Christmas may still be far away, but now is the perfect time to figure out how you'll play Santa Claus on a shoestring during the holidays. The following 5 tips can help you get the job done:
Make your shopping list the Clark Smart way.
Come up with a total dollar amount you feel comfortable spending. Then write out the names of everyone on your list. Put specific dollar amounts by each name to indicate how much you'll spend on each person. Once you're done, add up all those figures.
If you are over your budget, start marking people off the list or scaling back the dollar amounts next to each name until you're within budget. Take that paper with you when you're out shopping. Keep a running tally as you make purchases.
If you spend less than anticipated on one person, you have more money to spend on someone else. If you spend more on someone, then you'll have less to spend on others.
Bonus tip: Include yourself on the list with a dollar amount too. Studies suggest half of all holiday shopping you do when you're supposedly shopping for others is probably going to be for you!
Read more: 9 items to always buy used
Go to the dollar store.
Consumer Reports took a close look at dollar stores in their Money Adviser publication and revealed what's a deal and what's not. Get gift wrap, ribbons, bows, wrapping paper, and tape at dollar stores—especially at Dollar Tree and the 99-Cent Only, where everything is $1, no exceptions.
Layaway is something old that's become new again at many retailers. Here's how it works: You go in to a store and put down a deposit that's typically $10-$20 or 10%-20% of the purchase price (whichever is greater) for an item you want. Then you make installment payments every 14 days until the item is paid in full.
Kmart, Walmart, and Babies "R" Us/Toys "R" Us have all done layaway for the past few years, and I'm expecting them to do it again. UPDATE: Get more details on Walmart's layaway policy here.
But be careful: If you don't pay in full before mid-December, you don't get the item and could lose all the money you've already paid in. (Check individual retailer policies.)
Buy an artificial Christmas tree.
One of the best bargains of the Christmas season is an artificial tree. Many people prefer a real tree for sentimental reasons or they just like the smell of it. Last year, Costco had beautiful Frasier firs for $29.97. That's great for one season, but over time an artificial tree will save you a lot of money. Of course, the best day to buy an artificial tree is Dec. 26, when the price has been marked down!
Ship gift packages back home.
If you travel to be with family during Christmas, you may face hefty baggage fees when you try to return with all the gifts you've received. Shipping packages with UPS Ground or FedEx Ground can help. A medium-sized 18" x 18" x 16" (3.0 cubic feet) box will typically ship for $20-$25. Many big-box office supply stores have UPS and FedEx drop-off points, as well as USPS pickup. Be sure to compare the cost on all these services before making a decision.