People tend to accumulate the most credit card debt over the holiday season and it is not difficult to see why. We get caught up in the festive mood. We see things that are “cute”, “cool” and decide to them for our family, friends and and for ourselves. We get enticed by blowout “black friday” sales.
Come January, when the credit card bills arrive, reality sinks in and the bills pile up. Your credit card debt reduction plan took a step backwards!
Below are a few tips to help you navigate your finances through the holiday season.
Set a budget
As basic as this may seem, most people do not have a budget for their chrismas and holiday shopping. Make a list of people who you want to presents for. Start with your family, close friends and then colleagues and other friends. Set a budget for the amount you will spend on each gift.
This is actually quite an exercise, so take your time and plan carefully.
Put some thoughts into your gifts
While it is easy to something “generic” like a gift card, putting some thoughts into your gift will make your receivers happier since they are not getting something that other people have given them.
Think of something that the other person will use and appreciate. Be extra careful when you are ing gifts for your friends’ kids. While the kids may go crazy over a new toy, you will most likely to wasting your money because kids get other toys very quickly. Instead think of something that will last and will be appreciated over time. At least your money will not go to waste.
Ask your loved ones what they want
If you do not know what to get for someone, just ask. Some like surprises, but many are more than happy to tell you. It saves you time, money and effort.
Beware of upsells from stores
Have you ever bought a computer from Best Buy? You will first be told that when you start your new computer, many unnecessary program will load and it takes up a lot of time. These programs are installed by the manufacturer. But Best Buy can remove them for you, for a “low fee of say $30!”. Fact of the matter is that you can call customer support of the manufacturer and ask them to guide you on how to uninstall those programs!. You will also be asked to get a Zone Alarm security suite (which is fine) until they tell you that they will install for you for a fee! (when you can easily do this yourself).
Or have you ever bought a home theatre system? The salesperson will first ask you to get “better cables” and a “dedicated power supply” to enhance your sound and visual experience.
While these add-ons will work, getting sold on them is the easiest way to blow your christmas and holiday budget.
Be disciplined and be aware of these upsells.
Be wary of Extended Warranty
The extended warranty is another upsell technique. Pay $50 more and you will get an extra year of warranty on your new washing machine or computer, plasma tv etc. Rather than paying for these “entended warranty”, check if your credit card offers extended warranty? Many cards these days offer extended warranty for product purchases for up to one additional year after the manufacturers warranty expires. There are some limits to how you can use this feature. For example, for most cards, you have to make a purchase that is within 50 miles of your address. The can only use this feature for up to a certain value and you have to keep the receipts and inform the credit card company after you make your purchase. Read the terms and conditions carefully or call up your credit card company verifty them.
Shop around to get the lowest prices
Doing price comparisons on the internet is so easy these days. Check sites like froogle, pricegrabber etc and try to find good deals. It most definitely pay to spend some time doing online price comparisions.
Check out credit card deals
Chances are that your credit card will be sending you mails and emails with some promotions. Check these out as very often, you can find some great bargains. Many credit card issuers also have their own shopping sites where you can get better deals and earn extra reward points. For example, American Express has shopamex.com, Discover has shopdiscover.com
Send in your rebate forms
I simply dislike having to send back rebate forms. You tend to forget. That is how many businesses make money. A percentage of consumers will always forget to send in their rebate form so companies keep the rebates they were suppose to give. That “great deal” does not look so good if you do not send in the rebate form.
Do it immediately after your shopping trip.
Use any unused gift cards
Another way companies make money is by selling gift cards. Like the rebate forms, a certain percentage of consumers never use gift cards that are given to them. You will probably have some lying around. Use them for you holiday shopping and save some money this way.
Use your credit card reward points if they are to expire
How many reward points do you have in your credit card reward programs? Are they about to expire? If they are, make use of them and exchange them for items on their reward catalog. Some points like the Membership Reward points do not expire, but most other reward points have an expiration date. Check your points and make use of them if they are about to expire. Do not waste them.
Plan for unexpected purchases
Lastly, always plan for the unexpected. Even if you have made the effort to make a realistic shopping budget, chances are that you will always have some unexpected presents you have to , or you really want to give yourself a treat. Make room for that in your budget.
I hope you find these tips helpful.