There are two months left until Christmas. You may feel like you have all the time in the world to sock money away and check everyone off your gift list, but time can fly by in the blink of an eye.
Americans will be spending 5% more this year than last, according to a recent Harris Poll and OpenX, and that money doesn’t grow on trees! It has to come from somewhere – and going into debt for holiday shopping isn’t a smart money move.
Here are some easy steps to ensure you have all the money you’ll need to shop ‘til you drop (and the tools to shop smart) this upcoming holiday season.
1. Get listy.
Make a list – yes, a real list that’s not in your head! List the people you need to buy for and how much you plan to spend per person. Tally the costs to determine your shopping budget. Also, use this list to record gift ideas. (Here are some gift ideas for mom and a list of ideas for dad too.) Be sure to check off names once a gift is purchased. If you use a tool like Evernote or Excel, you can update it year-to-year to see how you’re doing. How efficient are you?
2. Sock it away.
Calculate how much you need to save each week to reach your total gift list tally and, based on your household budget, figure out how much you can spare from your paycheck. Each pay cycle, move that money over to your savings account.
3. Tighten that belt.
If what you take from your paycheck isn’t enough to cover your holiday fund, it’s time to cut back a bit, at least through the holidays. Here are some easy (ish) ones:
- DIY – Think: what are you paying someone else for that you can do yourself? For my husband and me, that’s working in our yard. Sure, we’d rather have someone else do it, but we just saved a couple hundred dollars this past weekend doing it ourselves. Other ideas are your monthly mani/pedi, car wash, house cleaning. Each time you don’t spend that money, add it to your holiday fund.
- Selfish Shopping Moratorium – Stop buying for yourself for a while. Yes, it hurts, but it’s for a good cause.
- Sell It – And if you can’t bear to deny yourself anything, try selling stuff you don’t use on Amazon Marketplace, Craigslist, or eBay.
4. Track prices and spread out your spending.
As you build your gift list, start keeping an eye on prices to determine the best time to pounce. Sites like PriceZombie and CamelCamelCamel track the prices of lots of online retailers, including Amazon! If you start shopping now and check items off slowly, your spending will be spread over a few paychecks – less of a hit than doing it all at once.
5. Pay in cash, if you can.
Or, use your credit card to earn points, but only if you can pay off your statement in full each month. If you can’t anything you’re doing to save money is moot. If it looks like you’re going to have to carry a balance, can I make a suggestion? Perhaps it’s time to look at the holidays a bit differently. Look where you plan to spend the most. Is it on co-workers? Family members? Friends? Why not suggest trying something different this year? If work is the issue, suggest a White Elephant this year. Or if it’s family, maybe the adults draw the name of one adult to buy a gift for and then only buy gifts for the kids? The holidays are great and all, but it’s simply not necessary to go into debt because of them.
This article originally appeared in its original form on Credit.com. It has since been updated.