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Family Matters Blog: Blogger Shares Holiday Money-saving Tips

By Elaine Wilson
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Dec. 14, 2010 – I’ve noticed, over the years, that holiday shoppers typically fall into specific categories as they embark on their gift-gathering quests.

First up are the bargain hunters, who relentlessly search day and night for the perfect deal. They crowd into stores in the wee hours on Black Friday and shut down sites with an overload of Internet traffic from office cubicles on Cyber Monday.

Then there are the hoarders, who crowd the stores the day after last Christmas for half-price, left-over goodies, then pack away their bounty in closets and cubby holes until the holiday season rolls back in. I tried this tactic one year and forgot or lost about half of the presents, and spent twice as much as a result. I still stumble upon some of these gifts when searching through attic boxes.

And finally, my most recent category, the procrastinators. This class of shoppers waits until the last possible minute to shop, whether it’s due to a general busyness, a reluctance to accrue more debt or the hope of last-minute price slashing. We’re the shoppers who are confronted with picked-over goods and empty shelves when we finally make our way into the stores, and then are forced to race around town, or the Internet, in a desperate attempt to fill holiday wish lists.

While each style is distinctly different, all share one important aspect in common: a money-saving quest. But after some online research, I learned that shoppers should begin this quest should long before they ever set foot into that first festively decorated store.

Here are a few ways to save money during the holidays, courtesy of Military OneSource:

-- Set expectations with friends and family. If you're worried about your finances this holiday season, talk about it with friends and family. Let them know if you'll be cutting back on the number of gifts or how much you plan to spend. This is especially important for children, who often have unrealistic expectations about gifts and don't fully understand the cost factors. Also consider price-limited charitable donations in the family's name.

-- Look for ways to cut back on the number of gifts you buy. There are many ways to shorten your gift list. If you have a large family or group of friends, ask if they'd like to draw names out of a hat and give one gift per person. Or give family gifts, such as a board game, a "movie night" with gift certificates to a video rental store and snacks, or a pass to a local museum rather than individual gifts.

-- Consider homemade gifts. There are many heartfelt, thoughtful gifts that don't come with a sales receipt. You could cook some treats; put together a photo album; make a themed gift basket full of smaller items, like tea, paperback books or gardening tools; or give the gift of your time by making homemade coupons or certificates.

-- Make a shopping plan. Don't head out to the mall without a specific list of gift ideas. This is how you end up spending more than you budgeted for. Look through catalogues or on Internet sites for ideas and develop a list before you even step foot in a store.

-- Look for bargains. Take the time to look for ways to save money on gifts. Try to buy several things from one catalogue or Internet site to save money on shipping, or better yet, look for sites that offer free shipping. Comparison shop using the fliers that come in the weekend papers to find the best deal around or use websites that do price comparisons for you.

-- Be sure to use your Exchange. In addition to the usual tax savings and price-matching benefit, you'll find special holiday discounts.

-- Cut back on mailing expenses. If you always send boxes of gifts or holiday cards to loved ones far away, think of ways to save on or eliminate shipping costs this year. Buy magazine subscriptions or send online gift certificates instead of shipping gifts. Send holiday postcards or even e-cards instead of regular cards. If you've already bought cards, cross some names off your list and save the leftovers for next year. And be sure to mail things early so you don't have to pay extra for fast shipping.

-- Make careful travel plans. If your holiday plans include a trip, be sure to investigate all of your options as early as possible. For example, could you drive instead of fly? Stay with a friend or relative instead of in a hotel room? Make do without a rental car? If you need to travel by air, be sure to spend time looking for the lowest price ticket. If possible, be flexible about dates. You could save a lot of money by flying immediately after the holidays rather than before.

-- Keep it simple. Focus on enjoying the simple pleasures of the holiday season, like spending time with friends and family or taking a walk to see the holiday decorations in your neighborhood. These kinds of activities often capture the spirit of the season better than expensive gifts or elaborate celebrations.

-- Use your credit card wisely. Finally, be very careful about using your credit card to pay for holiday expenses. Don't use your card unless you know you can pay if off right away. If possible use a card that you're not already carrying a balance and making payments on. Remember, buying a sweater on sale with a credit card and making monthly payments could change the sale price to double the price. You don't want to start the New Year off with an oversized credit card bill.

Military families have some great budgeting resources at their fingertips. They can call or visit any installation Army Community Service Center, Marine Corps Community Services, Fleet and Family Support Center or Airman and Family Readiness Center regardless of branch affiliation.

Families who aren’t near an installation can contact a National Guard Family Assistance Center, which are available in every state. The Local Community Resource Finder on the National Guard Family Program website can identify your closest center.

Or, access Military OneSource, a free 24-hour service available to all active duty, Guard and Reserve members -- regardless of activation status -- and their families. Consultants provide information and make referrals on a wide range of issues, including holiday budgets. Free face-to-face counseling sessions and their equivalent by phone or online are also available. Call 1-800-342-9647 or go to www.MilitaryOneSource.com to learn more.

 

To comment on this blog, or read other posts, visit the Family Matters website.

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