The dog days of summer have pounced squarely on our backs and, beyond mere human survival, it's hard to imagine getting things accomplished, let alone completing important financial tasks. My suggestion? Build that holiday gift list now, and start chipping away at it.
Here are six key benefits to adopting this forward-thinking approach:
- Duck the crush. During Thanksgiving week, many of us begin to feel the pressure of cooking, entertaining and, yes, shopping. But if fighting the crowds for a Black Friday discount or spending hours in front of your computer searching for a Cyber Monday deal isn't your idea of fun, read on. You can sidestep the holiday shopping rush by leisurely making purchases here and there over the next couple of months. That allows more time for parties, travel and communing with friends and family when the holidays are in full swing.
- Catch sales. Summer is a grand time for sales. Retailers are intent on clearing their shelves to bring in new merchandise, and you benefit from their tactic to accomplish this: marked-down prices. If you begin shopping months in advance you can find gifts that are on your list and on sale. Just imagine: If you saved 20% on a $50 purchase and did that 10 times, you'd have about $100 saved for your next party fund or even to stash in an emergency fund.
- Avoid emptying your pockets. It's so important to know how much your wallet holds for the season and how much you should, or should not, spend. Make a list and, just like Santa, check it twice. Do you really have to buy gifts for all the co-workers on your team? What about close friends? Does each one need a store-bought present? A card with a heartfelt message or baked goods from your kitchen might be more meaningful. Once you decide who will receive gifts, determine how much you're going to spend on each person. Then, don't go over that amount -- no matter how much you may be tempted to do so.
- Go for greenbacks. When I was a kid, my parents paid cash for everything. They made an occasional layaway purchase, but had no credit card debt. Using cash means when you buy something, you truly own it. It also means you don't rack up interest and finance charges on a credit card. If you start buying gifts with cash now and spread your purchases over the coming months, you'll be much more likely stay on track, on budget and in the black.
- Clip coupons. OK, well, maybe you don't physically cut coupons out of the newspaper anymore. But don't disregard those envelopes that arrive in your mailbox, stuffed with discount offers from local retailers. Look for online coupons and promo codes, and check out social group-buying sites such as Groupon, LivingSocial and others.
- Remember your hiding places! If you do buy gifts early, make note of where you stash them and avoid buying the same people other things.
Holiday lights likely will be on store shelves before Halloween, but this year, don't fight it. Get in front of it, and you'll be on the path to a financially happy holiday season.