Keeping the piggy bank full past the holiday mayhem

In Opinion

* For the Record: In Thursday’s printed article, J.D. Roth was incorrectly identified as working for MSN Money, when instead he is the founder of GetRichSlowly.org, MSN Money’s partner blog.

For college students, purchasing Christmas gifts for family and friends can sometimes be more stressful than finals. There is always a mind game that is played when it comes to buying for people. Are they buying me a gift?

If so, how much are they spending? How much should I spend on them?

Here is the problem. If you get someone a gift and they do not reciprocate with a gift for you, there is always that awkward moment when you both feel guilty.

If you spend more on a gift than the person reciprocating, then you can come across showy and snobby. Also, if you spend less than the person reciprocating the gift, then you fall under the category of cheap.

It is a roller coaster of who to buy for, how much to spend and what to get.

There are a few simple fixes to these problems. Personal finance blog GetRichSlowly.org’s J.D. Roth sets a spending limit for other adults in his family. Although his $5 each limit sounds inexpensive, it forces the gift giver to be creative and thoughtful. It’s easy to slide your credit card and call it a day; it’s hard to put thought into every single person’s gift.

Always stick to the amount that is set. Once you start increasing limits, dollars will add up quickly and, depending on the size of your gift list, even $1 could mean a $20 increase on your total budget.

If you have an extra-large family, do a Secret Santa game where you only have to buy for one person.

You save money and you can buy something the person actually wants because, let’s face it, when you get a lot of small gifts they usually end up cluttering your room and it is difficult to remember who bought you what.

Also, try to remember that gifts you buy on sale are worth the regular retail price. According to MoneyTalksCoaching.com, if you have a $50 budget for someone and you find something that’s normally $50 for half off, move the remaining $25 to where you need it most on your list. This may feel cheap, but the gift is worth $50, so technically you satisfied the budget.

It’s good to remember time is money. Use your time and give a gift that is homemade.

Go to a fabric store, buy $10 worth of fabric and make a blanket for someone. Your gift will be personal and one of a kind and all it took was your time.

According to MoneyCrashers.com, avoid credit cards. As a college student, you might have school loan debt and credit card debt already. Do not bury yourself further into a hole.

Try to sell some things you don’t use anymore to fund your spending. Use Craigslist, eBay and Facebook to help you sell stuff quickly.

A good rule of thumb for spending is not to spend more than you do on food for a month.

Calculate how much you spend on groceries and other necessities in a month. If it’s $300, then only spend $300 total. If you spend more than your food budget you fall in jeopardy of not being able to feed yourself for the next month.

If you find yourself struggling this year, start saving for next Christmas in January. If you save $25 a month, you’ll have $300 ready to spend before Christmas comes around.

When it comes to holiday spending, make a list of who to buy for, make a budget of how much to spend on each person and stick to it, and also avoid getting into more debt. Remember, homemade gifts and discounted gifts are still worth a lot and do not spend more than a month’s worth of groceries.

[Online article updated Dec. 11 at 8:23 pm.]

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