5 ways to stick to your holiday budget
The Smart Cookies teach you how to create (and stick to!) a holiday budget.
The Smart Cookies are five young women that are savvy about spending - they know when to save and when to splurge. And when it comes to the holidays, these ladies know how to save without being Scrooge. So we asked The Cookies to cook up some ideas for how to ensure that this year the 12 days of Christmas don't turn into a $1200 debt, and here's what they shared.
1 Swear to a spending plan (and stay on track)
The Smart Cookies always build a monthly budget - and stick to it! So, when it comes to the holidays, they're duly diligent. "There's so much prep work involved with getting ready for the holidays, it's easy to get carried away," warn The Cookies. "Don't get lost in all the mayhem!" The best way to monitor the mayhem? The Cookies advise to set-up spending alerts, such as payment-due reminders and account-balance updates.
They also say to consider everything - from travel to gifts, to décor to ribbons and wrap, right down to the stamps on greeting and thank you cards. "We love the site moneystrands.com because it is a free online budgeting tool that allows you to create a budget within minutes that will automatically link with your various accounts and cards. It even updates your budget categories automatically as you spend!"
2 DIY with Love
Do-it-yourself gifts are no longer limited to arts and crafts given from children to parents. With craft havens and scrapbook superstores everywhere, you can create a gorgeous gift that's unique, thoughtful and personal, not to mention easy on the budget!
Here are a few ideas for the holidays that get a Smart Cookie stamp of approval:
- The gift of art If your children are pint-size Picassos, frame some of their artwork for family members. You could also use the art to customize a coffee mug for year-round art appreciation.
- The gift of memories Create an online scrapbook or professional album for family and friends. You could choose a particular theme (dig up some old university photos for your old college roommate; compile photos from the last ten years of your uncle's annual parties; or collect images from your niece's baby shower). The Smart Cookies recommend snapfish.com, but scrapblog.com is another great site for digital scrapbooking.
- The gift of food Drum up the recipe for a favourite dish and fill a mason jar, old tin or wicker basket with the ingredients (The Cookies are partial to cookie recipes of course!). Print the recipe neatly - handwritten or typed on the computer - on thick cardstock. Customize it with your monogram or a note "from the kitchen of" - and, to make the recipe last years to come (not to mention, spill proof), laminate it.
3 Shop on the web
"Shopping online is a great way to save time, money and your sanity this season," say The Cookies. In addition to being able to easily shop for promotions and sales, many shops offer shipping discounts - futureshop.com, for example, offers free shipping for orders over $39. Indigo also offers free shipping over $25, and books are 30% less online than in stores. Go to freeshippingcanada.com for an exhaustive list of similar promotions.
Also, use social media for more than just holiday wishes - use it for holiday shopping, too. Follow your favourite stores on Facebook and Twitter, The Cookies recommend. "Many offer coupons and discount codes exclusively through their social media campaigns." It's the best way to stay on top of the sales - and save, save, save!
4 Know the smartest way to pay
"When you're shopping, timing is everything," say the Cookies. Know the anticipated spending trends and time accordingly. "This year, due to the economy, experts are suggesting consumers wait as long as possible to make their purchases. Stores will be less likely to move inventory. "Sellers will start to panic and, as a result, prices will drop," they add.
Many stores, like Sears and Future Shop, have price protection policies, meaning that if the price of an item drops, you can recoup the difference. The Cookies recommend watching the price of a gift for up to fourteen days post-purchase.
Instead of paying with cash or debit, The Smart Cookies pay with credit cards - especially ones that let you earn rewards on your spending. Pay off the balance early and build your credit as a gift to yourself.
5 Save on the wrapping
When we budget for gifts, we don't often account for the price of wrapping paper, the ribbons and bows, accent pieces and cards - it can all easily add another $10 to your gift. And though we agree, presentation is important, The Smart Cookies say that you can wrap wonderfully without making your wallet suffer. Use packing paper instead of wrapping paper, say The Cookies. Large rolls cost as little at $2 and you can bedazzle them yourself with raffia and a sprig of holly or stencils and craft paint. Save on card costs by reusing the front of old Christmas cards - simply cut out the design and glue it to a blank card from a craft store - just make sure the card you're reusing doesn't say something like "best wishes in 2002!"