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From gifts to food: Shop for the holidays without blowing your budget

Make that holiday shopping list, and check, check, check it again.

holiday shoppingReleased: Dec. 8, 2015

MANHATTAN, Kan. – Black Friday and Cyber Week may be behind us, but the holiday shopping season is still in full swing. According to Nielsen, U.S. consumers are expected to spend 2 percent more on the holidays in 2015 compared to last year, even though many still feel the effects of the recession. In fact, about 40 percent of Americans are still living paycheck to paycheck.

Elizabeth Kiss, associate professor at Kansas State University and family resource management specialist for K-State Research and Extension, said consumers can shop adequately for the holidays without blowing their budget. This means being creative with gift giving and making lists of everything needed for the holidays.

“Lists are important, not only for gifts but also for hospitality items, food and decorations,” Kiss said. “(Making lists) is the best way to keep track of what you’re spending.”

“With your list, try to put dollar amounts next to things so you have a spending plan,” she continued. “Once you have all of your different lists together, I imagine it will be an eye-opener for how much you plan to spend. It typically is for me.”

Kiss said you can then ask yourself, is this how much I want to or can spend? If not, on what can I scale back? How could I do something differently that perhaps won’t cost as much money or any money?

Thinking outside of the box

Re-gifting often gets a bad name, Kiss said, but if you have things that you know someone on your list values, perhaps an item that has been passed down through the family or something that person could use that you’re not using, it could be the best gift to give.

“Include a nice, heartfelt message to go with it,” she said. “If you can trace the history of some of these items, it can be a wonderful thing for that person.”

Shopping, however, is often a recreational activity that people enjoy doing for loved ones. If you buy gifts online or in stores, Kiss advises first doing your research.

“When you buy a gift, you always want to know if the person return it for cash,” Kiss said. “Or, can they exchange it for store credit? Is there a time limit?”

Most gift cards, she said, have an infinite use-by date, but it doesn’t hurt to double check if any conditions exist.

If shopping online, Kiss cautions that planning ahead is even more important. This will ensure the gift arrives before the holidays and you don’t have to pay extra for express shipping.

If searching for unique gifts, shopping in your local community could be a great option that also helps support your fellow community members and local economy.

Protecting your credit

Put together a strategy on how you will buy gifts and stay within your budget, Kiss said. If using a credit card, make sure you have plans to pay it off in a timely fashion. Some people have found success by putting the budgeted amount of cash in an envelope and using only that to buy holiday items. When taking cash out, putting receipts in its place helps to know where the money went.

“Have a particular pocket in your purse, your wallet or an envelope when you get home—put all receipts together, and keep a running total of how much you’re spending,” she said.

Paying off your credit card balance each month is the most desired option, Kiss said, but if you only make the minimum payment, be aware of the interest rate. Knowing the terms and conditions of your credit card is also important.

Often credit cards, including ones for store credit, have a lower “teaser” interest rate for a short time before the interest rate goes up. Consumers need to know what that rate will be in the long run.

“If you have a credit card, hopefully it’s the best one for your situation, and you may not need another one,” Kiss said. “Some people like to have a second credit card for holidays and put all holiday expenses on there with the intention of paying it off in January or February. That way, you know what you spent, and it could be a strategy for some people.”

Shoppers should also remember to check the shipping rate and sales tax when ordering online, she said, and make sure online items are delivered to an address where someone will be there to pick it up, whether that person is the shopper or the recipient. Most stores and delivery companies allow you to track the status of your delivery online.

Also keep passwords and bank account information as protected as possible, Kiss said. If doing online shopping at a shared computer, clear the history on the computer when finished.

Lastly, she said to make sure you’re on a secure site when entering credit or debit card information. This means looking for “https” at the beginning of the URL or an image of a locked padlock.


K-State Research and Extension is a short name for the Kansas State University Agricultural Experiment Station and Cooperative Extension Service, a program designed to generate and distribute useful knowledge for the well-being of Kansans. Supported by county, state, federal and private funds, the program has county Extension offices, experiment fields, area Extension offices and regional research centers statewide. Its headquarters is on the K-State campus, Manhattan.

Story by:
Katie Allen
K-State Research and Extension

For more information:
Elizabeth Kiss – dekiss4@ksu.edu or 785-532-1946