shopping stress this year?
Taylor Seely is studying at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication. She is passionate about creating resourceful content that helps people. When she isn’t writing, you can find her sweating it out in a hot yoga class or teaching children’s dance classes in Scottsdale. You can connect with Taylor on Twitter and Instagram.