The National Retail Federation predicts that Americans will spend nearly $437 billion during the holiday retail shopping season this year. That may sound like a lot, but it's actually about 1% less than last year. According to a recent PriceGrabber.com survey, about 53% of shoppers plan to spend less this year compared to last, primarily due to concerns about the economy and personal finances. But just because we're all sticking to a strict budget this year doesn't mean we can't deck the halls. Here are five ways to trim your costs while keeping the holiday trim intact.
Call it what you will -- Secret Santa, Yankee swap or White Elephant -- a gift exchange takes the pressure off buying holiday gifts for each person in a group. It's an especially budget-friendly idea for gift-giving in the office or in large groups of friends or big families. How it works is simple: Everyone's name is thrown into a hat (or some other container), shuffled around and then each person picks a name out of the hat. The name you choose is the person you buy a gift for, but no telling! It's supposed to remain a secret until the recipient guesses (correctly or incorrectly) the gift giver.
One drawback is that you could end up buying a gift for someone you don't know well. There are, however, plenty of universally appreciated items, including food and gift cards. Many gift exchanges cap the amount to be spent on gifts, which means you can stop worrying about spending too much on the guy in marketing who never remembers your name.
Are you crafty? Consider making something for friends and family this holiday season instead of spending money on a gift your intended recipient may not want. You won't be alone: In 2009, Holiday Consumer Intentions and Actions Survey conducted by the National Retail Federation, reported that almost 17 percent of Americans plan to make more holiday gifts this year than in previous seasons.
Think creatively and put your skills to use. If people love your ginger-rum Bundt cake, whip up a few for your sweet-toothed friends. If arts or crafts are more your thing, try knitting, painting or scrapbook-making personal gifts for your loved ones.
This year more than 25 percent of shoppers plan to pay with cash, and many are also using debit cards. The trend? Avoiding debt by doing away with credit card purchases. Coupons are another way to stay on budget while still stuffing stockings -- about 42 percent of shoppers plan to use coupons for gifts bought in the 2009 holiday shopping season. Don't stop at clipping coupons; search online for promotional discounts on the items you're interested in.
Also consider looking for gifts at discount stores and other lower-priced shops. According to National Retail Federation's 2009 Holiday Consumer Intentions and Actions Survey, one in 10 holiday shoppers plan to shop for gifts and holiday-related items at thrift and resale stores.
Do you happen to have an unused gift card lying around? Consider re-gifting if you think the business from which it came is one that your gift recipient would frequent.
Finding the best deal may seem like finding a needle in a haystack, but taking the time to do a little preshopping reconnaissance work is worth it. Before tackling your gift list at the mall one, call around to stores to compare prices on your big-ticket items.
Using the Internet to help locate the best prices, whether you buy the item online or not, is also smart thing to do -- it's not only an easy way to quickly comparison shop, but you'll also find online-only discounts and free shipping deals. And you're not alone -- according to the National Retail Federation, holiday shoppers research prices and store locations for one in every three gift purchases.
Looking to make a big-ticket purchase but feeling pinched by the state of your wallet? Consider using the built-in budgeting of a layaway program. How it works is simple: You buy an item, pay for it in increments over a fixed period of time and then take it home.
Toys R Us, Sears and Kmart are all anticipating that many shoppers will use layaway during this holiday shopping season. Toys R Us and Babies R Us, for example, allow shoppers to finance big purchases (such as a crib) with a 20 percent deposit and a $10 service charge (it's a contract). Between now and December 6 (when payments must be completed for holiday items), consumers pay down the balance. And unlike credit card purchases, there are no accrued interest charges.
Layaway isn't only for in-store purchases anymore, although that's certainly a popular option. Retailers, including Sears and Kmart, offer consumers the option of online layaway programs; as soon as you complete your payment schedule, your purchase is shipped to your door.