My bargain hunters, welcome! Does your Christmas shopping starts in July too? I’m guessing, more than likely, it starts even earlier than that. Am I right? Or if you are reading this because you want to learn how to extend your Christmas budget, yay! Welcome. This post is about the ways I’ve learned along the way to help me not stress about Christmas gift giving. From experience, on a one income household, it gets rough around Christmas time for me, as I love to shop. While it is my favorite holiday, it is, by far, the most stressful for me in terms of financial aspect. I push the Christmas shopping closer and closer to the date, just hoping I’ll have a little bit more saved up for big ticketed items on my kids’ lists before Christmas rolls around. Each year I get better. Each year I find ways to help me keep track of my budget. Every day is a learning experience, which is true for everyone. You take whatever loses and reemerged more prepared the next bout. I’ve certainly have had my financial mishaps.
I quite love a good bargain; but during my earlier family days, I was very little aware of the frugal world and pay full price most of the time. My married life started off a little something like this: 3 years in Japan, 4 years in California, 1.5 years in Guam. That’s our start and if you are not aware, are all expensive locations to immerse in. By far, for me, our California life was the most expensive for us. Coming from Japan with NO debt, California was a bigger world full of possibilities. We did the season pass to Disney Land, season pass to the zoo, road trips to L.A., San Francisco and Vegas, hit so many outlet malls, and the likes, because honestly, the feeling of deprivation was alive and well within us after being in a smaller country for 3 years. We had so much options before us. To top it off, we bought a new van to fit our growing family. We would have bought a house too if the market was more affordable. We were on top of the bills, it’s the variables that got us started moving towards the debt territory. It was a good life but I was ready to leave the place, off to someplace we can regroup and pay off whatever debt we’ve accrued from living a Cali life. Guam was smaller, less temptations. But then, I was diagnosed with cancer….
Fast track to now, I’m a little bit more immersed in the frugal living, not all the way, yet; but, I’ve accrued a few tips on my sleeve to help me be more prepared for the financial hit of Christmas. Everyday I am learning. So here we go:
First off, you need to start a budget.
I know the initial stage of this is tedious. I went thru it. However, this is such a necessity. It will allow you to see where your money is going every paycheck, as well as let you know just how much of a leeway you have to work with to start your Christmas saving plan. It need not be fancy, it need not be printed either. Just list your individual bills and subtract the expenses from the income coming in. Simple arithmetic.
If you find in the end that you don’t have much to work with, you need to get a side income. This is something I’m striving for. I have applied for a couple of jobs last year, unfortunately, after being out of the workforce for 16+ years, I’ve got a gap I have to fill to be more enticing to employers. I get it. Read more about my post how to fill your career gap. My husband, however, was able to get a part-time job, which helps us immensely.
If a part time job is not for you, there are side hustles available. While I would love to promote that blogging makes money, I really don’t, not yet at least. I’ve been blogging for 2 months now and while I earned a couple of dollars, that’s not going to help me with my shopping adventures. If it is, however, something you want to start, take yourself on a journey. You may not get paid at the early stages, but it’s fulfilling.
Here are some ways you can utilized to earn you some side income:
- Cash back rebate apps and online sites. Here are the ones I’ve tried and still use. Sign up is free, once you have your own referral code, promote it to your family and friends. You get a paid for each successful referral.
- If you have a blog, there are ways to earn a side income with your blog with these:
- BlueHost Affiliate
- Google Adsense
- Amazon Affiliate
- Surveys. I have not done much of this in a while; but here are the ones I did like:
- Pinecone Research
- Sell items on Amazon. Initially, prior to starting my blog, I started looking into selling items on Amazon. While in the end I decided not to pursue it, this might be just around your alley. I will just suggest you get yourself a business license prior to starting so you can use the benefits of being self-employed during tax season and be able to get a business bank account to separate your business from your personal account. A business license in my city would have cost me $15/year.
- Earn money searching online. Swagbucks also pays for using their website as a search engine. I use it and while I don’t get rewards fast enough, I like the idea of getting paid for doing something I already am doing online.
Secondly, set money aside.
Once you determined just how much leeway you have towards Christmas shopping, open and save the money on a separate account, or if you prefer cash, set it aside in an envelope for future use. Either way, it should help you be more mindful of your spending habits when either balance goes to zero.
I also find that Paypal is a great tool for online shopping. I save money I earned from my cash backs and use that money to pay for stuff I buy online. The benefit of using Paypal for me is that it allows me to see the effects of my shopping habits, almost immediately. If I overspend, Paypal will deduct the difference out of the bank account I have on file. I like the visual effect of my action, it forces me to stop and regroup. As opposed to credit cards where I don’t see just how much balance I’ve accrued. I would love to say that I pay off my balances each month, but the reality is that sometimes I don’t, which is why I have credit card debt. While I realize Paypal does not give me mileage points as compared to certain major credit cards, it does help control my spending much better, which is better than having a balance with up to 25% interest rate.
Thirdly, bargain hunt soon as you can.
When you have time, you have the option to find better deals, be it at a brick and mortar store or online. I love shopping at TJ Maxx and Marshalls. I don’t get compensation to say this by the way. I find a lot of deals at these stores, which when I can, I buy for gift giving. And, not just for Christmas either. All throughout the year, there’s at least one person a month who has a birthday, in my family at least. Remember, when I mentioned I have 44 first cousins on my Sunshine Blogger Award post?! So it pays to be proactive with bargain shopping.
Here are my tips for bargain shopping:
- Victoria’s Secret has two semi-annual sale, one in the summer and one in the winter. They don’t just sell underwear and bras. I will admit, gifting underwear is a bit personal. They also sell perfumes, lotions, tote bags, backpacks, makeup bags, etc. If your credit is good and you are good about paying balances in full, their credit card offers bonuses: a reward system for buying up a certain amount, free gifts promotions, card holder special sales and the likes. But here’s the bigger tip:
- There are bargain hunters on Facebook that post sales at every store. Find a group that interest you, ask to join, and check out the amazing deals they share. I’ve gotten a lot of free VS items this way. The downside: it makes you want to buy more. So remember to be mindful of your shopping savings account when you chase after the specials.
- Ebates gives cash backs for online shopping when your shopping trips begins with them. It’s free to use but you do have to create an account so you can accrue your cash backs. From experience, Black Friday cash back rates are awesome. You combine the cash back, typically 10%+ on Black Friday, with the store’s promotion and you save quite a bit on your shopping. Once you hit the $5 minimum threshold, money earned can be transferred to Paypal or sent in the mail.
- Ibotta also gives cash backs on online purchases. It is a free app but you have to sign for an account. You will need to start your shopping trip from the app to get credit for the available cash back. It works the same like Ebates. I like to compare the two to see which is offering a bigger cash back and go from there. Once you hit the $20 minimum threshold, money earned can be transferred to Paypal or a bank account, or exchanged for a gift card code.
- Black Friday is a great way to shop for gifts; but I’m not into squeezing with the crowd to maybe find a good deal. Instead, I shop online. No lines. No crowded aisles. No angry consumers either. Don’t forget to use the cash back available on Ebates or Ibotta during each of your shopping trips. My kids love Hot Topic and during Black Fridays their T-shirts are $10 or less each. In addition to the sale, maximize your savings using cash backs available.
- Walgreens is one of my fave stores to shop at. I do not compensated to say this either-although I think I should. haha. I love walking the aisles and getting my steps in in the early a.m. I find really great deals this way, typically make-ups, facial items, perfumes. I bought my mom a Coach perfume there for $12 for Mother’s Day. I hope my mom’s not reading this post. haha My family knows I love bargain hunting though. I’ve gotten As Seen on TV stuff for a great price there too that are still being sold for full price at other stores. Combine their promotional bonus points with sale items and you got yourself deals. Learn about the 8 ways I use to maximize my savings at Walgreens.
- Retail Me Not. I’ve used this site for shopping at the mall. I’ve used $10 off $25 purchases at JcPenney and Macy’s before. You don’t even have to sign up for an account. Combine it with discounted items and I find amazing deals. I just ask the cashier to scan the code right off my phone. Super easy, why would you not use it?!
- Shop off season. I buy sweaters in the warmer months, and summer wears in the colder months. I typically buy classic pieces so it never goes out of style. I’m not a fashion trend setter myself, so this is not a problem for me. I bought a Michael Kors red down puff vest for my mom for $15 back in April and gifted it Mother’s Day. She loves this brand, as well as the Coach, so why not save?! She was able to use it on one of her road trips just after Mother’s Day too. So, that was really cool. I was able to give her 2 popular name brands she loves for a fraction of the cost just by being a savvy bargain hunter. I also love buying garden kits off season and gift them. I love live plants.
- Sign up for coupons or loyalty rewards for your fave stores.
- Bed, Bath & Beyond sends me $5 off $15 or 20% off coupons in the mail at least once a month.
- Bath and Body Works sends me coupons in the mail for freebies, those little free lotions or perfumes are a great gift ideas. I’ve given those to teachers and bus drivers too.
- Journey’s sends me coupons for back to school discounts.
- Ulta sends me coupons in the mail, as well as in my inbox, for a $3.50 off $10 purchase.
- A.C. Moore always seem to have a 50% coupon discount every week.
Fourthly, here are great ideas for personalized gifting on a budget:
Personal gift are really great to me. Here’s a few example:
- Personalized Artwork. Buy an art canvas, mod podge, paint brush and then go to Office Max and have a picture you love reprinted the size of the canvas you bought. Glue the picture onto the canvas and when dry, glaze it with mod podge to protect it. I have a few of this in my home and is also a great personalized gift idea. *AC Moore offers 50% on regular priced item typically every week.
- Shutterfly offers, at certain times of the year, a free photo book. You just download the pictures you want to include in the book and it’s a great personalized gift idea. You may have to pay for shipping, but it’s fairly cheap way for personalized gift giving.
- Pinterest has a great wealth of personalized gift ideas as well. With some time and effort, you can recreate one that passes your standards.
- Personalized a gift basket. You can find fairly cheap brand names, just keep your eyes peeled for ideas. I stop by the Dollar Store once in a while to check out the stuff they have there. Read more about my most recent Dollar Store bargain finds.
- If you are musically inclined, like my sis and bro-in-law, record a song for a personalized gift. My mom absolutely loved my sis’ cover of her fave songs by the Beatles and The Carpenters. Now, my dad is jealous and want one done for him too. haha
Fifthly, how to save on gifting for the picky gift receivers.
From experience, teens are the hardest to shop for. I either ask for a list or buy a gift card to their fave store. You can also get giftcards at a discount at Retailmenot.com. There are number of popular stores there: Lowes, Amazon, Ikea, Sephora, Barnes & Noble, AMC, Starbucks to name a few.
Lastly, save on wrap paper and labels.
I am hoping you got your Christmas gift wrappers and labels on clearance after Christmas at Target and other stores. I prefer the Hallmark wrapper when I can afford it because it’s thicker and has the lines on the reverse side so I can cut my wrapper straight. Christmas comes every year, why not save on gift wrap? They don’t really take that much space. I buy just enough for an estimated need for the upcoming Christmas and just buy more at the Dollar Store if I run out. Tip: I also buy the types of wrapper that can pass for other occasions.
I’ve had to use tissue paper wrap before and ribbon when I run out last year. haha. It works just fine. Albeit easier to tear, just double up the tissue wrapping paper.
For little gifts, brown paper bags are a great way to wrap them. Punch two holes after you fold the top and run a ribbon thru the holes, tie it shut, and curl the ends of the ribbon. Easy peasy gift wrapping, especially for tiny little odd shaped gifts. Dollar Stores sell them for $1 for 25 bags or something around that count.
There is no magic potion to make debts disappear. It certainly accrues faster than I can pay it off, if I’m not careful. It’s all about mindful spending and utilizing the free perks available. As I said, I love shopping, so I get my fill bargain hunting. I find it rewarding. Maybe you don’t have time to be a savvy bargain hunter and I get that. Life is busy. If you are in a bind and have to pay full price, just be mindful of the little free perks made available to you. It doesn’t hurt to ask if a store has a military discount, for example. 10% is 10% and very appreciated.
Since I start early in the year for Christmas shopping, I do have to find a spot to hide all these things. I just use boxes and remind my kids not to go in my closet, reminding them that it’s more fun being surprised. It has worked thus far. Maybe you have an overly excited kid, so maybe wrapping is your best bet. I especially love the plain brown paper gift wrapper, which are sold for $1 at the Dollar Store. They will all look the same, so don’t forget to label.
I hope I have helped you, even a tad, be more prepared for Christmas. After this month of July, you will have less than 5 months left to shop. What are ways you continue to use to complete your Christmas shopping on a budget? Do share.
Please note that some of the link on this blog post might earn me a small monetary bonus for referral, clicking on it is of no extra cost to you, it’s just a little incentive to help me maintain this blog. Thank you for understanding.