It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas. All of your friends and neighbors have decked their halls with boughs of holly, hung their stockings with care and purchased and wrapped every last gift before placing it under their perfectly decorated Christmas tree. You, on the other hand, have done - well, nothing. You have yet to buy a single present, stocking stuffer or Christmas card. On top of that, you forgot to save up enough cash to cover Christmas gifts. Oops! (From Santa Claus rallies to evergreen loans, Wall Street can be a veritable winter wonderland for investors. Find out more in The Frosty, Festive World Of Investing.)
Some may call you a procrastinator - you may argue that you're just super-busy. Nonetheless, it's time to figure out how you're going to pay for this year's Christmas gifts. Here are six last-minute Christmas budgeting tips for you master procrastinators... err... busy people.
- Make a List - and Check it Twice
Make a list of all your family and friends who have been good girls and boys. Once you decide who is deserving of a gift from you, determine how much money you can realistically afford to spend. Then, designate a set portion of the total amount for each person on your list.
For example, let's say you have $600 to spend, and you need to buy gifts for ten family members and five friends. You may decide that you'll spend $40 on each person on the list. On the other hand, you may want to spend $50 on each of your family members and $20 on each of your friends. No matter what, stick to your initial budget, and don't spend money you don't have.
- Avoid Overspending
Many holiday shoppers let their emotions get the best of them, and they end up overspending. Maybe you feel terrible that you don't visit your mother enough, so you decide to spend $300 on a fancy bracelet for her.
Don't fall prey to holiday guilt. Not only will overspending break your budget, but you'll also set unrealistic expectations. In other words, your friends and family will begin to expect lavish gifts from you every Christmas. Next Christmas, when you're still paying off your credit card bills from this holiday, your dad may wonder why he received a luxurious watch from you last year, and all he got this year was a measly pair of socks prominently marked "Irregular."
- Pay in Cold, Hard Cash
One way to force yourself to stick to your holiday budget is to pay for all your gifts with cash. Simply withdraw the amount that you can afford to spend on your holiday gifts. When that money is gone, Christmas shopping time is over.
When you pay with a credit card, it can be easy to lose track of exactly how much money you've spent. An extra $5 here or $12 there may not seem like a big deal when you're paying with plastic. However, when you have a set wad of dollars in your pocket designated for Christmas gifts, you have a visual, concrete reminder of how much money you have left to spend. Therefore, you'll be less tempted to go over budget on each individual gift.
- Become a Lone-Wolf Shopper
People who shop alone generally spend less money than those who shop with friends and family members. Not only can a shopping partner cause distractions and break your fiscal focus, but they may also pressure you into buying items you really don't need. If Sally says you look just like Angelina Jolie when you try on that pricey leather jacket, how could you say no? Which brings us to our next tip.
- Don't Buy Presents for Yourself
When you're out shopping for friends and relatives, you're bound to come across some glorious item that you absolutely must have. However, remind yourself that this is the season for giving, not receiving. If that doesn't console you, you could always call one of your other procrastinating family members and tell him to add the item to your Christmas wish-list.
- Get Creative
If you're really strapped for cash this Christmas, consider giving out non-monetary gifts. For example, you may offer to paint your grandmother's kitchen or babysit your best friend's son. Create hand-made or computer print-out certificates that say things like, "Good for One House Cleaning," or "Dog-Sitting Gift Certificate," and enclose them in a card. You could also save bundle by baking cookies, brownies and other Christmas goodies to give to give out to neighbors and co-workers.