Practical Christmas shopping advice

By Staff Writer
Christmas is only a month away. Stores and shopping centres will start to get busier as those who favour traditional shopping over online shopping swarm to these gift hubs to get presents for their family and friends.
For some it is often a mad rush as you realise a gift you forgot to purchase, or that one toy you really wanted to get for your child is sold out, at every toy store. With Christmas shopping it is probably best to start early, prices could be cheaper as you avoid the end of year mark-ups, especially with the repo rate increase that was announced last week.
But before heading to the store and getting down to the grind stone of Christmas shopping, there are a few things you should do first. First off, there are the financial aspects that Christmas brings with it. While you may want to splurge at this time of year, with the cost of credit going up, as well as expected food price increases and electricity tariff hikes next year, now is the time to be more frugal with your money.
Wendy Monkley, head of marketing at DebtBusters, notes: “Responsible spending is essential to ensure that you make it out of the festivities ‘alive’ and enter the New Year without the burden of unnecessary debt.”
Below are some financially practical tips to help the Christmas shopping experience go more smoothly.
1.       Have a plan
Planning in advance should be one of the first things that you do heading into the festive season, according to Monkley. This relates to both your finances over the festive season, as well as your gift buying, and any other activities that you may have planned.
Knowing what you are going to do, and what you are going to buy will give you a better idea of how much money you will need, as well as which shops you will need to visit and which can be avoided.
Monkley points out that effective planning can be done by “drawing up a schedule of all the activities and events you will be involved with, so that you can effectively manage your time, as well as your funds. By doing this, you can avoid over-committing yourself and your money.”
2.       Have a list
This is related to having a plan. Part of your planning stage should include drawing up a list of all the people you need to give gifts to over the festive season. This will ensure that you don’t forget to buy a gift for someone, or that you don’t go overboard and buy more than you actually need.
3.       Set a budget
Having a budget, particularly over the festive season will better help you manage and control your finances. Monkley points out: “It’s too easy to get caught up in the hype and having a festive season budget will keep you focused and help prevent spontaneous spending.”
She adds: “The festive season often comes with an array of new expenses such as, gifts, holiday expenses, travelling costs and the costs associated with festive season feasts. Don’t forget to total your income and expenses. If your income exceeds your expenses, you will need to cut down on expenses.
“Make sure you are aware of all of the cost implications associated with the activities you want to engage in over this period, and only follow through with them if your budget allows you to. Over the festive season, keep a record of your purchases and stay on track with your budget.”
4.       Only buy what you can afford
This is related to the previous point of drawing up a budget, but it is important to only spend what you know you can afford. If you child wants an expensive toy this year that you cannot afford, don’t take on debt to get it for them, rather save up and get it for them next year or as a birthday gift. There are thousands of more affordable toys on the market that a child would love.
It is also important not to over spend in order to try and impress other people. If you usually buy an expensive gift for people, but this year your budget doesn’t allow it, it’s the thought that counts, rather than the cost of the gift.
5.       Avoid credit
With the repo rate increasing to 6.25%, credit is going to cost more. It is easy to purchase items on your credit card if your budget doesn’t allow for the cash to pay for them. However, in the long run, you end up paying more and can end up in a debt trap.
Monkley suggests that you only buy items with cash and avoid using credit.
6.       Purchase gifts in advance
With Christmas only a month away, it might be too late for this piece of advice, however, it can always help you next year. Purchase gifts in advance allows you to compare prices and save money on your gift buying.
If you keep your eye out for deals during the year for things you know that people like or want as gifts, purchase them when they are on sale to save money and put them aside.
7.       Don’t buy what you don’t need
Every year the shops teem with new and eye-catching Christmas decorations. While you may believe that these will make your Christmas better and impress your family and friends, there is no need to go out and splurge on new Christmas ornaments each year when the ones from the year before are still in good condition. Rather save the money.
8.       Shop online
Online shopping has increased in popularity over recent years. This offers consumers the opportunity to shop from the comfort of their own home, avoiding the queues and fighting the centre traffic to get what you want or need during the festive season.
As with most stores, online stores have specials and sales in the lead up to Christmas. This offers a great way to compare prices, to ensure that you get the best price, as well as the convenience of having the gifts sent straight to your door.
9.       Shop Black Friday deals
The concept of Black Fridays is relatively new in South Africa. However, on this day (which is this coming Friday 27 November, 2015) both online and physical stores slash their prices. This is a great time to keep an eye open for gifts that at other times may have been deemed too expensive.
You will have to be quick on the uptake though, as websites will probably face increased traffic and stores may be busier than usual as people try to take advantage of the savings on offer.
10.   Use your reward points
Many stores offer rewards programmes to shoppers, such as WRewards from Woolworths, and Smart Shopper from Pick n Pay. In addition, banks also offer rewards schemes, such as First National Bank’s eBucks, and Absa’s Absa Rewards.
When doing your shopping this Christmas season, redeem your points to save on your spending. eBucks, for example, can be used on the website, while Pick n Pay offers a range of toys and games that you can get your kids this festive season.
Just because it is Christmas does not mean that you have to overspend and overindulge. This time of year is meant to be about spending time with family and friends and being grateful for what you have, not angry or upset about what you didn’t get.
For tips on how you can spend less this Christmas, click here.

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