How to save money (and not be a Grinch) this Christmas
While the holiday season is fondly looked upon as a time for building memories with family and friends, we often forget the looming financial hangover from excess spending that lingers many months after the celebratory eggnog.
But lavishing your loved ones at Christmas doesn't have to come at the expense of putting yourself into massive debt, according to financial experts.
Katie Dunsworth of the Smart Cookies, co-author of The Smart Cookies Guide to Making More Dough, has four simple and relatively pain-free suggestions to save this holiday season.
A holiday spending plan
Dunsworth says creating a holiday budget, even a small one, can keep your spending on track.
A rough budget should include anything related to holiday expenditures. This means thinking beyond just the presents under the tree to things you don't normally count in holiday costs, like postage, gift wrap, festive dinners, hostess gifts for holiday parties and the travel to get there.
The Smart Cookies recommend using an online budgeting tool like Moneystrands that can automatically link to your various bank accounts and credit cards. It's an online reminder about how much you're spending before you've run out of money.
"It's minimal effort for maximum output," Dunsworth said,
Set an alert
If you're the kind of person that loses track of your spending, financial experts suggest enlisting someone else to help you.
Online tracking tools help you establish set-spending alerts, such as due date reminders for bills, notifications about any suspicious activity and account balance updates.
Some even send a text message to your phone when you've spent too much.
Dunsworth says spending alerts are an easy way to keep you on track.
"There's so much prep work involved with getting ready for the holiday it's easy to get carried away," she said.
Protect your purchase
These days, timing is everything in shopping, Dunsworth says. With a slumping economy, she says consumers should wait as long as possible to make their holiday purchases in order to get the best deal.
"Stores will be less likely to move inventory. As a result, sellers will start to panic and as a result, prices will drop," Dunsworth said.
Dunsworth says it's a good idea to monitor the price of your purchase for up to 14 days afterwards to make the most of price protection policies. The policies at many stores let customers receive a refund for the difference between the regular price and the discounted price.
In an effort to win your business, some retailers, like The Gap, are automatically refunding their customers' credit cards if the price of a product goes down after they buy it.
Find your hidden cash
The holidays are a great time to cash in on the hidden money you've been saving all year without even knowing it.
Dunsworth says the holidays are the perfect time to convert some of the benefits you've accumulated all year through various points and preferred membership cards.
Air Miles cards, Save-on-More points and Shoppers Optimum benefits are all great places to start looking for benefits you can convert. The points can be used as a discount on goods in the store, or used to purchase luxury goods and presents for family and friends.
Dunsworth says you can find hundreds of extra dollars and it's a great way to maximize the money that you already have.
"People are amazed. They carry these cards and have no idea what they have," she said.
No matter what your strategy for shopping this holiday season, Dunsworth says it's important to get creative to stay out of debt.
"You don't want to think you're depriving yourself, but sometimes that's the reality. The good news is that it just takes a few simple steps to keep out of the red."
Have your say: Does Christmas mean putting yourself into debt? How much do you spend on holiday presents?