Tag Archives: Christmas shopping

Four Actually Useful Christmas Tips

This week before Christmas, you’ll hear a lot of logical Christmas tips: Drink a lot of water, skip the sugary pop with your drink, and have a healthy snack before all those cookies. Gee – thanks – but I don’t know anyone who actually does that.

Hopefully, here are four things that might be more practical:

Speed kills. That’s not just a traffic rule, it also applies to your Christmas shopping. The faster you want to do it, or the later you leave it, the more it’ll cost you when you overpay just to get it over with. If you’re close to any stores, change your lunch hour one or two days this week to go at 10 or 11 AM, instead of noon, or trying to get into stores when the rest of the Okanagan is going at the same time. Even better is to take a morning off and do it then. Take a list, take the cash and have a plan.

If you’re a grandparent, your demographics have a reputation of buying too many gifts for the grandkids. Of course, you mean well, but stop a second and think of the unintended consequences: You’re setting an impossible expectation and template down the road for the parents, and you’re probably wasting a bunch of money. Lots of studies show that small kids play with the latest toy for less than half an hour. After that, they go back to the simple stuff, like that huge empty box, all that string, or the blankets to make a fort.

For us adults, I saw a wonderful Facebook picture last week. What lots of us really want is financial security, a raise, a stronger sense of purpose and a long, undisturbed nap. If you didn’t draw names, don’t kill yourself trying to buy a dozen presents. Just find a way to let us have a nap a couple of days in a row…

And lastly, I hope you remember something for the entire next year: For at least the first six years of your life you had an unshakable belief in Santa Claus. Could you find that same faith again in yourself for just a year to turn your finances around?

George Boelcke – Money Tools & Rules book – yourmoneybook.com

Would You Be Willing to Cancel Christmas This Year?

Well, maybe that’s a little extreme – but I’m just talking about the excess spending part of the holidays.

On average, we’re going to spend more than $700 on gifts this year. But we’re already spending over 165% of our household income each year, and our savings rate is barely four percent. That means most of our holiday spending will need to go on credit cards. Ouch!

When asked, the average person claimed it took two months to pay off their holiday shopping. Yet the actual time was over six months! Let’s face it – July is NOT when you want to deal with last years’ holidays!

Last year, credit card purchases during the holiday season increased over 21%, and it’s a sure bet that this trend will continue.

And it’s not just the gifts we buy, but also the added spending for trips, the tree, decorations, cards, postage, concerts, clothes, hairdressers, all that food, and the total amount quickly adds up.

So here are five tips to financial survival this years’ holidays:

 Cash is king – when you’re paying, there’s a very different feeling to laying a bunch of $20 bills on the counter instead of using a credit card. With a number of cards, there’s no reason to stop, and merchants know that the average purchase is much higher when customers pay with by credit card!

 Get realistic – make some kind of simple budget, stay within it, and practice the four most powerful words nobody ever wants to say: “I can’t afford it.”

 Know what’s important – resolve to make this holiday season less about money. Focus on the difference between the meaningful and the meaningless. This might be time with your family, a donation to your favourite charity, your faith, or many other things.

 Speed kills – it’s not just a traffic rule, but also includes your impulse purchases.  It will almost always cost you more money if you don’t take the time to shop around.

 Make a list and check it twice – it works for Santa, so discipline yourself as well. Don’t leave the house without a list and a good idea of what you’re looking for, as well as a price range. Cruising the stores is frustrating and many people tend to just buy something – anything – just to get on with it, and that’s never a budget smart way to make purchase decisions.

Twas the Week Before Christmas and All Through the Malls….

OK, that’s it for my ability to rhyme. But retailers sure are excited that this December brings an extra weekend of shopping. So, complements of Dave Ramsey, here are nine kinds of Christmas shoppers:

The ‘Oh Darn!’ Shopper: Someone who just realized he didn’t get anything for his wife yet and never did order that fancy whatyamacall it for his son. You can spot him by the confused expression and borderline panic mode. Give him room – he’s quite desperate.

Miss October: Ah, a shopper who’s way ahead of the game. She finished shopping more than a month ago. I know, because I’ve seen the Facebook posts to proclaim that. You won’t see her in the stores, but if you do know her, don’t be envious – just ask her for organizational advice.

The Repeat Offender: This is someone making their 8th trip to the mall because they keep forgetting this or that. Eventually they’ll get it all…and then forget the wrapping paper…

The Online Shopper: This person was in a store once about two years ago, but it was just too much information, no time to think or research, and too busy. He hasn’t been in a store since, settling for the 21” computer screen, a couple of clicks, and hoping the stuff will get here in time.

The Scattershot: This person is like my cat playing with this and that, then this, then getting sidetracked again. Oh look, that’d be great, so would this and that, and look over here….I’ll take them all!

Mr. Platic Fantastic: This person really never sees the actual inside of a store but just hangs around the front cashier purchasing 23 gift card in five minutes. Nothing says ‘I thought this through and made it special’ more than a gift card. But Christmas shopping did get done in eight minutes.

The Mall Rat: Everyone knows this person because they’re constantly in the mall, just not getting paid to be there. They’re not homeless or lost – just wander around endlessly. Christmas is a great time to spend in the mall, touching stuff, looking, wandering the isle and maybe eventually buying something…sometime…soon…

Mr. Road Rage: OK, the pressure is on, time is short, and everybody needs to get out of his way. You can already spot him in the parking lot cutting people off, trying to cut into the cashier lineups, and generally upping everyone’s stress level and sucking the Christmas spirit out of everybody.

The Heroic Mom: This Christmas shopper goes to the mall on weekdays only. You can spot her with two to four kids in tow. She’s answering her cell, feeding her youngest one, rounding up the wandering oldest, and talking to the cashier at the same time without breaking a sweat. She’s been known to purchase 17 presents, cards, and wrapping paper inside of an hour, on a fixed budget while reading the Christmas story to her kids and moving swiftly through the mall. THAT qualifies for the Christmas shopping hall of fame while her husband is in one of the other categories, and best not left to go out on his own.

The Panic Shopping Just Before Christmas

Four more shopping days until Christmas, so you know what that means, right? Any semblance of reasonableness, budgeting, and comparison shopping is done and over with. Now, it’s mostly panic. And retailers know that. Christmas week is not the week for any great deals.

The average person spends $104 when they go to a mall. That has to be way higher when we have a long list of presents still to buy and not a lot of time. I don’t know if it’s too late to get you to your bank machine and draw out the cash for the rest of your shopping. I hope you’ll do it, because we spend about 18% more when we pay by credit card and, this is purely my guess, another 25 to 50% more in panic mode. If you have the cash on the counter, you’ll literally feel the pain of parting with that money and you WILL reduce what you spend.

Of course, part two is the old stand-by of gift cards. For two years, their sales have been pretty stagnant, but this year, sales are way up and will be over $30 billion in North America.

I’m sitting here looking at a $20 bill. I don’t see an expiry date and it doesn’t say anywhere on the bill that I have to use it at a certain store. It’s nice to know that this $20 is good anywhere, and anytime. That’s not the case for gift cards.

I am not a fan of gift cards unless they are at a discount, such as $80 for a $100 gift card or buy one for $25 get another for $5 free. Give the cash with a note of what you’d hoped they’d use it for and not the gift card. Remember that over 8% of gift cards are never used, so that’s $240 million down the drain, and gift cards are no good if the retailer goes out of business.

I’m fine with those from Wal Mart or Tim Horton, Starbucks or Amazon, but the smaller the retailer, the bigger the risk they won’t be around to honour the gift card. They have your cash and you have nothing.

Conversely, if you do get a gift card, use it right away for the full amount. If there’s a balance left, keep it on the fridge and use a felt marker to note what’s left so it doesn’t go to waste, or give it to someone else in line at the check out, if it’s a small amount left.

Some Financial Christmas Presents For Yourself

Ah, the week before Christmas. That means a lot of people should just about be at the stage where any logic, budgeting, or living within our means, goes out the window. It’s normally right about now that lots of us go nuts with our spending. Don’t do it – slow down, go to the bank and get some cash. Paying with $20 bills has a real money feeling, instead of just swiping away with plastic! And your wallet will thank you for it in January.

Presents are not what Christmas is all about, at least for us adults. If you think back, some of the most memorable gifts weren’t the expensive ones. Better yet, can you remember exactly what you got for gifts last year? And it’s certainly not a contest to see who can be the most irresponsible and spend the largest amount of money.

Gift cards: Remember what we talked about last month. Be careful. You’re parting with cash and getting an I.O.U. That merchant has to be in business when the person goes to use the I.O.U. It’s perfectly fine to give cash. There’s no expiry date, no fees, and no limitations. Just put a note in there that your financial advisor (that’d be me you can blame) suggested you care enough not to send a risky gift card.

We talked a couple of times this past year about internet security and hackers getting into people’s bank accounts and on-line transactions. Are you, or do you know, a high net-worth individual that does on-line banking or accesses their brokerage accounts? If so, one of the best presents is a small notebook computer that ONLY gets used for on-line banking. That way, there’s no chance for anyone to hack into it, as it doesn’t get used for anything else on the internet!

Did you know that the Salvation Army just announced that their annual Kettle Drive is now credit card ready? You can just swipe and donate. I’m pretty ambivalent about that. I love people donating to charities and helping others, but I’m not sure it needs to be on 20% credit cards.