For all the planning we do during the holidays, the last couple of weeks before the big parties and family gatherings can trip up the best of budgets.
Perhaps what’s needed is some last-minute tricks to keep overspending to a minimum. Here are a few ideas to get you through.
Track your spending
If you’re close to the upper end of your budget and you’re not quite sure what’s happened, go through those receipts. Maybe you and your partner or spouse are shopping independently, spending too much on gas, meals out or failing to coordinate on the items you need. Maybe the kids are adding items to their lists at the last minute. It’s toughest to say no to kids, so see if there are adult gifts, decorating items or seasonal specialty food you really don’t need to purchase. In other words, if your budget is tight, identify the expenses you can alter and adjust your spending plans.
Don’t ignore the cost of returns
Some retailers are strict about return policies on a host of items, which makes it doubly important to save all your receipts. If you’re giving gift cards, make sure the recipient has the purchase receipt in case the card doesn’t work. If you’ve bought items online, make sure you keep critical return information and package return stickers in case you need them. However, take one additional step with shipped returns—see whether the seller is charging you more for their convenient shipping label option than shipping the item back locally in your own packaging.
Finally, keep restocking fees in mind—some retailers charge in excess of 10 percent of the item’s cost to accept a return, particularly for electronic and mechanical purchases that involve heavy packaging. Ultimately, the best time to check return policies is before you buy, but if you do have to return items, consolidate those trips to save time, gas and money.
‘Piggyback’ the purchases of others
If you have a large gift list for loved ones or family, be a nosy shopper. Maybe your sister is finally giving her movie freak husband the room-sized flatscreen he’s always wanted. Maybe your nieces and nephews are getting expensive dolls, toys or technology items that require clothes or software of some sort. If you are trying to cut your holiday budget, check in with loved ones to see if you can supplement these expensive gifts with accessories that might be easier on your budget and appreciated just as much.
Pitching in for a couple of outfits for the expensive doll—rather than having to buy the expensive doll itself—saves you money, gives your loved ones a break on the subsequent purchases they’ll need to make and the recipient gets more of what he or she wants. A win-win all around.
Watch out for theft
All the smart shopping in the world won’t lessen the headaches from thieves who target your packages, personal and online data or the contents of your wallet. Fast-approaching holidays and busy schedules can leave us tired and distracted, so keep a close watch on potential risk for identity theft, (www.identitytheft.gov) package theft from cars, homes and apartment vestibules. If you take public transportation, use extra caution to keep your money, purchases and personal technology hidden from thieves.
Bottom line: Don’t let the last, busy weeks of the holiday season knock you off budget or threaten your financial security in other ways.
Nathaniel Sillin directs Visa’s financial education programs.