With the holidays on the horizon, chances are good you’ve been doing a little window-shopping (or, more likely, online browsing). We all want to give our loved ones the perfect gift, after all, so many of us devote a good chunk of time to holiday shopping. Unfortunately, the season of giving can be hard on your wallet if you’re not careful — even more so if you’re on a tight budget, as many college students tend to be.
We feel your pain! That’s why we collected some time-tested tips and ideas for saving money on holiday shopping. Consider it our holiday gift to you.
A College Student's Guide to Holiday Shopping on a Budget
Learning how to save on holiday shopping is easy. Here are some ideas to get you started:
Budget first. Before you start making your list and checking it twice, take some time to figure out exactly how much you have in your budget to spend on holiday gifts. Once you know that total, make your list and decide how you want to split that money up among your friends and family. Assign a dollar limit to each person and write it next to their name. Commit to sticking with that budget, reminding yourself that overspending will leave you with unwanted debt once the holidays are over.
Going forward — especially if your holiday budget is lower than you’d like this year — commit to saving a certain amount from each paycheck throughout the year so you have plenty of gift-giving funds when the holidays come around again.
Ditch the credit card. Using a credit card to pay for gifts may encourage you to exceed your holiday shopping budget. Since you don’t get the bill immediately, it might not seem like a big deal to go over the price limits you’ve set for yourself. But even when they’re small, those extra expenditures add up. You may be stunned — and unable to pay the full balance — when your bill arrives.
Instead, consider using cash to pay for gifts you buy offline: Take out only enough to cover the amount you planned to spend when you budgeted, and once it’s gone, you’re done. Of course, you can also use your debit card; just be sure to note each purchase immediately, keeping a running tab of how much you’re lowering your account balance with each transaction. If you’re buying online, exercise the same level of discipline.
Be the early bird. The earlier you start shopping, the better. Getting a head start will not only give you more time to think about exactly what you want to buy, but it will also let you watch for, and take advantage of, sales as they pop up in the weeks or months preceding the holidays. It’s not uncommon for retailers to inflate prices the closer the holidays get, so waiting until the last minute can result in overspending.
Comparison shop. If you find a gift that you really like, don’t simply look at one retailer and accept that that’s the price you have to pay. Shop around to see if you can find a more affordable option somewhere else; you might be surprised at the deals you can find!
Take advantage of loyalty discounts and rewards. This is a great time for you to check your accounts with various retailers to see if you’ve earned loyalty points, discounts, coupons or other rewards by buying from them throughout the year. Watch your email and mail for discount coupons and offers, too.
Consider other kinds of gifts. When starting your holiday shopping, remember that old nugget of wisdom, “It’s the thought that counts.” While it can be tempting to show your feelings for someone by getting them something expensive, gifts don’t need to come with massive price tags to be of sentimental value. Get creative with your gift giving: Homemade gifts such as beauty products, candles and even baked goods are always a hit.
Suggest a gift exchange. Recognizing that some of your friends or family members are probably in the same boat as you in terms of budget, suggest a gift exchange rather than everyone purchasing gifts for each individual. Gift exchanges can be incredibly fun, contributing to a memorable and enjoyable holiday experience. Isn’t that a gift everyone can appreciate?