Magazine article Working Mother

Cheer on the Cheap

Magazine article Working Mother

Cheer on the Cheap

Article excerpt

Sometime in late January, it comes-the dreaded holiday shopping hangover. Predictably, you make that vow, "I'll never overspend again!" But then, ten months or so later, after you get that first whiff of pine and see that look, of awe in your toddler's eyes while passing the toy aisle, you're tossing around credit cards like a Hilton sister. After all, it's the holidays. So before you fall under the "Silver Bells" spell, consider these strategies for curbing holiday spending even as your spirit soars.

Shorten your gift list. Do you have an address book bursting with relatives, coworkers, neighbors and friends? Perhaps your greatest gift to most of them (and yourself) would be to mutually cross each other off your holiday shopping lists. "A lot of people are really grateful if you have the 'Stop the madness' talk," says Deborah Knuckey, author of The Ms. Spent Money Guide. Knuckey recalls her time, working in an office where all the employees gave one another gifts that cost as much as $20 or $30. "You'd run around for hours in search of some little desk toys that were amusing for maybe ten minutes and then completely forgotten," she says. For large families or groups of friends, think about cutting costs by suggesting kids-only gifting or drawing names for a secret Santa.

Make a budget, stick to it-and don't forget to factor in extras like shipping. Instead of spending first and doing the math later, do the reverse. Sounds simple, but here's the hard part: You've decided you want to spend $35 on your accessory-obsessed sister. Then you find the perfect scarf at a museum gift shop for $40. Oh, what the heck, you might think, it's only $5 more. The trouble is, hidden costs can pile up. After you add the tax, and maybe wrapping and priority shipping, you could easily be spending $50 or more. If you give yourself that kind of wiggle room with every gift, you'll go way over budget in no time. It's essential to consider extra costs as you plan your holiday shopping, advises Knuckey.

Watch the clock. Department stores and malls are like casinos: The longer you're there, the more money you'll lose. So rather than taking whole days to meander through the mall, shop when the clock is ticking, like during your lunch break or when you've booked your child's caregiver for an extra hour or two after work, suggests Ginita Wall, cofounder of the Women's Institute for Financial Education (WIFE). "Get in, buy what you need and then get out," she advises.

Pay in cash. A typical credit card purchase may end up costing 112 percent more than a cash buy. Consider this: You just purchased a $1,000 Bose home entertainment system for your husband on sale for $700. Yet this relative bargain could set you back $1,484 if you carry over your credit Joan Perry, president and CEO of Take Charge Financial! and author of A Girl Needs Cash, says that credit cards are designed to distance you from the pain of parting with your cash. "Plastic literally gets you out of touch with your money," she says. Putting a $120 cashmere sweater on your card is much easier than pulling six twenties out of your wallet. You're less likely to overspend if you shop only with cash, says Perry. And if you're buying online, stick to just a single credit card rather than putting a little bit on several cards. That way, it's easier to keep track of how much you're spending. (See our tip box at right for more about online shopping.)

Give vacation-related gifts. Planning a family ski vacation to Park City in February? Chances are, there will be lots of expenses that go beyond the basic airfare and accommodations, such as snow pants, Oakleys or even a snowboard. …

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