Giving gifts over the holidays fills most of us with joy as we watch our loved ones open presents. Even when we know what our personal finances look like, sometimes showing up empty-handed at a holiday family reunion is simply not an option. That’s often when stress takes over as worry over finding the perfect presents and affording gifts and other seasonal expenses creeps in.
As Christmas approaches, it’s even easier to throw caution to the wind when it comes to spending. And you’re not alone. Nearly half of consumers with credit card debt are the most willing to take on more debt during the holidays, according to a new CreditCards.com poll.
However, this mindset will only make matters worse come January when credit card bills pile up in the mail. Here are nine last-minute gift-buying strategies to help you avoid taking on unnecessary debt this holiday season.
1. Track Gift Purchases
It’s easy to go over budget and take on more debt when you aren’t paying attention to what you’re buying or how much you’re spending. Before you go into the last-minute shopping rush, take a moment to figure out exactly how much you’ve spent to date.
Don’t forget to include in your budget smaller purchases beyond gifts, such as gift wrap, greeting cards, and even baking supplies, as these can add up quickly, too. Continue tracking your purchases using a free app like Christmas Gift List to avoid overspending on those remaining presents. Furthermore, pay with cash to help you stick to your budget.
2. Redeem Your Rewards
From cash back to loyalty points, you may have a considerable stack of rewards piled up from recent purchases, and redeeming these rewards wisely can offset last-minute gift purchases.
Review your credit card and store loyalty accounts to determine the best redemption options. You may be able to choose a product, gift card, or get cash back as a statement credit. This is also a good time to think about other ways you can rack up rewards while tackling last-minute gift shopping.
One easy way to get something back for your purchases is to upload pictures of your receipts to the Fetch Rewards app. You will earn points good toward free retailer gift cards to stores like Walmart, Target, and Amazon. You can then use these gift cards for stocking stuffers, teacher gifts, or use them to make those last-minute gift purchases.
3. Look for Freebies with Purchases
Some retailers offer incentives and perks to earn your shopping dollars. Buying strategically can mean getting two gifts for the price of one.
For instance, some stores offer free items — such as ornaments, makeup bags, and sometimes even gift cards — with a purchase. For example, DSW is offering a free $10 bonus card when you buy a $50 gift card or a free $25 bonus card when you buy a $100 gift card through December 24. These freebies can be perfect last-minute gifts and come at no additional cost to you.
4. Say No to New Store Cards
Getting an extra 10% to 20% off your holiday purchase just for opening a new credit card may be tempting, but considering store cards come with high interest rates, limited rewards, and low credit limits, you’re better off passing on the offer.
Sales associates may make the sign-up process sound harmless, but it may affect your credit score, and you’re more likely to overbuy in that single transaction to maximize the savings. Not to mention, carrying a balance across multiple accounts will make it harder to manage your debt load.
You’re better off looking for a coupon to save on your purchase or compare prices to find a lower price elsewhere.
5. Grab Bundle Value Sets
Retailers from big-box stores to luxury department stores sell bundle value sets that can be used as multiple gifts. Look out for multipacks of candles, lip gloss sets, and large packages of chocolates that you can break up to use for individual gifts at a better value. These make great gifts for a party hostess, neighbor, coworker, or a distant relative.
For instance, this Fresh Sugar Lip Bestsellers Tin from Sephora offers six different lip glosses for $45 — a $74 value if you were to purchase them individually. Just keep in mind that you will need to repackage these items, so grab some festive cellophane and red or green ribbon from the dollar store for wrapping.
6. Think Outside of the Traditional Gift Box
Creativity goes a long way when gift giving (and can also keep you out of debt). From hand-painted ornaments to scrapbooks to your famous chocolate chip cookies, there are endless gifts you can make at home that don’t cost a lot of money.
If you lack artistic skills and avoid cooking and baking at all costs, you can still give plenty of gifts that don’t cost money. Ask yourself if there is a service you can provide to a loved one in lieu of a product, such as helping a friend with a home repair, cleaning out your parent’s basement, or babysitting for a relative so they can enjoy some adult time.
Thinking beyond the traditional gift box can help you save money while also giving a more meaningful gift!
7. Consider Regifting
When executed thoughtfully, regifting can be a great alternative to traditional gift-giving while saving you money and keeping debt at bay.
There are certain do’s and don’ts to follow when it comes to regifting. Only give new, unused items and make sure it’s something the recipient would actually use. Unused candles and accessories like scarves make great gifts for friends and coworkers.
Unworn kid’s clothing with tags or a toy your child has never used can be given to a niece or nephew. You can even give a favorite book with a note to let your loved one know why you enjoy it so much, and explain that you thought they would, too.
8. Stick with Gift Cards
When shopping at the last minute, you may feel pressure to grab the best gift option no matter the price, but this can spell trouble for your budget. Opting for a gift card is the best way to stick to your spending threshold.
So, if you only want to spend $20 on a friend, just grab a $20 gift card to their favorite store or restaurant, and you won’t feel tempted to spend any more than that. Plus, you don’t have to worry about shipping fees or potential delivery delays, and you can even order digital gift cards that arrive via email instantly.
9. Boost Your Last-Minute Shopping Budget
If you’ve run out of holiday spending cash, don’t reach for that credit card just yet. Instead, think about how you can earn some extra money to pay for those last-minute gifts.
Look around your home for items you no longer use. Consider selling unused tech, such as an old smartphone or video gaming console, on sites like Decluttr.com, which offers next-day payment and free shipping. Otherwise, you can sell home goods, kitchen gadgets, and toys through local listing sites, such as OfferUp or Facebook Marketplace, or turn your unwanted clothing into cash via Poshmark or Tradesy.
See if you can earn some extra cash by working odd jobs. Check out TaskRabbit.com to find hourly jobs like yard work in your area. Or sign up to watch someone’s pet through Rover.com, where you can make up to $1,000 a month.
This extra money can cover those last few gifts and be used to pay down some of your existing debt!