FatWallet.com features Holiday Spending Tips from Steven Smith

shoppingWith the holiday shopping season quickly approaching, the time to prepare is now! Outside of putting together your shopping list and holiday spending plan, consider how you can save money this season.The American Research Group says the average consumer will spend $854 on holiday gifts alone, up 32% from average planned spending in 2011. By the time you factor in holiday parties, annual traditions and extravagant meals, American consumers will spend over $1000—a shocking number most would prefer reduce. Spending Management Expert, Steven B. Smith, recommends the following tips for extra savings this season:
Make Your List and Check it Twice: Just like Santa, it pays to make a list—and double check it. Think about each person you need to purchase a gift for and the amount you usually spend. As you brainstorm ideas for each person, think about what might be on sale and where it might be the cheapest. By making a list, you can avoid the last minute panic attack that often has us all overspending our budgets. Shop early so you have time to find a good price on the item rather than making the close‐at‐hand but way‐too‐expensive split decision. And return to your list to check it twice, as extra sales pop up and fresh ideas present themselves.

Family Spending Cap: Get family and friends to agree to only spend a certain amount per person this year. By setting a reasonable cap, you will not feel obliged to spend more than you have and can rest assured your family will not expect you to. Or instead consider a name exchange to eliminate needless overspending. For Larger families, switching from purchasing everyone a gift to a name exchange can save hundreds of dollars per family!

Don’t wander off track: Emotions can get in the way of good judgment when shopping for loved ones and friends. Combined with the “holiday spirit,” advertisements and crunched time, it’s easy to get off track. Instead, commit to sticking with the amount you allocate to each “envelope” (person on your list). Consider using a budgeting tool to keep on track.

DIY Gifts: Nothing shows how much you care about a person like a homemade gift. DIY gifts and baked goods make great hostess gifts, office gifts or gifts for casual friends. If you do plan to make gifts that require hours of time and attention, be sure to get started well ahead of time. No matter what you are making, baking, or creating, aim to finish it well before the 25th. Shop around for the best deals on craft supplies—craft specialty stores tend to offer the lowest prices of the season on Black Friday and throughout December.

Economical Shipping Methods: If you plan to purchase gifts online or by catalog, start early. By shopping on Cyber Monday or towards the beginning of the season, you can still use economical shipping methods. The later you wait, the more likely you are to have to pay pricey overnight shipping costs to ensure gifts arrive by Christmas Eve. For out‐of state family and friends, consider having the gifts wrapped by the store and delivered directly to them, saving time and money in the end.

Most importantly, remember that the “holiday spirit” is not about shopping, buying expensive gifts or pushing through crowds at stores. It’s about spending time with family and friends—the giving of yourself—which doesn’t cost a dime.

Reader’s Digest recommends Mvelopes®

Between the gifts, party outfits, and festive nights out, the holidays can pass in a frenzied blur of green (and we don’t mean mistletoe). Once the confetti settles on New Year’s, it’s a good time to reevaluate your financial goals. Personally, I’d like to save for a weekend getaway, and I was excited to discover a tool that can help me with that:Mvelopes, an online personal finance service that helps you save through envelope budgeting.

Mvelopes takes its name and concept from Depression-era saving: Without access to credit, families took to setting aside money in envelopes to cover future expenses. In today’s digital world, Mvelopes allows you to create different spending and savings “envelopes” and set a spending limit for each. Rather than monitoring your checking account on the go, you can use the Mvelopes app to see how much you have left in an envelope before spending at the grocery store or shopping for clothes. By setting a budget that matches your income, you can set aside an envelope for whatever you’re saving toward—whether it’s a vacation or some emergency cushion—without overspending.

A basic version of the service is free to use on the web or from your smartphone (there is an iOS and an Android version), and you can create up to 25 envelopes (there are additional features if you upgrade to a premium account). The app utilizes location finder technology to identity the places you like to spend, and you can snap and save a picture of your receipt so you can remember what you bought. You can sync multiple accounts—checking, savings, and credit cards—and create envelopes to set aside funds to pay bills. You can decide whether funds allocated in each envelope roll over into the next month.

At some point during this holiday season, perhaps when you have a relaxing moment, think about a savings goal you’d like to achieve in the new year, and give it a try with Mvelopes.