Four last-minute money tips to get you through the holidays

Four last-minute money tips to get you through the holidays

Four last-minute money tips to get you through the holidays

If you want to minimize financial stress both now and in January, don’t ignore some of the simple things you can do the rest of the year

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Q: Every year it feels like Christmas is a mad dash to the finish line and despite being better organized, the same thing is happening this year for us again. We still have plenty of gifts and food to buy and I already know my husband and I will be up until 2 a.m. on Christmas Eve, wrapping gifts and getting the house ready. Boxing Day should be fun, family time but we’ll be totally exhausted. The kids always have a great time and extended family love coming over to our place, but the bills and everything are becoming more stressful each year. How can we manage better? ~Dianna 

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A: A week before Christmas is a hard time to think about making smart money choices, but if you want to minimize financial stress both now and in January, no matter what you’re shopping for or spending money on, don’t ignore some of the simple things you can do the rest of the year to keep yourself on track with your finances.

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An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, so here are smart money tips that work just as well during the final shopping days of the holiday season, as they do the rest of the year.

Earn cash back or discounts while you shop

It can be tempting to chase deals from store to store, but that could mean missing out on cash back or loyalty points that can be redeemed for cash or discounts come January when money is extra tight. It’s not worth using points or rewards to justify your spending, but if Store A and Store B sell similarly priced items — such as toiletries to stuff stockings for teenagers — shop at the store that will earn you the most rewards or cash back. Ten cents off at the pump, points that can be redeemed for grocery discounts, or cash back to apply against a bill during the year can provide a little relief for the high cost of living.

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Buy with gift cards and save your actual money

A significant portion of gift cards go unused every year, with some American reports showing data in the billions of dollars. The amounts are staggering in Canada too, and regardless of why you haven’t used your cards if you’ve forgotten about them, lost them or are saving them for a special occasion, the longer you hold onto a gift card, the less it’s worth. Inflation increases the cost of items you can buy with the card, but not the value of the card itself, so a $100 card to your favourite retailer last year is worth a few dollars less this year. Businesses may also close or change ownership, so then the entire gift card balance is forfeited.

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Instead of losing the money on your gift cards, use them to shop for Christmas gifts and groceries for your special meals and snacks. The gift cards will allow you to save some cash or reduce how much you’re charging to your credit cards. Buying what is on your list or what you normally buy can help you save actual money.

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Say ‘no’ before you reach your (credit) limit

Our stress level affects our decision-making ability. A little stress sharpens our mind, but a lot of stress makes it difficult to focus. This can mean that we inadvertently overspend, only leading to more stress once we realize what we’ve done. To make wiser spending choices at this time of year and keep your stress level in check, learn to say no before you reach your limit.

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This could mean only accepting specific social invitations rather than spreading yourself too thin. It could mean allowing your kids to decorate the cookies and not fixing them afterward to make each one look perfect. Perfection is an unattainable standard, so give yourself permission to let go. If you still have a lot of gifts to buy, say no to shopping until you drop. Ask others for help and delegate some of your responsibilities. Buy similar gifts for multiple people, such as the same hoodie but in different colours, or choose alternative gifts that you can buy online and that don’t need shipping, such as subscriptions, event passes, or donations to a favourite charity.

However, most importantly, say no to spending beyond what you can afford. No one wants to see a loved one suffer financially. If you’ve hit your financial limit, make coupons for acts of service and give your friends and family the gift of your time. That could prove to be a more meaningful gift than anything you could buy.

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Save on buying gifts by rehoming desirable items

If you need cash to buy gifts, save your garage sale or Marketplace posts until you have time to sell what you no longer want or use. You might want to save a portion of that money yo go toward next year’s gifts and holiday expenses. Given that it’s close to Christmas, make a gift out of rehoming collectible LPs, rare coins, sentimental photos, or the food processor you almost never use. Think about what your family may want from you and consider shopping at home first. The point isn’t to unload your undesirables but rather, pass along meaningful items that someone else would truly enjoy having.

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The bottom line on last minute spending tips for holiday shopping

Long held traditions, food, festivities, family fun days, and things that make you happy are what the holidays are all about. If you’re caught in the frenzy of last-minute preparations, manage your holiday stress more effectively with an attitude of gratitude. Focus on the positive aspects of the holidays and get enough rest, healthy meals and exercise. Stick with realistic frugal shopping tips and be mindful of the true meaning of the holidays. By doing so, you will not only enjoy the holidays more, but also start the new year with a healthier and happier financial outlook.

Related reading: 

Looking for Great Deals? Resist the Urge to Buy Impulsively 

Alternatives for Debt Relief When You’re Declined for a Consolidation Loan 

Struggling to Pay Credit Card Bills? Here’s How to Take Action 

Peta Wales is President and CEO of the Credit Counselling Society, a non-profit organization. For more information about managing your money or debt, contact Peta by email, check nomoredebts.org or call 1-888-527-8999.  

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