With the holiday season in full swing, many of our readers are facing hard decisions about spending, where to buy gifts, managing debt, and finding the time to do so. We’ve put together a guide to help you win Black Friday and Cyber Monday
Before You Start: Set Expectations
Now is the perfect time to discuss your holiday plans with the friends and family you frequently exchange gifts with. (many may not have even started shopping). This is the best time to discuss eliminating presents, setting maximum values, and setting expectations.
This can be an uncomfortable conversation to initiate, but many people are open to the idea of cutting back or agreeing on limits but have never brought it up for fear of upsetting others. If you find the holidays challenging, odds are good that some of your friends and family do as well.
It is also acceptable to not participate in holiday gift exchanges if you are deeply struggling. It is far better to send an uncomfortable message than to find yourself paying 20% or more in interest due to credit card debt. If anyone is upset, try to communicate your situation honestly and never let anyone guilt you into debt. Do you really want to be one of the 54% of Americans taking more than a month to pay off an average of $1,054 of credit card debt?
Setting a Budget
Before searching for deals, it helps to understand how much you can afford to spend! Here are some steps to follow:
1. How much debt do you have?
Looking at debt isn’t fun, but it is 100% necessary. Before you think about anything else, determine how much you owe- particularly on credit cards and high interest loans (>12%). If you owe more in credit card debt, payday loans, or similar debt than you expect to pay off in 1-2 months, we advise you to reconsider exchanging purchased gifts this holiday season- getting yourself out of high-interest debt is important to your long-term financial health.
Also consider your long-term debt obligations- what is your monthly payment for student loans, mortgages, auto loans, etc?
2. How much income will you have in the next few months?
Low or no debt? Time to estimate how much you will earn! If you earn a salary, look at your pay stubs or bank account and use that to estimate your income during the season. If you are paid hourly or on contract, this will be more challenging. Look at how much you earned during the last holiday season, what you expect your schedule to be like, and focus on your low estimates.
3. What is your baseline spending?
Once you have a (conservative) estimate of your holiday income, you ought to calculate what you have to spend on essentials. These include things like rent, utilities, groceries, insurance, loan payments, transportation, and other recurring expenses. If you don’t have a budget already, take an hour to check your bills and use this worksheet for inspiration
4. How much can you afford spend?
Once you know your income and your baseline spending, it is easy to figure out how much you can spend!
To find that number all you have to do is subtract baseline spending from income: (Expected Income) – (Baseline Spending) = Total Budget
We suggest reducing that budget by about 10%, just to account for any forgotten expenses or unexpected emergencies.
If you plan to use Black Friday & Cyber Monday to purchase gifts for the holidays, you can record a list of all friends, family members, and co-workers who you plan to buy for this holiday. Assign a gift amount for each of them- the total of these amounts should be less than or equal to your gift budget.
(Total Holiday Budget) <= (Non-Gift Holiday Costs) + (Gifts)
If the total cost of gifts and non-gift holiday costs is greater than your Total Holiday Budget, you need to tweak your numbers and find places to reduce your holiday spending!
Make Sure You’re Getting Deals
Why spend more than you have to? Every dollar saved can be used to pay off debt, use for gifts, or be put into savings. You have to be careful, because sometimes "deals" aren't really deals on Black Friday and Cyber Monday. Here are some tools and places to look:
Price and Deal Tracking Tools
Have you ever wondered if the “sale” on an item is actually really a sale? Price and deal tracking services can help you know if there a better time and place to purchase an item.
Keepa is ideal for Amazon shoppers, tracking the pricing on over 600 million products. You can look up a specific product, view a detailed graph of historic pricing, and even install a browser extension. Keepa is also allows you to set price drop and availability alerts for specific items.
CamelCamelCamel is very similar to Keepa, but is focused primarily on the US Amazon store. With a simpler interface, CamelCamelCamel may be less daunting than Keepa for some users.
TechBargains updates their site with deals, sales and coupons with a team constantly curating the site. Even though the site name says “Tech,” many other types of products are covered.
Coupons & Promo Codes
Even in the digital era, coupons still offer excellent savings opportunities. Check your local newspaper, retailer ads, and websites for coupons and promo codes. There are also many sites online offering collections of digital coupons!
RetailMeNot is an industry giant in couponing and deals. You can search almost any brand or retailer to find online codes and in-store coupons.
Groupon is also well known. Like RetailMeNot, it offers online discounts and coupons. Groupon goes a step further by using geographic location to find the “best” deals in that area.
Honey is a browser extension that compiles online promo codes and applies them automatically at the checkout on retailer websites. While Honey is free for users, it does collect a small commission from some merchants.
Have a list of interest items going in and stick to it.
Remember that “savings” from sales aren’t really savings if you weren’t already planning on buying an item. It can be easy to see an interesting product that you can picture yourself owning with a seemingly good price and add it to your cart without thinking. This is what retailers like Amazon count on: impulse purchases. When the item arrives in 1-2 shipping days, you may have some buyer’s remorse.
The good news is that you can avoid this by keeping a shopping list of items you normally buy or have been looking for a good deal on (household items you often buy at the grocery store, a new tablecloth because your old one is showing its age, a replacement for your dying toaster, etc.). Using this list you can have the best of both worlds: great deals and planned for purchases.
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