The holidays are coming, and we’re here to urge you not to take on any more credit card debt this year. So make a resolution this year to stay off the plastic, and only spend cash for your holidays. Here's how.
1. Figure out where you went wrong last year. Did you spend too much on gifts? Was your Thanksgiving feast overly elaborate? Did you spend too much on travel? Figure out what your weakest areas are, so you know to keep a handle on them this season.
2. Lock the cards away. The best way to avoid temptation is to keep it well out of reach. So, lock your cards up for the holidays. Make them accessible without being easy to get to: i.e. where some people may take the step of freezing their cards in a block of ice, you should probably just keep them in your sock drawer.
3. Budget, budget, budget. First and foremost: lay out what you need to buy (i.e. gifts, travel expenses, food costs, and so on), and then stick to it. If you can, start saving now: it'll make life a whole lot easier when you hit the mall to buy those gifts. A disciplined budget will go a long way towards keeping costs down, if for no other reason than you know what to spend.
4. Set gift limits. Be reasonable about gifts. It's nice to be generous to your coworkers, but you don't need to spend $20 a pop. Consider getting them something useful, rather than expensive. Similarly, for distant relatives who may be showing up, get them something small, especially if they have to travel. Remember, it really is the thought that counts.
5. Be crafty with crafting. Look carefully at what you plan to spend money on, and consider whether you could make these things at home. For example, instead of buying holiday cards, consider making them by hand. And, of course, there's the old Christmas standby: baking. Everybody appreciates cookies, and simple recipes can be used to make lots of goodies that can be used for presents, stocking stuffers, and other holiday needs.
6. Tis the season for … comparison shopping. There are some gifts that are firmly fixed in your mind: gifts that you know your kids or your parents will love. But you don't have to get them at the mall. In fact, the mall is probably the last place you want to get them. Look online for price comparisons, but be careful of websites that offer deals that look TOO good. It's also the season for scams.
7. The mall is the last resort. The mall may be fun, but it rarely has the best prices on gifts, especially during the holiday season. Try shopping for gifts at discount stores; any place that offers a better price should be on your list. Similarly, standalone stores may offer a better price on a product than a mall store. As a rule, look for the stores that have lower expenses; they'll charge less.
8. Keep an eye on sales. Finally, a use for circulars: keep an eye on prices and sales as the season approaches. But remember to read the fine print on any sale.
It might take some effort, but with a little time and oomph, you'll be able to finish the season without overspending on your credit card. And then you can start preparing for next year!