During the holidays, finding the perfect gift is tough -- especially if it has to be the perfect price, too. By using some of the following advice, however, you can feel good about your gifting without blowing your budget.
We all want to spoil loved ones on special occasions. Yet doing so may be way out of your price range, and covering gifts with a credit card can lead to a big bill next month -- making a happy experience stressful. To avoid this potential pain, know your limits and stick to them.
Before you shop for a child, partner or anyone else, set a budget. If a potential gift doesn't fit your number, find something else -- or find someone to split that gift. Your first gift idea isn't necessarily the best. Use your creativity to think of other, cheaper options. Staying within a preset budget can force you to be extra thoughtful and personal with your gift ideas.
When building any budget, you also need to keep in mind all the related costs as well. For the holidays, that can include gift wrap, shipping or your travel costs.
Make a List
One way to help with your budget is to limit the number of people you buy gifts for. If you have a big group of friends, co-workers or family members, you likely won't be able to give every single one of them gifts multiple times a year.
If you want to give to them all, use homemade goods or small gestures. For instance, bake cookies for your co-workers, offer to help your parents with something at home or send an e-card to a loved one far away. With any of these, you still acknowledge the special occasion, but it won't cost you nearly as much.
For a fun way to limit your shopping list, spread some holiday cheer by hosting a Secret Santa or Yankee Swap. That way, you only have to buy one gift, while still getting to celebrate with everyone.
Look for Deals
Around the holidays, stores often offer discounted prices on some of their hottest items. But don't be tempted to buy things you don't need just because they're on sale. Make a plan ahead of time and stick to it.
Retailers aren't the only ones to offer holiday deals. At the end of the year, rewards programs may also cut the number of points required to redeem an item on your wish list. You can cash in points from grocery stores, drug stores, airlines and more to put toward your gift-giving budget.
Remember the Thought Really Does Count
It may be a cliché, but no one cares how much you spend if your gift tugs on the heartstrings or perfectly fills a need. Put a little thought into what your loved one may need, and see if there's an inexpensive solution out there.
If you have friends or family who don't see you as often as they'd like, perhaps create a photo gift for them (mug, calendar, phone case, etc.) via any number of online services. They'll be happily reminded of you each time they see it.
And if money is tight, consider just setting aside some time to spend with your recipient. With everyone's busy schedules, don't forget that your presence really can be a present.
Plan Ahead Next Year
As you look ahead to next year and possible New Year's resolutions, consider resolving to make and stick to a regular budget. In our 2015 SALT® Benchmark study, which surveys users of our financial education tools, 70 percent of participants understood how important having a budget is to their personal finances, but only 42 percent indicated that they have a personal budget. This could be a result of feeling overwhelmed or confused by the concept of budgeting -- 40 percent of those surveyed said they were confused about the best way to build a budget.
To start, you can use tools like SALT's budget worksheet to lay the foundation of your budgeting plan. Be sure to include the holiday season in your budgeting and saving plans so it doesn't sneak up on you at the end of the year! And if you stray from your budget one month, don't despair -- commit to getting on track the following week and test out SALT's budget fix calculator to identify ways to course correct.
By thoughtfully managing your finances with a budget and plan for the year, you'll be in great financial shape -- the greatest gift of all!
SALT® is a free and unbiased nonprofit-backed financial education program dedicated to giving students, alumni and families the money knowledge they need for college and beyond.