'Tis the season to shop, but spending wisely need not dampen the holiday spirit, says Carol Young, Kansas State University Research and Extension financial management specialist.
The key to reducing stress is to shop wisely
"Spending responsibly can actually improve the holiday mood - there's no reason to worry about gift bills after the first of the year," says Young, who offers the following tips to calculate your holiday spending power and shop wisely.
Estimate your funds
To estimate the funds you have available:
1) make a list of everyday expenses, including the must-haves, such as the mortgage payment or rent; utility bills; average grocery bills; car expense, etc.
2) make a list of anticipated expenses such as the cost of food and beverages for holiday get-togethers; gift wrap, cards, mailing expenses, school and office gift exchanges, etc.
3) deduct the must-haves and anticipated extras from the funds available, be it the monthly take home pay, savings earmarked for the holidays or extra cash stashed in the sugar bowl to arrive at a probable gift budget.
Check your list
Make a list of the friends, family and others you would like to remember with a gift.
With the funds available in mind, jot down one or two gift suggestions by each name along with the anticipated cost of the gift.
For a large group, either family or friends, consider drawing names and setting a spending limit.
For parents or grandparents, adult children may want to go together to purchase a larger item or provide a service, such as help with household repairs or yard cleanup.
Check newspaper inserts and advertised prices, but remember that a store may advertise one or two items at a reduced price (loss leaders) to attract shoppers and that not all prices in a store will be reduced. Weigh the time and expense of traveling from store to store versus the potential savings.
Shop with a list and at a time when the stores are less crowded, early or late in the day and/or during the week. Choose reliable retailers who stand behind what they sell and check return (or exchange) policies before buying. Shopping early in the season will afford the best selection while shopping later in the season may result in savings as prices are reduced.
Pay with cash, a debit card or check, rather than running up a balance on your credit card. If using credit, try not to charge more than you can reasonably pay in one to two months.
Ask for a gift receipt in addition to the receipt and carry an envelope with you to organize receipts as you shop. Enclose the gift receipt with the gift card.
If you can, shop after-the-holiday sales for bargain prices on wrapping paper, holiday cards and decorations. And, again, if possible, holiday shoppers should tuck some money into savings each month to fund holiday shopping next year.
Remember it is the thought that counts
A gift need not be expensive to be well liked. Small, but thoughtful gifts usually are appreciated and oftentimes more valuable than a gift found in any store, Young says.
For more information on managing money successfully, shoppers can contact a local or district K-State Research and Extension office or check the K-State financial management website: www.oznet.ksu.edu/financialmanagenent/