4 Strategies to help you save money this holiday season
One thing to remember before reading this blog or any other money-saving, money-making, Christmas budget tips on the internet is that, there is no way of generating cash out of thin air without some form of time or effort. Also, if something seems too good of a deal to be true, it probably is. Time and effort makes money and saves money.
Even a winning lotto ticket required effort to be purchased, and cash spent to get it.
Here are some of my tips to keep your bank account happier this Christmas, whether new ideas, or reminders for the holiday season and translatable all year-round.
It’s the thought that counts:
Something that is very quickly forgotten especially around the holiday period is that it is the thought that counts, and often the best gifts are those which are hand-made or thoughtful but don’t cost much. Often a really thoughtful and personal message in a card that highlights the receivers positive traits or recalls a particularly special memory is really what people want. This is what celebrations are for, the opportunity to express your love and appreciation to that person.
Giving gifts has really transformed from a show of love and appreciation into a social standard or a must-do act, which is helping retailers really rake it in, and the rest of us feel wrung out for spare cash for the sake of feeling like we just had to! Recently I have had to reset my mindset on gift-giving, and it is hard when surrounded by the modern stigma of it not being socially acceptable not to buy everyone you know a gift of a certain monetary value. Gift giving for me is showing love and appreciation for people who are particularly special to me, and only if I have something in mind or have found something that reflects my appreciation and love.
Yes, sometimes I feel a bit stingy, but it’s either that, or worrying about making the next set of bills or repayments, or not having funds in my emergency account, not being able to do something for my mental or physical health, or put money into my savings account to reach my next goal.
For some of my most recent milestones, I recall a couple of particularly emotive and thoughtful cards more easily than I can recall the gift. I can’t remember who bought me the $12 or $50 bottle of Sauvignon Blanc, but I can recall receiving my favourite cheese and crackers (both cost under $10) and when I was surprised with a $4 Woolworths mud cake with candles and a sing-song. If you’re a gifted knitter or sewer, for example, knit a scarf, bed socks, or a lap rug if you have the time. Sew a tea towel or restore a garment from the op shop with fringe, lace edging or decals to personalise it for the receiver.
Other ideas include hand-made gifts including those of the edible kind. For that special someone that has everything, bake them a cake. A cake nowadays doesn’t have to mean sugar and carbs, but there are now boundless recipes online for healthier options that taste great too. With cake mixes costing as low as $0.75 from both Coles and Woolworths, and only requiring a couple of extra pantry-staples, one can prepare a gift for only a few dollars (including electricity, water for washing up, etc) that is unique, and in my opinion, all it takes is a little effort to get out and make a mess in the kitchen.
Presentation is also imperative in making an inexpensive gift appear more expensive (not that you should feel like you have to!) but also shows the thought and effort exerted to make it special. If you have a variety of small gifts for the one person, you can assemble them in a hamper-like display to look more luxurious and in many cases “bigger”.
Do your research and minimise the “that’ll do” gifts:
First off, as I touched on earlier you shouldn’t feel obliged nor pressured to purchase presents for those whom you don’t know well enough to have a few ideas for. However, we all have those loved ones each year that are tricky to purchase for, or we have already used up our great ideas on in the past. We have all had that instance when out shopping, grabbing something we see and thinking “that’ll do, now I can tick them off the list”. Was it purchased with thought? Do they want or need this, or will it end up gathering dust or in the bin? Is it good quality? will it last? Was it a good price?
I wouldn’t want someone to waste their money on me for something that will just end up in my bin.
Be observant leading up to Christmas and ask questions to see if you can pick up on cues of things this person may want or need, or not be aware they want or need. Remember the time someone bought them flowers and they didn’t have the right vase to fit them? Do they sit in the dark and study under the light of their laptop at night and need a lamp? Or does your coffee-addicted friend need a thermos to fit their morning coffee in?
We have all had those wrapper-filling gifts that we didn’t want or need, that after a lackluster thank you ended up in the spare room and months later in the bin. Just as we find it’s a waste receiving them (and sometimes, offensively obvious it was just purchased for the sake of it), we need to minimise giving them. It is OK not to purchase everyone a gift and it is also OK to gift something really useful that some may consider a ‘boring’ or generic gift.
Do your research not only with your gift recipients, but also of the market and returns policies. Especially leading up to Christmas, stores will rotate through various promotions and sales. Research which sales are on and which are upcoming. If you have a gift in mind and it will be reduced by 10% if you wait two weeks for the sale, that’s money saved. The time and effort put into doing research for not only the best price but the best overall could save you a lot of money. Black Friday is a particularly good one, on the fourth Thursday in November, most stores across Australia put on some amazing deals and are usually very well-stocked for the occasion. But don’t get carried away with the good deals, do your research and make sure you’re getting the best bang-for-your buck by checking the reviews and rival models or brands.
Don’t just purchase because it is the cheapest. It may just be so for a reason!
Start early, set limits & keep receipts:
Similarly, to the point above (research the market, get the best price) – START EARLY.
I write a list of names with gift ideas around September. Do some research, look at reviews of brands or stores and monitor fortnightly for sales or promotions. Set yourself a cost limit for each person, and it is OK to set it at a maximum of $20. In fact, if you’re looking at someone’s name and thinking you don’t know them well, haven’t known them for long, or you’re just purchasing to be polite, that name ideally shouldn’t be on your list at all, and nobody should get upset about that. But if you really feel bad, so long as they’re not lactose intolerant, you can get some really nice cheese at the supermarket for under $10.
Starting early also spreads the purchases across months as opposed to a few weeks so as to not risk delving into the savings or running yourself dry. Remember, time and effort saves money. We have all been there on the 20th of December feeling dread looking at your account balance, plus, there’s sometimes last-minute additions or forgotten people that may require a last-minute purchase.
However, starting early may also bring about it’s own problems. Have you ever purchased a gift and later found something the recipient wants MORE, or a better deal or quality version of your previous purchase? This is why it is so important to do your research of brands, stores and reviews as mentioned previously to eliminate the latter of the previous sentence. Should a great deal slip through the cracks and stare at your laughing at a later date, this is fine if you’ve done your research into the returns policy of the store, and considering the inconvenience or refund processing time of online stores or those without physical presence near you.
Particularly with sales and promotions you may find some items more difficult to return for a full refund should they not be dysfunctional or broken upon purchase, but instead you may find the store policy to be store credit. Be careful, consider how much risk there is if there is an issue prior to purchasing and weight up the chances of changing your mind, finding a better deal or just plain regret. Which reminds me to remind you, to KEEP RECEIPTS.
It’s one of those really painful things where you only need to have it once in a blue moon but it’s such a hassle to store them and store them in an organised way. Then they end up gathering dust and forgotten for a while until you discover them later of which you either throw them straight out or sit there getting anxious because your brain tells you everything on those receipts will break or explode the day after you throw out the receipt. But every dollar adds up, and a $5 gift that’s broken upon unpacking or that does not perform as advertised is $5 back in the bank (for now). Cue time and effort once more, to have to find the receipt, get to the store the get the refund. But, as I started this blog with, you’re never going to get or save money for free.
Combine presents and get free shipping online:
Are combined present not a thing anymore? Just asking because I don’t see many anymore. Rather than purchasing four separate $25 presents, why aren’t we combining to buy the receiver one thing worth $100? The amount of $10-$50 bottles of wine some receive on their birthdays could tally up for a good couple of hundred dollars, which would pay for the new microwave I need or upgrade to a four-slice toaster.
For an upcoming Birthday, create a group message or meet up with friends to discuss a combined present and brainstorm ideas for a combined item. You may even find you’re all pitching in a little less because you’re not finding yourself at the store spending more money because you think its not “good” or “big” enough (you know what I mean). Then, one person collects the cash, goes and purchases it and wraps it. Essentially if you’re not this person in many cases you can just give them your money and sit back and relax?
To me, it sounds like a win-win for giver and receiver?
And it gives a great dramatic effect and that great group-effort vibe when something large (just assume so for visual effect) is lugged in by a couple of you and the group stand around as the receiver unwraps the gift – hopefully – completely unaware of what it is and somewhat embarrassed while everyone gawks at them excitedly and someone films the look on their face once the wrapping’s off.
Another tip, when buying online (after planning ahead) to purchase multiple gifts from the same website to meet free shipping requirements. Many online retailers offer free shipping for purchases over a certain amount, whether $99, $150, $200 etc. or plan ahead with your family or friends to make a bulk purchase together. You could be saving each other $80 in some instances for shipping heavy or bulky items, but any saving is a saving even if only avoiding a $15 shipping charge.
So next time, before you buy online, check your gift ideas or list to see if that retailer offers something you are looking for, for another of your gift recipients (so long as it is a good buy!) or ask around if anyone else requires anything from that same retailer.
Also, download a browser extension like Honey and check out website such as ozbargains. Honey has saved me shipping costs and provided discounts for many online retailers and websites such as ozbargains are great to check out on a regular basis as items can often show up on promotion for dirt cheap and it might just be what you are after!
About the Author
Rebecca Lowe is a graduate accountant who works primarily with our individual tax clients. Throughout her time at university, Rebecca claimed both the CA Australia & New Zealand prize in 2019, and the CPA Australia prize in 2018 due to her outstanding academic achievements.