Friday, November 21

Just say no (to buying): 6 ways to not go overboard this holiday

Yesterday I talked a bit about how skeptical I am that Americans will be prudent this holiday. Today, I thought I'd be a tad less cynical and talk more about ways you can keep yourself on the straight-and-narrow.

Cost vs value

Ironically, the great prices you find by buying early can ultimately be your undoing. You pay so little for them, you're tempted to not count it as a major gift.

I got Tim something from a garage sale. I didn't pay much for it, but it retails for a pretty decent chunk of money. So that doesn't mean I need to compensate by spending more.

Likewise, I get panicky that I'm being too cheap with his gifts. But that's because the majority of my gifts to him will come via MyPoints gift cards. I redeem the points, get the card, buy him a present.

It's easy, when you're re-gifting, or using reward points, to feel like the present isn't as big or important. But you have to remember to look at it from the eyes of the recipient.

Tim knows I'm an utter cheapskate 90% of the time. He knows I probably won't be paying retail for much.

But what he cares about is that he gets some cool items that he wants -- and that I care enough about him and know him well enough to get him things that he will enjoy.

Keep lists

We're reluctant to do this, lest someone find it. At least, that's my excuse. But I get too forgetful without one. So I keep a list in code. (That is: My bad handwriting plus extreme abbreviations.)

Whenever I see something that I'm tempted to get for Tim, I go back to the list and am continually surprised at how much I already have. It's not a lot, but it's a pretty good chunk of stuff.

Likewise, I already have a couple of gifts for my mom stashed away, which I keep forgetting about until I run across them. With this attitude, it'd be easy to go out and spend around $50 on more gifts. And once bought, excess gifts are more likely to be given than returned.

Have a schedule

Before looking at those holiday sales, review your lists. You can do this in your head, but it's better to actually go over the list. That way you don't forget anything.

Having just seen all the items you have gotten -- or have already earmarked funds for -- you will be less likely to overbuy. Various cool gadgets are always alluring, but often end up not being used. If you have just seen that you have a few really important gifts that will actually mean something, you're less likely to throw money toward unnecessary junk.

Know thy rewards programs

If you're a member of MyPoints or Inbox Dollars or any other rewards program, you will want to review the various store options -- both for shopping and for redeeming.

If you're going to shop at Best Buy anyway, do it online and get the points (or percent of revenue). Especially on programs like Inbox Dollars and BigCrumbs, this can defray some of the cost.

Likewise, if you have plenty of points to redeem, go through all your potential gift card options. You may find that you can get $25 or more off the purchase price.

Comparison shop technology

You see a great deal on an MP3 player and snatch it up... Only to find out that it barely has enough memory to be useful.

For safety's sake, assume that any technology on (good) sale for Black Friday will be the lowest end available. (If you're wrong, you'll be pleasantly surprised.)

As you're digesting turkey, you can do a quick check on a site like I like this one because it divides most electronics reviews into some basic categories of use. You don't want to buy a low-end digital camera if you are thinking of taking up photography. Find out from these sites just what specifications you want to look for.

These sites will also give you a chance to compare prices from other stores. Because sometimes those sale prices are really not that far off from regular ones.

Stop rationalizing

I can, and often do, rationalize just about anything. Add that to an active guilt complex and you've got a budget-buster just poised for action.

So whenever I find myself musing that I could probably stretch my budget a little further and get that cool doodad, I make sure to talk myself down. Yes, it's depressing to not be able to get Tim everything his little heart desires. Or even 1/4 of those things. But we're not doing a big Christmas this year. And I know he'll love what I'm getting him.

Keep some perspective

Perhaps the biggest thing that I have to remind myself is this: He doesn't have any of these things yet.

Yes, most people have a wish list. They might be mildly disappointed if some items don't show up as a present. But mostly, they'll be excited for what did show up.

In other words: They can't miss what you don't buy.

Maybe you were sorely tempted to get a really cool electric gadget. Maybe you argued with yourself for days and finally talked yourself out of it.

They'll never know, especially if it wasn't on any kind of wish list. So stop beating yourself up for things they don't even know were an option.


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