Spend money and save the economy? Or, cut back and prepare?

Nov 22, 2011

Should you spend more this holiday season and give the economy a boost? Or cut back on shopping and save your money for possibly tougher times ahead?

That's quite a conundrum.

The best we can come up with is to recommend spending if your job feels secure, and being frugal if your personal finances are vulnerable. The economy needs your shopping dollars, but don't spend 'em if you don't have 'em.

Now that we've dodged that weighty issue, it's on to the easy stuff:

Greg's holiday shopping tips

Santa says make a list and you should, too. A concise list of gifts you want to buy not only helps you shop, it may also help you avoid buying items you don’t really need.

If you use credit, pick the credit card with the lowest interest rate.  Either cut the others up, or hide them in a rarely visited location so you’re not tempted.  

If you use cash, consider withdrawing bank funds you expect to spend for everyone, then don’t go back until next year.

Compare prices!

Consider online shopping, where price comparisons are easier. Don’t assume one site is enough to check. Amazon.com is excellent for all sorts of things, but believe it or not it is not always the lowest price. Price comparison Web sites exist. Just ask your search engine, Google or Bing or whatever. Also consider auction sites, many of which offer new or like-new items at a discount.

Use coupons from publications of all kinds, and don’t forget checking retailers’ online sites for specials. Using coupons, Greg bought $180 worth of Christmas gifts the other day because he could get 33 percent off.

Be willing to adjust your gift plans if something better arises. For example, a $25 tie may be just as attractive a gift as a $75 tie, and last just as long.

The second-hand option

For furniture and a lot of other items, second-hand stores such as the Goodwill and the Salvation Army may produce just the right thing at a discount. Say you want a family photo framed for a relative. Second-hand sites usually have an excellent supply of quality frames.

If you do most of your shopping early, then commit to not shopping late – avoid those little add-ons that run your holiday budget over the top. Better yet, shop later. These days, even last-minute online gifts can reach you in time.

Make sure it's what you want

When you shop sales, online or conventional, buy what you want.  Don’t buy something just because it is on sale.

Make your own holiday cards. Online publishing and printing is remarkably easy and much cheaper than a few boxes of cards.

No law requires you to decorate your tree or your house with new items each year. Get some wear out of things used only a few weeks of the year.

Don’t shop at meal times. You’ll wind up with eating-out money better applied to gifts. And sometimes shopping is quicker if you know lunchtime occurs when you get home.