Christmas is the toughest time of year for our purses, especially when you have to get presents for everyone and their dog. I find the easiest way to get around it is to stick with a few simple tricks and rules that will keep you from spending too much. Some are super-boring, some are super-thrifty, but they all begin with one little thing:
Rule Number One - Plan Ahead
The best presents are never impulse buys. They're the ones that you've thought about and kept in your head for weeks. Can't bring them to mind? Write them down. I keep a spreadsheet of ideas for each person that I've had over the course of the year/ however long it's been since their birthday so I don't forget my ideas. Then I can easily pick ad choose what I want to give. Once I have a present (preferably bought when it is at its cheapest), it gets colour-coded so I know it's been bought.
Rule Number Two - Plan even further Ahead
Right after Christmas is when all the cards and wrapping paper is discounted. Get your hands on it while it's cheap, but don't over-spend! How many rolls do you usually use up during Christmas? Two or three usually suits me fine.
To save even more, get creative. Chop up all your cards into cute gift labels, hole-punch them and store them way for next year. This thriftiness isn't just for cards though; Gather any large pieces of pretty wrapping paper that isn't damaged, any bows and long, intact, ribbon pieces to re-use next year. I find this saves money and makes all the presents I give different-looking.
Rule Number Three - Keep a Budget
Yeah, I know. It's really rather boring, but it doesn't have to be time-consuming. On your spreadsheet, simply add how much you'd like to spend on each person (or as a whole, or both) and then add up the prices of each item as you buy them. This allows you to keep track of how much you've already spent. It also means that you can see how much you are saving if you find yourself going under-budget (which, miraculously, I have for a few people this year). The point is, to stop buying when you hit your budget for each person. I have a set number of gifts for each person, and try to find the cheapest (but still good quality) product that fits that description. Which leads to...
Rule Number 4 - Shop Around
So you know what you want to get someone, but now you have to find out where it's cheapest. The computer is there for a reason! Shop around online to compare prices. Maybe it's a Nivea Shaving set that your boyfriend/husband/son/brother absolutely loves. You have so many shops to choose from that would stock this; Chemists, Supermarkets, Department Stores.. You're better off sitting on your bum in front of a screen than wasting time walking around each shop looking for your item and comparing there. Just make sure to look in on the deals; Boots may have a 3 for 2 offer that trumps the Superdrug price because you'll be buying two other gifts from the shop.
So you have some time on your hands? Great! Charity shops are a great way of buying good quality items that aren't as pricey as they could have been. make sure you know what you're looking for and only look for that. The last thing we want is to get carried away and overspend. Does your mum have a penchant for pretty tea pots? Why buy an expensive one from Cath Kidston when you could find a non-branded one in a charity shop for a measly £4.00. Charity shops are also choc-full of accessories like scarves and jewellery that would make great stocking fillers.
Rule Number 5 - Re-use and Recycle
This time it's not about the wrapping, it's about the presents. Maybe you've had a duplicate or something you would never wear/ use? There's no harm in giving it to a friend who would treasure it forever. If you have any old presents sitting about still in their packaging, even better! Don't sell them on Ebay, just pass them on, but preferably not to the person who gave it to you in the first place, or any of their family for that matter.
Just follow these five rules and your Christmas should turn thrifty in no time.
Not sure about Excel? Here's a useful website to give you a hand: http://spreadsheets.about.com/od/tipsandfaqs/qt/new_add_excel.htm