Although we’re still in the midst of the holiday season, it’s time to start making post-holiday shopping plans. For those of us who try to be frugally-minded, after-Christmas sales offer an excellent opportunity to save money and plan ahead. Even if you don’t actually buy anything in the immediate aftermath of the holiday season, now is a good time to start planning for next year. And not just Christmas or Hanukkah: Valentine’s Day, Mothers and Fathers Days, and birthdays, as well.
Many times, for me at least, gifts sneak up and become unexpected expenses that can throw off my budget for a week or two. As important as it is to save money when buying gifts, planning ahead and budgeting appropriately can have just as positive an effect on your fiscal bottom line. For the most part, though, gift giving occasions are not really surprises. We know long in advance when we will have to pony up for our friends and loved ones. With the new year approaching, what better time could there be than now planning our fiscal generosity over the next twelve months?
Project and Budget
Look at all your gift giving occasions coming up in the next year. Gauge the importance of the occasion and how much you feel it is necessary to spend on each person for each occasion. Your mom’s birthday may require a bigger gift than your best friend’s cousin’s bar mitzvah, for example. Then total the amount that you will need for the year. That will be your twelve-month target savings amount.
Unfortunately, though, gift-giving occasions are not distributed evenly throughout the year. In my own case, I have two very concentrated stretches from February to April (thank you IRS for that extra bit of stress) and again in August and September. Of course, December can be tough for many of us, as well. So you will have to use shorter term targets, at least in the first year, while planning your gift giving. It helps to have a dedicated account — even if it’s just a mayonnaise jar on a shelf — for gift giving. Using myself as an example, I need to save more from January to April to take care of the gift giving occasions that come up during those months, than I will in the ensuing months during which I’ll have more time and can salt away smaller amounts over a longer period of time. Putting them in a different place will help you keep gift funds segregated so that they don’t commingle with your other money, thus keeping the rest of your budget on track and cutting down on any possibility for fiscal confusion.
Be Creative with Gifts (at Least During the College Years)
We are trying to be frugal. We want to get through college with a degree and with as little debt as possible. In order to accomplish this, it is possible that we may need to reframe some of our gift-giving ideas. Especially if you are a student who is paying your own way through college, people will be understanding. If they’re not, they probably don’t deserve a gift anyway.
Financial planner and author Ken Clark suggests writing meaningful letters to people rather than buying and giving gifts. According to Clark, “I’ve forgotten who gave me 90 percent of the gifts I’ve ever received and half of them don’t even get used anymore…. Chances are they’ll keep that letter a lot longer than that new sweater.” A letter is a great idea, but if you have a talent or a craftiness and want to do something more substantial, you can make something for your recipients.
I know its seems a little elementary school, but people on your list will happily accept handmade gifts from you while you’re toiling away in academia. Even if they’re not happy about it, they won’t say anything. During my undergraduate years, for example, I drew cityscapes of the downtown area near the university and matted them. These I gave as gifts to some of my out of town relatives who I knew would be more appreciative of them than some of my other potential gift receivers (i.e. my younger brother).
Apart from after-Christmas sales and making your own presents, you can just be creative in the way that you buy things. Look at CraigsList and eBay for deals on second-hand or used items that would make people on your list happy. If you have specific things in mind well ahead of the gift giving occasion, set up an alert for the items and keep an eye out so that you can get the best deals on them. There’s nothing a seller loves to see more than a last minute shopper who absolutely has to have the item that they are selling RIGHT NOW.
Plan ahead. Budget wisely. Be creative, and shop smart. Do these things and shopping for gifts will have a less negative impact on your college budget.