Monday, September 26, 2011


September is almost gone and all the big holidays will be here before you know it. If you blink you might miss them cause this year has flown by. I'm still in shock that this year is coming so quickly to a close. For me, this is the time of year that I kick it into overdrive. I start making little mini wishlists of stuff I would want as gifts or might buy if I can catch a break and find the items on sale. I do this for everyone in my family. I find that it helps me to keep track of the really important stuff that each of them might want. So each month up until Christmas I'm going to "TRY" and post weekly / monthly updates.

So here are some tips on how to make the holidays not so stressful:

Start a special savings account for gifts. I start small with $10 to $20 weekly deposits and then depending on the balance at mid-year, I might kick-it up a notch and start putting more money in there if I see that I might come up short. This helps to lessen the burden during the holidays when you should be able to relax and enjoy quality time with friends and family. Also, don't panic if an emergency crops up and you have to dip into the fund, which never fails to happen to me at least once or twice through-out the year. That is why you start early so you have a good bit of money built up and if the unthinkable happens you will have time to replenish it.

Another option, and I'm not saying to do this all the time, is most 401K plans allow you to take a loan out on the money that you have put in there. Depending on the type of 401K account that you have, if there is at least $2,000 or more in the account you can borrow up to half of that balance. The good thing about this option is that you are borrowing your own money and any interest on the loan gets paid back to yourself rather than a bank if you were to take out a bank loan. Also, there might be a one-time processing fee, but most fees are small and will be deducted from the loan amount.  

Start shopping early, and don't wait for the Black Friday sales. Especially if you have small children from about the ages of 3 to 11. When my boys were younger it was so much easier to buy for them. I knew that my oldest loved Lego sets so I would watch for the clearance shelves around June and July because that is when most stores start to clearance items to make room for the pending holidays. I was able to find the big, expensive Lego sets for 50-75% cheaper than the original price. Also, I didn't shop the after Christmas sales either because majority of the items are still way over priced. I waited until the end of January and early February to shop because all of those big expensive, over-priced, must-have toys that all the kids wanted are now way less.

With my youngest son, when he was smaller, he loved action figures, cars and trucks. For him, it wasn't so much a matter of finding stuff on clearance, but finding the items that he wanted early enough before they sold out. I started shopping for him around August and September. Both of these months are the ideal months to shop for those types of toys. Why, you might ask, are those prime shopping months. Because children are going back to school and parents are spending money on school supplies, college tuition, school clothes, etc. Think about it; parents are spending money on all of these items except toys. If you have ever visited the toy section during this time-frame you will find the aisles virtually empty of shoppers. So take advantage of this prime shopping  time and stock up.

For the much older kids, this means the late preteens and teenage years of 12-19 years old, children are easier to buy stuff for but way more expensive. Think iPods, iPads, video games, music cds, movies, clothes, etc. just to name a few and that is just for starters. My children are at this age now and I find that a budget is a must-have when it comes to buying for them. If you don't have a budget you can very easily sink yourself into some serious debt. Also, if your family has been hit hard financially due to the poor economy, share this with your children. Children, especially teenagers, know when their parents are stressed and for the good of everyone in the family, it helps to have an open and honest discussion about finances. Not only does it prepare the children for the realities of life and the uncertainty it can hold, but it will also help them to better understand why they can't have every new video game that comes out. Teenagers appreciate honesty and being treated as more than just a kid. As my children have gotten older, I find that my relationship with my children has improved greatly by following these simple steps. We've learned to work more as a team and to think of others rather than being so focused on ourselves all the time. However, it is good to still spoil them or splurge on them every once in a while.**Please note: It is my opinion only, that the sharing of your family's financial situation, be shared with the older children only and not the much younger ones. However, it is entirely up to you how you handle these types of situations.

I have my children make lists of stuff they want and then rank them according to importance. Starting with the "must-have", "gonna die if I don't get it items" to the "it would be nice to have, but if I don't get it I will still survive" type of stuff. Now I don't try and get everything on their list but I do try to get one or two of the "must-have" items as long as they aren't too expensive. Here again, it is good to keep the lines of communication open and be honest if you can't afford some of the stuff. Another option to consider, is if you have other family members that buy gifts for your children, ask them about pooling resources so you can buy the more expensive gifts together. This way the burden is not on any one individual. Also, if you have a big extended family like we do, to cut done on some of the expense around the holidays, we only buy gifts for the children. The only exception to this rule are the grandparents and single relatives. Reason being, is because grandparents are special and have done so much for us that we want them to know how much we really appreciate them and all the sacrifices that they made for us when we were kids. Single relatives, because the majority of them don't have children and if they don't have a significant other around the holidays, it can be a lonely time of the year for them. It is good to make them feel special as well. After all, they usually buy gifts for your children on their birthdays and holidays so it is especially nice to repay their generosity.

A good place to shop for video games and electronic items is the internet. Every year, I use PriceGrabber, an online price comparison search engine. It looks for the items and lists the stores / websites that have the item(s) and how much it costs. Amazon is another web based store that I shop at frequently. Especially around the holidays because they run special promos and discounts that brick and mortar stores can't match. Another store to shop at throughout the year is Toys-R-Us, especially their online store, right up until Black Friday. The two weeks prior to Black Friday, you will find incredible deals. Such as buy 2 video games and get 1 free for all video game systems. They run these incredible deals to help clear out their current inventory of video games to make room for all of the new releases that will be launched right before Christmas. Another thing I have learned is all the new video game releases that are launched right before Christmas and are priced at $60 and up will drop drastically in price if you wait a few weeks after the holidays. Trust me, I know! Nothing is more depressing than seeing a video game you just spent $60 on when it first released and it is now on sale for half that price after Christmas. For those types of games, cash gifts go a long way. Then you can find out how badly your child really wanted that "must-have" video game when they have to pay for it with their Christmas money. LOL. **This is one area that I will definitely be posting additional blog updates so keep checking back for more!

Get your children, friends, and other family members involved in the whole gift hunting / buying process. Even though I live two states away from my family, they are my go-to source when I am trying to find hard to get items. I enlist the help of my co-workers even. It is like a huge scavenger hunt and it is actually quite a lot of fun. We all share are lists and try to help each other out as much as possible.

Anyway, these are just some basic guidelines to help you survive the holidays without going into debt. Whether or not they work for you is all up to how organized you are and how much time you really want to invest in the whole shopping experience. For me, this works, and I find that my kids have a really great time during the holidays which is worth it. Like I said before, I will try to post additional tips and strategies throughout the year so keep checking back or subscribe so you don't miss out on anything!

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