Gifts are an expression of love and affection. Some people value gifts more than others, but there’s no doubt that our culture is one that encourages gift giving, with advertising targeting us year-around about birthdays, weddings, anniversaries, baby showers and the entire October-through-December holiday season.
With all the pressure to give gifts, it’s easy to get carried away … and to blow your budget. So how do we satisfy our urge to give generously while still maintaining a handle on our finances?
Tip 1: Have a Budget
Many people hear the word “budget” and immediately have a negative reaction. But it’s not about limiting all spending. A budget is simply a plan for your money, which can help you determine ahead of time how much you can spend on things like gifts.
To budget for the holidays more effectively, try putting away a little bit every month so you have a sufficient stash by the time gift-giving season comes around. And by knowing how much you want to spend, you’re less likely to make impulsive and spendy decisions you’ll regret later.
Tip 2: Don’t Buy at the Last Minute
Holidays and birthdays happen predictably every year (no, really!). In fact, most gift-giving occasions either happen regularly or with plenty of notice. Use this to your advantage.
Don’t wait until right before the occasion to think about what you’re going to give. While you may find good Christmas sales around the middle of December, you’ll also feel a lot more pressure to just hurry-up-and-buy-something-so-I-can-finally-be-done-with-this-already! That kind of pressure is not conducive to saving money … or getting a truly special gift.
Instead, look ahead at the whole year and note when you’ll need presents and for whom. Prevent last-minute surprises that translate into stressed out shopping.
By taking the long view, you can also take advantage of great deals whenever you find them. You are sure to make your money go further when you aren’t paying full retail price. So if you’ve been hearing your Mom talk about how she wishes she could take more pictures, go ahead and grab her a highly rated digital camera as soon as it goes on sale.
Hitting the sales ensures you can afford gifts your loved ones will truly appreciate, instead of buying something cheap and impersonal.
Buy in the off-season.
Sometimes the biggest sales come up when you’re least inspired to shop for those items — like space heaters that go on clearance at the end of winter and rain boots that are cheapest during the dry season. However, if you know someone who’ll need a space heater and rain boots next season, why not buy them when they’re on clearance?
Buy registry items early.
If you’re planning on buying off a gift registry, do it early! The more affordable options tend to get snapped up fast. Alternatively, if the only options left are outside of your budget, pick something that’s not on the registry rather than spending triple what you intended.
Tip 3: Avoid Trendy Gifts
The very latest Apple iGadget, the hottest movie-tie-in toy…people line up around the block to get their hands on limited inventory and pay out the nose for the privilege. But is it necessary? Usually the thrill of having the hot new item only lasts a few weeks before there’s some new “hot new item” everyone is lusting after.
Will the thrill of the gift last long enough to justify the premium you’re paying? If not, then buy for long-term enjoyment, not for status.
Tip 4: Give From the Heart, Not the Wallet
The best gifts are not the ones with the heftiest price tag, but the ones that are most thoughtful. Sometimes a thoughtful gift is something the recipient has been eyeing at their favorite store for months or a once-in-a-lifetime experience, and other times it costs nothing but a little bit of time and love.
Even with DIY gifts, it still pays to have a budget, plan ahead, avoid trendy gifts and be thoughtful. Ask yourself if the present you’re planning is a reflection of who your loved one is, what they’ve expressed an interest in, the relationship you have with them and the times you’ve spent together. Did you take time to make, acquire or buy something that has special meaning to them? If so, they’ll surely love it no matter how much you spent.
Tip 5: Be Frugal, Not Cheap
There’s a difference between being frugal and being cheap — and we don’t advise being the latter. We asked frugal mom and smart gift giver, Laura Harders, founder of BeltwayBargainMom.com, her advice on how to avoid being “cheap” with gifts:
Cheap definitely has a more negative connotation than frugal. Going cheap usually involves making gift purchases based mainly on low price, maybe purchasing an item of poor quality or not keeping the gift recipient’s preferences in mind.
Being a frugal gift giver, however, can mean that you keep price in mind but use your savvy shopping skills to land a great deal on a quality item that the gift recipient will actually like.
Being a cheapskate is in especially poor taste when giving gifts; frugality, on the other hand, allows us to do more with what we have. The tips above are designed to help you embrace both your generous and your frugal sides.
So give generously and thoughtfully, without the guilt!
P.s. Studies have shown that giving gifts increases happiness! And not just for the recipient. There are in fact numerous benefits to the gift giver. Thankfully, as we’ve learned, you don’t need to spend a lot to be generous.