This is not a drill, people. Christmas is just six days away. We are officially what they call “down to the wire.”
The final countdown means many things to many people. To some, it means staying up until 2 a.m. all week to finish baking 10 kinds of Christmas cookies. To others, it means scrubbing their house, and buying and preparing enough food to feed 30 family members. And to a whole lot of people, it means tearing through the mall, shopping in a frenzy and charging their credit cards within an inch of their lives.
At the beginning of the holiday season, we’re all more careful with our shopping. We check tags, wait for sales and compare prices. But as the deadline nears, we tend to throw caution out the window in favor of just getting things done. “It’s more than I wanted to spend,” we say. “But, oh well, what can I do at this point?”
On the charge card it goes, without another thought – until that painful slap in the face that comes with the post-Christmas credit card bill.
I’m sure I’m not telling you anything you don’t know. We all spend more when we’re stressed out, when we’re pressed for time, when we think we won’t have another chance to buy the thing we’re thinking of buying. That’s why so many people overspend at Christmas time. And that’s why the final week before Christmas is extra dangerous.
Here are a few ways to keep things in check during these last few days.
Make a list and check it twice. Just because it’s a cliche doesn’t make it untrue. Make a budget and stick to it. Write out each person you have to buy for and write a dollar amount next to their name. When you get to the store, don’t spend more than that.
“Well, that’s very nice,” you say. “But how does one actually stick to that in real life?”
Bring cash only. Total up your budget including tax and bring just enough money to cover the presents you have budgeted to buy. You don’t want to be stranded at the register $5 short, right? That will put the fear of god into you.
Ask for specific price points. This works best at small, locally owned businesses where you can actually find salespeople and they’re actually pleased to help you. I always enlist a salesperson, asking “Do you have a nice gift for $30?” or whatever amount I’ve budgeted. They always know good options immediately. I don’t waste time picking through the store, and I never overspend.
Trim your list. For example, do you really need to buy gifts for your co-workers? Can you make some cookies or a dish to bring into work one day instead? Can you downsize anywhere?
Maybe get the mailman a pint of whisky instead of a fifth?
Postpone Christmas. Seriously. If you have a group of friends that regularly gets together for the holidays, plan the gathering for after Christmas.
That gives you some breathing room. You’ll have more time to shop and – this is the best part – everything will be on sale.