The holidays are almost over and while you’re out returning gifts, you’re probably looking for something to use that store credit on. Also — don’t deny it — you’re also eying those enticing sale racks and seeing some things that would fit right into your own wardrobe. That’s all great and entirely in the spirit of the season. Santa knows you were a very good girl and we’re sure there’s more he would have brought you if he’d had the space in his sleigh.
But you don’t want to wake up in the new year with a hangover of debt that will take you ‘til next Christmas to pay off.
Here are 5 ways to keep your spending in check:
1. Be Smart With Your Credit Cards
Credit cards certainly come in handy when you need to pay for some purchases in installments. But high interest rates you rack up over time can up to double the original cost of things! If you’re carrying debt on a card with substantial interest, it’s time to look at transferring your balance to a card with a lower rate and maybe better rewards, too. Some credit card companies even waive balance transfer fees and offer promotional periods with 0 percent APR.
2. Shop the Sales
There is just no reason at all to pay full price at this time of the year. (Or, really, ever!) After-Christmas sales are legendary, and many stores continue to offer deeply discounted prices into the new year. January is the prime sale month for winter clothing, party dresses and accessories, furniture, appliances, electronics, sporting goods, cookware, and home goods like towels, sheets, blankets, and comforters. Buying gifts on sale gives you more bang for your buck. And if you can throw a little something into the cart for yourself, so much the better.
3. Make, Bake, Get Cooking or Crafty
If you’re an artist or a photographer, there’s no better gift than to frame one of your works and sign the matte with a personal message to make it extra special. If you knit or crochet, make a scarf that will keep the recipient warm through the winter and think of you every time he or she wears it. And if you start now, you’ll have time to make something for everyone before next Christmas. Or you can use them throughout the year for birthday gifts!
If you’re a great baker, create something wonderful. If you’re known for your savory dishes, whip something up and freeze it for a present that the recipient can enjoy whenever he or she is ready. Other homemade kitchen treats that you don’t have to be a culinary genius to put together include flavored vinegars and infused sugars, martini olives soaked in vermouth, cherries soaked in brandy, flavored vodka, candied violets, glazed or spiced nuts, chocolate-covered pretzels, almond bark, peanut brittle, even tricked-out granola. Recipes for all of these and more abound online, and none takes much time or expertise to make. All you’ve got to do is package them prettily in gift bags or jars from the dollar store, and you’ve got gifts that are personal, cost-effective, and delicious, too!
4. Have a White Elephant Gift Exchange
We’re not talking about those party games where people trade tacky presents bought for the occasion and then go home and put them in a bottom drawer for three years and then throw them out. The gift exchange we mean is one where you swap things that are great but not great for you. As long as your pals are wholeheartedly signed on to it, take this opportunity to trade items that are new or new-ish, but just don’t fit or don’t match your lifestyle. Or if your mother-in-law gave you something for Christmas that just isn’t your thing, your vintage-loving friend might take it off your hands.
Everyone brings a few items so that there’s a good choice, and you can happily trade the parka you bought for the ski trip you never went on in exchange for the necklace that doesn’t go with anything your bestie owns but that you’ve been coveting. It’s a win-win all around and your wallet hasn’t left your purse.
5. Give the Gift of Yourself
Create certificates offering services you promise to provide. Maybe it’s house-sitting or pet-sitting. Or maybe it’s helping a friend paint a room, including a promise to clean all the brushes when you’re both done. If you’ve got a green thumb, you can plan and plant a garden for someone, or even just promise a few mornings of weeding and pruning. (An older friend or relative might really appreciate that one.)
If you’ve got a bachelor pal who can’t boil water, you can teach him how to make an omelet or give him a tutorial on homemade pasta to wow his next date. Everyone’s good at something that someone else isn’t. The best presents bring you together with the recipient and make that person’s life a little bit easier. What could be nicer than that?