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7 tips to avoid breaking the bank when Christmas shopping (2018)

It’s time to start shopping for Christmas.

No really, start now, unless you want to be pressed up against someone’s sweaty back during the December rush for hours, only to find your intended present is sold out.

2018 has been kind of a rough year economically, so you may want to try some financial hacks (without resorting to obviously cheapskate presents). Here’s the main ones to know:

Start saving for Christmas around October

We’re not crazy, and we’re not being kiasu here. There are solid financial planning reasons for starting so early.

The further ahead you start saving for Christmas, the smaller the overall impact on your cashflow. You can save less per month, when there are more months till Christmas.

For example, say you plan to spend around $700 on Christmas gifts (this is roughly $30 to $50 per gift, for about 20 odd people, which is a common amount). If you start setting aside money in October, you only need to set aside around $240 per month till the big day. That’s much easier to handle than a sudden $700 dent in your bank account.

An even more disciplined approach is to set aside $100 a month for all events, like birthdays, New Year, and Christmas. This comes to around $1,200 a year that you can use for festivities; and you’ll never struggle with big jumps in expenses because of Christmas, New Year, etc.

Early savings also mitigate the need for credit or personal loans – you can afford to buy all your obligatory gifts, without incurring an interest rate.

Optimise your discounts by using the right cards

Don’t just use any old card for Christmas purchases; make sure you use the one that gives you the best possible rewards or discounts.

When you’re buying gifts, use cards like the HSBC Advance cashback card, to add up to 2.5% discount on purchases.

If you’re going on vacation, use an airmiles card like the Citi PremierMiles Visa card to get up to 2 miles per dollar spent overseas.

For Christmas dinner, the Standard Chartered Unlimited Cashback card gives you 1.5% cashback on dining spend.

Just remember to repay the card after charging to it, to avoid interest (it’s easy to do this if you plan ahead; see point 1).

Get the children to pick their presents before November

The trick is to get them to pick from the current toy selection  before the Christmas marketing starts. Once your children are picking toys in November, there’s virtually no way to avoid paying premium prices.

First off, toys that are released around Christmas tend to have heftier price tags – retailers and manufacturers know you’re going to buy despite the mark-ups.

Second, many toy companies deliberately under-produce just before Christmas. The artificial shortage causes you to buy alternative toys when the stock runs out  but you’ll buy again in January when the hot toy comes back on the shelves. This has been a model in the toy industry for decades.

So cheat: take your children to the toy store early, and get them to pick from the current (cheaper) stock, rather than wait for the Christmas rush.

Shop one more time after Christmas, to save money next year

Around a week or two after Christmas, brick and mortar retailers will be rushing to clear their stock for next year’s products. This is one of the best times to buy, as you’ll see more clearance sales.

That means it’s a good time to start stocking up for next year’s Christmas on the cheap.

In particular, be on the lookout for Christmas-themed items like artificial trees or Christmas lights. Most retailers aren’t going to let these take up space for a whole year, so it’s easy to find them on sale.

This is true for many seasonal events besides Christmas, such as Halloween.

Buying a turkey or a big ham? Ask your friends who have country club membership.

Country clubs in Singapore often have Christmas dinner items at subsidised prices for members. And while you may not have a $15,000 club membership, you may nonetheless have friends who are members.

Before you go to the supermarkets to buy your own, ask around if anyone has a club, and what their club prices are. Some of them may not mind buying on your behalf (especially if they’re getting an invite to the dinner anyway).

Do a potluck Christmas dinner, instead of trying to buy everything yourself

You’ll probably have to fork out for the centrepiece of Christmas dinner, be it a turkey, ham, or both – but it’s not always necessary for you to buy everything else. Try organising a potluck dinner instead, where every visitor brings one dish.

You can also do this with alcohol. Make the dinner a Bring Your Own Bottle event, rather than supplying all the booze for the night.

Just watch out for one thing: the potluck dishes will probably be curry chicken, and chicken wings, and chicken wings, and more chicken wings – because that’s the most convenient thing to bring. You may want to ask around and request a different dish if there are too many repeats.

Split a hamper into separate gifts

Sometimes the money is just super tight, and you’re out of options. Well a gift is better than no gift, and a good way to fulfill that is to look for Christmas hampers. This is the sort that people buy for corporate gifts – wrapped baskets with some wine, chocolate, and a dozen other knick-knacks.

Carefully compare the number of items with the cost, to get the most bang for your buck. Then, open up the hamper and repackage each item inside as a separate gift. This should net you seven to 10 presents for the cost of about $50 to $60.

Don’t just buy any hamper though. Some of them are simply rip-offs (you could get the individual items for cheaper), while others can be very high-end (the $200 hampers). Peek inside and Google the estimated worth of each item before you buy.

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