With the holiday season comes angst-about how to get more mileage from your money and make it stretch further in this tough economy. But with some intelligent preplanning, you can spend less and still make a big impact with your presents. (It is, after all, “the thought that counts.”)
Take a good, hard look at your finances and decide on a budget in advance. Then resolve to stick to it by following the eight tips below.
1. Don’t just believe in Santa Claus. Believe in Secret Santa Claus.
If you work at an office where coworkers typically exchange holiday gifts with each other, there’s nothing wrong with asking Human Resources to start a new tradition that will save everyone money. With a Secret Santa policy in place, each staff member is responsible for purchasing just one present. Typically, each person’s name is tossed into a hat, and then present-buying assignments are drawn, one by one, assuring that each worker will be a Secret Santa to just one other coworker. Instituting a cap on the price-per-present will bring even more relief to the budget-conscious. Yes, Virginia, there is a Secret Santa Claus.
2. To take advantage of group discounts, become a groupie.
Independence is highly overrated. There is power in groupthink-especially when the group happens to think it deserves a hefty discount. (Any group worth its buying mojo does.) Familiarize yourself with some websites that offer deep discounts to the group.
Learn how to look for promotional codes online. Be proactive. Don’t wait four score and seven years to check out pre-sales or special “friends and family” shopping bonanzas. T’is the season to shop with the flock-and be richly rewarded for your efforts.
3. Be the diva of the discount drugstore fashion find.
A drop-dead eyeglass design might start out on the drawing board of a designer working for a prestige brand. But if the look catches on, then the “masstige” brands suddenly perk up and take notice. That design will then be copied and recopied until it shows up on the reader magnifier shelf of Duane Reade or a CVS. Comb the aisles of discounter chains, and scoop up fashionable finds by the fistful. Then invest in some upscale wrapping paper, and watch these “generic” gifts transform into the world’s most glamorous presents!
4. Consult the personal shopper in your mailbox.
The catalog season is upon us. But even if you can’t find anything you love in those glossy pages, never just unceremoniously toss premiere catalogs in the trash. Today’s upscale catalogs are like style Sherpas that can help you put together a fabulous look. You’ll find plenty of ideas on this season’s must-have trends, and once you know what you’re looking for, you can often simulate the look elsewhere for less.
5. Regift, regift, regift.
It’s the frugalista’s mantra. But regifting is an art on par with pointillism. So make it a point not to seem thoughtless about it. You may want to allocate a special place in your home where you can stockpile all the presents that you receive and then pick one that really fits the intended recipient.
6. Dial up the “thoughtfulness factor.”
Another way to impress any giftee is to choose gifts that, while inexpensive, show you put care into them. You can purchase a set of beautiful note cards for a friend, monogrammed with her initials, for less than $10. She’ll think fondly of you each time she writes a Thank You note for all the other gifts she receives over the holidays. Engraved note cards are the gift that keeps on giving back.
7. Start a frugal habit-shared accessorizing.
Do you have a friend whose taste you admire? Of course you do. Agree in advance to pick out two scarves that you both adore, and then “swap” them with each other midseason. Just when you tire of your own wooly neck warmer, you can move on to hers. This tip is guaranteed to save you both at least 50% off. For exponential discount power, host a “Swap till you Drop” party, and swap all the clothing you’ve grown bored with for all of the clothing your friends have. You’ll all be “dressed to the nines” at a fraction of the cost-especially if you all bought the original items on sale!
8. Be a Scrooge about your holiday communications.
Were you planning to send old-fashioned holiday greeting cards to friends and family via snail mail? That’s quaint, but costly. Send Internet greeting cards instead, and save on both the cost of the cards and the postage. Do you always phone home over Hanukah or the Christmas break? Consider signing up for an Internet phone service instead. Skype costs approximately $30 a year for all calls. If you decide to throw a holiday party, be sure to send Evites (as opposed to engraved invitations) to all attendees. And ring in this holiday with the pleasant sound of “cha-ching, cha-ching.”
For more pointers on saving money while you enjoy a luxe lifestyle, check out my new book, The Millionaire’s Handbook: How to Look and Act Like a Millionaire Even if You’re Not(Skyhorse, November 2011).
* * *
Vicky Oliver is the award-winning author of The Millionaire’s Handbook: How to Look and Act Like a Millionaire, Even If You’re Not (Skyhorse Publishing, November 2011) plus four books on career development, including the bestselling 301 Smart Answers to Tough Interview Questions (Sourcebooks, 2005) and 301 Smart Answers to Tough Business Etiquette Questions (Skyhorse Publishing, 2010). She lives in New York City, where she is a career adviser and image consultant. She can be reached at Vicky@GetTheMillionairesHandbook.com and firstname.lastname@example.org.