We Are Both Right

Our Two Cents: Holiday Shopping on a Tight Budget

holiday shopping on a budget

There's still time to get creative when holiday shopping on a budget. ©Kym McLeod /stock.xchng

Dear Amanda and Suzanne:

I’m already thinking (and fretting) about Christmas shopping for the kids because our budget is tighter than ever this year.

My husband’s been out of work since the summer, so we’re just getting by with the basics. Still, I can’t imagine not being able to make the holidays special for our kids (ages 3, 4 and 7).

Obviously, there will be fewer presents under the tree this year, but I still want all three of them to have a memorable Christmas and at least get some of what is on their wish lists.

Any tips on how to do that on a budget?

–Christmas on a Shoestring

Suzanne: Seeing how far we can stretch a dollar is almost a prerequisite for parenting in this economy, so where Amanda and I leave off, I’m sure our readers will pick up with tips of their own.

For starters, I’ve found that a lot of planning goes a long way. I can say from experience that last minute shopping is what really does me (and my budget) in. This year, I took about ten minutes to brainstorm one day and jot down some ideas and how much each item would cost. I have my target range, and as I’ve been spotting sales and finding coupon matches for additional savings, I’ve been pouncing on the opportunity to cross another thing off the list.

My latest find is the Dora motorized toothbrush I scored as a stocking stuffer for my daughter (while she was sitting in the shopping cart in front of me) when it was on sale and before my coupon expired next week. And even though it’s just a toothbrush, it’s something she’s been wanting and will be excited to get — even though it’s a run-of-the-mill item I would have to buy for her anyway. And that can be another strategy that might work for you. If there’s an outfit or shoes your child really, really wants, maybe you can justify it as a Christmas gift and something that meets a basic need at the same time. This also works with gifts like “A Day with Mom” coupon where each child is promised a special day just with you doing their favorite thing (riding go-karts, ice skating or going to the movies — which means that it does triple duty, first as a Christmas present that doesn’t have to be paid for upfront, secondly as a special treat to look forward to over the winter, and also as a chance to do something that might otherwise not be in the budget).

Another favorite holiday shopping strategy I’ve been on top of this year (and again it requires some advance planning to accumulate items over time) is taking all of the $10 cash coupons that come in the mail from stores like Kohl’s and Bobs, and finding gift items in those stores — basically for free. I love crossing something off my list and writing a budget-friendly $1.97 price tag next to it. Just sign up for e-mails at any of those store’s web sites, and like the Facebook fan pages of shops on your hit list so that you can get deluged with special e-mail sales, coupons, and online codes that you can apply strategically as the holidays approach.

Of course, there’s more to life than shopping. So budget or no budget, the most important thing we can teach our children is the real meaning of the holidays we celebrate. Try to take some time in the weeks leading up to Christmas (or even on the holiday itself if you want to fill the time with something meaningful rather than focusing on what is or isn’t under the tree) and go with the family to a Ronald McDonald House or community center where you can all brighten the day of people who would want nothing more than to feel a little holiday spirit themselves. Have the kids bring a holiday book and read it to younger children or seniors. It might just be the most memorable holiday tradition of all.

Amanda: Suzanne’s got some great tips, some I already employ and some I’m going to have to start doing. Toothbrushes for everyone!

My big thing about shopping, aside from scouring the sales and using coupons is to see where I can get money back. It’s not a lot but it goes a long way, especially during the holiday time when I’m spending more than I normally would (even if it’s a little more). So whenever I use a credit card, I make sure it’s one that gives me cash back in some form. I always shop through sites like Upromise and ebates that give money back on every purchase (the former deposits the money in a 529 account for your kids, the latter sends you a check every quarter).

Keep track of what you spend too. If you shell out $19.99 for product A at store B and then a week later it’s $5 less, head over to their customer service desk and see if they’ll give you an adjustment. And don’t be afraid to ask if a store will honor competitors coupons and prices too.

Many stores now are offering layaway, a program that lets you pay off an item upfront for a small charge — usually around $5. If your child wants a toy that costs $30 and you just don’t have that to spend right now, you can give the store $6 a week for about a month — a lot easier on your weekly budget.

Good luck! I hope the new year brings you happiness and prosperity!

*****************

What are your best tips for holiday shopping on a budget? We’d love to hear your advice, and if there’s an area where you could use double the help, let us know at advice@wearebothright.com.

Note to Santa: Try Online Holiday Shopping, You’ll Like It

I for one will be sleeping soundly through the shopping frenzy this Black Friday, snuggled under my down comforter with visions of the UPS driver in my head.

Maybe once the turkey coma has worn off, I might log on while still in my PJs and browse the sales on the web. But I’m not worried if I don’t get to it then, since there’s always Cyber Monday, and the progressively better deals that pop up as the holidays near. Because for me, online holiday shopping is the civilized and only route to filling my family’s Christmas stockings with cheer.

ugaldew/stock.xchng

I didn’t always feel that way. Up until last year I did most of my Christmas shopping on-site in stores, thinking that the holiday spirit would elude me if I wasn’t inspired by the buzz of the crowd and visual overload of giant ornaments dangling from above. I even fought through the mall-induced hot flashes (or maybe it was the Abercrombie models) that had me convinced I was going through early menopause.

The freestanding Toys”R”Us, Target, and Macy’s near home were my go-to stores. And when it was time to round up the kids’ gifts, my husband and I would drop them off at my parent’s house while we swept through the toy store checking off their lists. Then, we’d hide it all under a tarp in the back of our minivan and smuggle it into the garage, and ultimately the attic.

Now my slippers and a fleece jacket get me in the mood, as I work by the glow of my computer monitor to ferret out deals, combine coupon codes, and track my acquisitions on a Google docs list (triple password-protected and written in French to ward off any eight-year-old hackers that might be lurking).

The best part about online holiday shopping is that I can avoid the now-or-never high-pressured experience of shopping with children in tow. No more long lines with retractable stanchions that are irresistible to three-year-old hands. And forget getting in and out of the car (and carseats) in the cold to go into multiple stores. Instead, I arrive home after work and a pile of brown boxes are waiting at my doorstep. Hurl them up into the attic, and no one (including my husband) is the wiser.

Shopping has definitely become easier (and chock full of new options) with the whole world wide web at my fingertips. Last year, the elusive Yo Gabba Gabba t-shirt and underwear my daughter had to have — only available at Bell’s in Florida — was mine in two clicks. Riding high the same night, I applied an e-mail coupon my husband got from the NBA Store online to score a bunch of online-only deals for the jersey, sneakers, and banner our son had on his wish list. Not to mention the seven-foot Kevin Garnett growth chart I spied on clearance, which turned out to be one of his favorite gifts.

I even discovered the joy of worry-free packaging, where you save a few dollars if you opt for toys shipped in plain brown boxes instead of the packaging you usually see on store shelves. The ultimate bonus: no industrial strength twists ties every two inches along the arms and legs of a doll your two-year-old can’t wait to get her hands on. I don’t know who was more excited on Christmas morning, me or her!

So it’s online holiday shopping for me all the way this year — or as far as free shipping can take me.

What’s your plan for holiday shopping?