Holiday gift tips help you be generous without breaking the bank
BY LAURIE WINSLOW World Staff Writer
Sunday, November 18, 2012
11/18/12 at 2:56 AM
Lori Sears gets creative around the Christmas holidays.
She sometimes sews gift bags for friends at Christmas and fills them with baked goods or makes strawberry, pepper or grape preserves.
In one Saturday afternoon, she can knock out 30 gifts that are as economical as they are meaningful.
"It gets me into the spirit of actually giving," she said. "I'm giving my time. I'm making something. It's nourishing for other people, and that really does put me into the spirit. That sounds kind of Pollyanna."
Sears, who works as the manager of international intellectual property services at GableGotwals, gets gifts for about 50 people each year, generally spending less than $500. She saves by setting a holiday budget at the start of the year, setting money aside monthly and being on the lookout for gifts year-round.
Her specific approach to holiday spending and saving is something that consumer experts wish more people would embrace.
But with Black Friday and Christmas just around the bend, shoppers can easily succumb to impulse buys and splurges in the rush to meet that Dec. 25 deadline.
"The holidays are not about making more debt," said Mary Buffington Thomas, director of education for Credit Counseling Centers of Oklahoma Inc. "It's about enjoying our season, our family, being still and thankful for the things that are in your life ... You can't do that if you're stressed out and get deeper in debt."
This year the average shopper is projected to fork over $749.51 for holiday expenses, up $9 from last year, according to the National Retail Federation.
Do right by your wallet
Ideally, people should start saving for Christmas 2013 now and plan to spend no more than 4 percent of their annual net income on holiday purchases, Thomas said.
That suggestion may be too late for those just starting their holiday hunt. So get organized.
Make a list of everyone who will be receiving a gift and how much you can afford to spend, she said. Keep holiday receipts in a folder to track expenses and write the name of the gift recipient on the back.
Knowing how much was spent this year will help in creating a budget for next year.
"If I don't have the money to pay for it, I don't buy it," Thomas said.
Those who do charge should make sure they can pay it off at the end of the month. Sissy Osteen, state resource management specialist with the Oklahoma State University Cooperative Extension Service, said she doesn't have an aversion to credit cards as long as people track their expenses and know how much they are charging.
Osteen suggests writing down charges in a check register to keep track of how much money is being used and to ensure the balance can be paid when the credit card statement arrives.
Before hitting the stores, comparison shop ahead of time. Peruse newspaper ads and go online to compare prices at different stores, consumer experts say. Black Friday isn't the only day for super sales.
If you buy something and three weeks later it goes on sale, take the item and receipt back and see if the retailer will honor the lower price, Thomas suggested.
"They are a little more lax because they want you in the store," Thomas said. "They want your money."
Low on cash? Collect all your unused gift cards and use them to get gifts for others.
"Those are funds that are already available, so you're not taking any money out of the budget," Osteen said.
And you don't have to spend a lot of money to show you care. A written letter to a loved one can be more poignant than a bought gift.
Families often go overboard for very young children or grandchildren. Everybody is busy buying stuff for them, but at certain ages children may not value the connection with the person who is giving the gift, Osteen said.
She prefers taking money that would have been spent on toys and investing it in a regular investment account or college savings account.
"That makes me feel better, and they'll have something later on rather than a toy that they lose interest in or an electronic device that becomes obsolete over time," Osteen said.
Families also can save by opting to buy one big gift that everyone will use - a new television or refrigerator - rather than buy multiple gifts for every family member. Or decide as a family to help someone else, creating a tradition in the process, Thomas said.
Make gifts as a family. Look for local venues or art centers that offer workshops on photography, painting, ceramics. Use computer technology to scan family photos and make picture books.
"Those are neat things that maintain family history and holiday tradition," Osteen said.
Or give of yourself. Create gift certificates and offer to provide a service or skill that suits the needs of the recipient. Include instructions with gift certificates. You may not want the gift recipient calling at 8 a.m. expecting a homemade meal by 5 p.m., Thomas said. So specify how much time in advance is needed.
Think out of the department-store box and check out consignment stores, local artists or nonprofits for affordable and unique gifts.
Sears likes to look for gifts - ornaments and stocking stuffers - made by local artisans that can be found through local festivals or nonprofit fundraisers.
Another way she saves when shopping for friends overseas is to eliminate shipping.
Last year she searched the Internet for shops in Taipei, London and Geneva for friends living there and ordered gifts from mom-and-pop shops that could deliver the gifts.
"It was just so much easier than going and boxing it up and shipping," she said.
Holiday spending averages:
Overall: $749.51, up from $740.57 last year
Food and candy: $100.76
Greeting cards: $28.66
Source: National Retail Federation
Do's and don'ts for buying gift cards
Original Print Headline: Smart generosity
- Do read the fine print.
- Don't buy gift cards from online auction sites. They may be counterfeit or may have been obtained fraudulently.
- Do check for fees (purchase fees, inactivity, dormancy or service fees, transaction fees, miscellaneous fees). Inactivity fees can be charged only after a card hasn't been used for at least one year, and then a person can be charged only once per month.
- Do check expiration date. By law, gift cards issued after Aug. 22, 2010, may not expire for at least five years after purchase.
- Do inspect the gift card before buying and verify that none of the protective stickers have been removed.
- Do make sure that the codes on the back of the card haven't been scratched off to reveal a PIN number.
- Do give the recipient your original receipt so he or she can verify the card's purchase in case it's lost or stolen.
- Do consider the financial condition of the retailer or restaurant. A card bought from a company that files for bankruptcy or goes out of business may be worth less than anticipated.
Laurie Winslow 918-581-8466
Lori Sears makes gift bags to keep her Christmas spending at a manageable level. MATT BARNARD / Tulsa World