Holiday spending guide **PRINT ONLY**

Jenna Fracassi

Despite the plentiful joys that come with the holiday season—time with family and friends, a break from school and work, a chance to appreciate various traditions—there is also a lot of financial stress attached to this time of year. Though there is no quick fix to an empty bank account, there are some tips students can follow to save some money around the holidays. 

Be conscious of your budget. Don’t get overwhelmed by the variety of beautifully situated window displays and perfectly packaged gift baskets. Work within your means. Check your bank account(s) before you go shopping, set a tentative budget of how much you can spend holiday shopping and then hold yourself accountable. Start by writing out all the gifts you need to buy, and then set yourself a price range for each gift. From there, you can come up with a “total” amount you have available. There are even apps that help you keep your holiday spending in check. One app, “Spendee,” helps you actually visualize where your money is going.

Agree to spending limits. This goes hand in hand with being budget conscious. Family and friends will understand your situation as a student and won’t be expecting to open up a $100 gift. However, everyone is in a different financial position, and some individuals can afford to buy more expensive gifts. Recognizing that part of the holiday spirit is founded in good company rather than pricey presents, have a conversation with members of your immediate circle and set spending limits. This works both ways—once you agree on a limit, you both must adhere to it to be fair.

Go shopping with a plan. If you walk into a mall during the months of November and December without a plan, you will likely become overwhelmed and end up overspending. So, before you go on your gift-finding quest, make a list (and yes, check it twice). This will be super helpful once you enter into a crowded shopping complex. If you know what you want to buy and don’t buy on impulse, you will find better deals and leave with extra money in your pocket.

Start early. Don’t postpone your shopping until the week before your respective gift exchange. That is a recipe for disaster for more than one reason. First, all your spending will be done in a very short amount of time, and that can make a huge dent on your bank account. If you charge your purchases, you’ll end up having to pay them off all at once. This can lead to late payments and consequently hurt your overall credit score. Likewise, when you are in a crunch to get gifts ASAP, there is no time to find the best deal. This leads to picking up the first thing you see, rather than having an opportunity to compare prices. 

Do some investigative work. Don’t go in blind. There are tons of ways to find out when and where sales are happening. Take advantage of this. One way to do this is by simply calling a store or visiting its website. Another great option is using the “RetailMeNot” app, which provides shopping deals, cash-back deals, coupons and discounts. They categorize their deals as “online” and “in store” so you can best navigate where you’ll save the most money. You can also search stores to see the sales they are offering. 

As many people don’t like to get into “shopping mode” until after Thanksgiving, a good time to shop is the weekend following the holiday, which includes the unanimous discount days Black Friday and Cyber Monday. If you do it right and follow some basic rules, shopping on these days will pay off big time.

Be ready to buy. This can’t be overemphasized: Going into these days not knowing what to check off your gift list is a bad idea. There are so many sales it will be nearly impossible to navigate all of them. As shoppers everywhere take advantage of these same sales, the items always go extremely fast. You need to act quickly if you want to get your hands on a holiday bargain. This isn’t the time to be picky and compare prices.

Track deals early. Many retailers actually promote their deals in advance via social media posts or emails. Though it can get annoying to receive retail e-newsletters, signing up for them prior to the weekend shopping extravaganza might possibly pay off (literally) this holiday season. 

Have a prepared list. This can be the same as your all-inclusive gift list, provided you are planning to buy all your gifts during these two days. If not, make a separate list that includes only the gifts you plan to buy. If you can, divide the gifts into categories based on if you plan to shop in store or online. Some people prefer to only take on either Friday or Monday, but there are also those brave enough to face both.

Factor in shipping costs. When online shopping, people often get caught up in a million different deals. It’s easy to find a good deal on 10 sites, but you need to factor in shipping costs. For this reason, it often makes the most sense to consolidate shopping to one or two sites. This way, you are only getting charged the fee to ship once, rather than a handful of times. Many sites will offer free shipping on Cyber Monday, so look out for that, too.