10 Ways to Avoid Overspending on Holiday Gifts

According to the National Retail Federation, Americans will spend more than $586 billion this year on holiday shopping.

Last year, when I checked my bank account in early October, I didn’t think I’d be able to make it through the holidays with a steady savings and a happy family. But I managed to do both and now my obsessive organization for holiday shopping is entering year 2.

The NRF estimates the average holiday shopper will spend $750 on gifts, cards, decor, and more. Save your time, sanity, and extra cash with some holiday organization.

1. Make a list, check it twice

Create a spreadsheet, Google Doc, or even hand-write a list of people you’re buying for. Mine includes a column for the people I’m buying for, a gift idea, the amount of the gift, a place for more info on the gift (this could be a direct link to an online purchase), and if it’s bought or needs to be bought. Split up friends, family, and extended relatives into different groups. Mine are color-coded since I have a few different groups to buy for. I also made a list of people who will receive just holiday cards rather than gifts.

2. Make a budget

You could say “I’m only going to spend $300 on gifts this year,” and while that may be a good idea in theory, it depends on how many people you’re buying for. Try prioritizing each person and setting a price limit for each person’s gift. I will probably spend more money on my mom than my great aunt in New York.

3. Don’t rely on retail stores

The Internet tells you when an item is out of stock. A retail store doesn’t tell you until you’ve arrived, searched, and come up empty-handed. See exactly where the watch you’re scoping out for your significant other is available before trekking out to buy it.

4. Buy the same thing more than once

If you’ve got a big group to buy for, consider piling up on gift cards for a few different people. Costco sells $100 worth of certain gift cards for $80, for example. Check out the best sites for buying discounted gift cards here.

5. Split the difference

If you are planning on getting a big gift for someone, but know you can’t afford it on your own, talk to friends and family about dividing payments among a few people. Last year, my family bought my grandma a new TV and a bunch of us chipped in what we could.

6. Don’t be afraid to ask

You’d rather get someone something they like than guess and get them something they won’t use. Post-holiday returns and exchanges are hectic, especially for the people who have to stand in line. While you may want to keep up with the tradition of surprise, it doesn’t hurt to simply find out what someone wants or needs. Ask your loved ones to email you a list of what they want or get them started on Amazon Wish Lists, which helps tremendously.

7. Prior use doesn’t mean second-rate

When I invested in a record player earlier this year, I started going to second-hand stores and thrift shops in search of finding great records for $1 instead of $20. This also bodes well for books, appliances, dishware, and even furniture. If someone you know recently moved and needs some household items, check thrift stores for lightly used products.

8. Compare prices

Brick-and-mortar stores continue to find ways to compete with Amazon and other online retailers, so check the price online first. Use Amazon’s Price Check app (Android and iPhone) to see if you can buy it cheaper online. Use price comparison websites as well.

9. Read and re-read the fine print

If you surprise someone with a gift they dislike, they could end up stuck with it if you don’t know the return policy. A friend once got earrings for her sister from Forever 21. Her sister wasn’t a fan of them, but the store doesn’t allow returns on jewelry. To better prepare yourself this holiday season, read about the best and worst return policies for 2012.

10. Start before Black Friday

If you see a sale on an item in October, don’t wait until December to snatch it up. I made my holiday shopping list at the end of September to get a head start on purchases. I buy a little at a time and don’t break the bank. A lot of times, sales start long before Black Friday.

What are your favorite holiday shopping tips and tricks? Tell us on our Facebook page.

Sign up for our free newsletter

Like this article? Sign up for our newsletter and we'll send you a regular digest of our newest stories, full of money saving tips and advice, free! We'll also email you a PDF of Stacy Johnson's "205 Ways to Save Money" as soon as you've subscribed. It's full of great tips that'll help you save a ton of extra cash. It doesn't cost a dime, so why wait? Click here to sign up now.

The fast, free way to stay on top of your money.

If you’re not using online money management, it’s time to start.

Click here to find out more.

Money Talks News has teamed with PowerWallet for a free, confidential way to track your expenses, set budgets and goals, get bill reminders and earn free customized coupons.

Take a minute right now and check out PowerWallet. It's the simple way to get a handle on your money.

Comments & discussion

We welcome your opinions, but let’s keep it civil. Like many businesses, we reserve the right to refuse service to anyone. In our case, that means those who communicate by name-calling, racism, using words designed to hurt others or generally acting like an uninformed bully. Also, comments that include links to email addresses or commercial websites typically aren't posted. This isn't a place to advertise your business.