This is the year: you’ve vowed to stay within your Christmas budget. This is the holiday season you won’t be paying off presents well into next year. This year, you’re limiting your spending and keeping Christmas well within your means.
You’ve made out your list, scoped the circulars and perused your emails to find the best deals for each person on your list. You go to the right store on the right day, determined to get that must-have pair of boots on your list at the excellent advertised price.
The boots are nowhere to be found.
Oh the store has boots alright, if you’re willing to spend $60 instead of $40 ($42.70 with tax). They aren’t quite what you expected, but they’re pretty good so you’ll buy them anyway. You pick up the boots, go to the counter, and talk to the staff about the boots you wanted.
“Oh, we had those. We sold out, though. By the way, have you seen these boot socks? They’re half off.”
You leave the store with the substitute boots and two fluffy comfy pairs of boot socks. You cross boots off your list, and you have a couple of stocking stuffers. Mission accomplished.
You’ve spent $70, though, instead of the $42.70 you’ve carefully budgeted.
You fell victim to two classic Christmas Budget Busters: The Bait and Switch and the Cross-sell. Budget alert!
The Bait and Switch
The Bait and Switch is a classic Christmas budget buster, especially during the Thanksgiving weekend shopping frenzy. Retailers love to get you in the door with fantastic advertised prices on hot items. The problem with these super sales is that often the retailer only has a few of these in stock.
Shopping takes time and energy, and a lot of people don’t like it. Rather than leaving empty handed, the disappointed customer will look for other things to buy.
The store will take a loss on a few items, knowing that many customers will buy substitutes when the bait is gone. Often, these substitutes will either be more expensive or overstocked items.
The store makes a profit or moves some unwanted inventory. The customers? Well, maybe they get an acceptable substitute, or maybe not. Maybe the customers end up buying things they don’t really want, or things that cost way more than planned.
The Cross-Sell and the Upsell
The Cross-Sell and the Upsell are two other classic tactics that can cause you to overshoot your budget. They’re pretty similar, and can be hard to separate.
The Upsell is when the seller tries to get you to purchase a more expensive item or an add-on to your purchase. If a salesman tries to get you to buy a computer with more RAM and a faster processor instead of the bottom line advertised model, they’re upselling.
The Cross-Sell gets you to buy additional items related to your purchase. They aren’t necessarily expensive, but they are usually purchases you hadn’t planned for. They’re extras, maybe necessary but maybe not.
Sometimes cross-sells and upsells can work to your benefit. You may have forgotten or not known the present you want requires cables, batteries, or something else you won’t be able to get on Christmas Day.
That add-on purchase may be the difference between hours of gleeful playing or tears of frustration as an anticipated toy or gadget sits uselessly in the box on the Big Day.
Upsells can get you to buy substantially better items that will fulfill their function better than the least expensive model. Sometimes the cheapest item is the cheapest because it’s not good. Better to spend a little more on something functional than getting an item whose specs make it work poorly.
Unfortunately, that’s not usually the case. More often the upsell and the cross-sell get you to buy something you don’t need, like an extended warranty or an extra pair of socks.
The Jividens versus the Christmas Budget Busters
The boot example actually happened to me last November. Jon and I wanted to get Little Bit a pair of warm boots for Christmas, and thought we’d found the perfect boots when we got a mailing advertising girls’ Ugg-type boots for $19.99 at a local mall store.
I rarely go to the mall, but that was a great price for a quality product.
We took Little Bit to the store on the first day of the sale. The clerk measured her feet while her dad and I looked around.
They only had 2 pairs of girl’s boots on display: Disney Character boots for $30.
We pulled out the mailing, and the store clerk looked sad. She said that since the store was closing in January, they had not gotten any of the advertised boots. Once the clerk saw we had no interest in sparkly Elsa boots, she offered to order us the boots we wanted online. The company would ship to our house, no extra charge.
She told us all of the socks and accessories were ½ off at least 3 times. I glanced around, but Little Bit has an overstuffed drawer full of socks and a zillion accessories scattered on the floor of her room. I don’t really want more hair bands and sunglasses to step on.
$21.34 later, we left the store, knowing we were getting what we wanted at the price we wanted to pay and nothing else.
If only it was so easy all of the time. We were willing to walk away because we had plenty of time between now and Christmas, and plenty of other places to look. We wanted Little Bit to have boots, but she didn’t have her heart set on a particular pair or color.
Until we had gotten the mailing, I figured that we were headed for Target.
We escaped with boots
in hand on the way and budget intact because we looked for an alternative instead of accepting a more expensive option and didn’t buy inexpensive but unnecessary add-ons.
How to Avoid the Christmas Budget Busters
If you want to save yourself from overspending, there are some tricks to avoiding the Christmas budget busters.
Do your research.
If you see a perfectly priced item advertised, especially a tech item, make sure you take some time to find a little extra information. For instance, what are the user reviews? Are there additional items that you are going to need with the item, like cases? If so, what do they cost? Where else can you buy the item? What are the most common alternatives? If you go forearmed with this information, you can plan for the extras and upsells instead of having them upset your budget, and you’ll only buy the things you need.
Be prepared when you see Limited Quantities in the fine print of the ad.
If you’re going to go for the big Black Friday deals, you need to realize you may not get them if quantities are limited. You can try, but you may need to walk away if you can’t get the item. Or you may pay more to get a substitute or later/elsewhere. Paying more doesn’t have to derail your budget, though, if your plan doesn’t depend on getting the absolute lowest price. Sometimes you get them, sometimes you don’t.
I believe in online shopping for Christmas. I find so many great tools for finding bargains, comparison shopping and doing research that make online shopping easy and budget friendly. Plus, you know pretty much up front if the item you want is available without wasting gas. When I have must-haves on my list, I almost always look for online options.
Leave some wiggle room in your Christmas budget.
Not every added expense is unnecessary or unwanted, even when you’re trying to stay within a budget. If you’re planning out your purchases, don’t plan it to the penny. Leave a buffer to use for finding the perfect gifts you discover in your travels, as well as any necessary add-on items. As long as you’re tracking carefully, a little padding gives you the freedom to absorb unexpected expenses.
Make adjustments to your budget.
I have a per-person budget. If I overspend a little on gifts for one, I need to cut someone else’s allocation. I can move the money around a little, as long as I stay within the entire holiday budget and leave enough available to satisfy my gift requirements without exceeding the total budget amount. The key is tracking what I’m spending with each purchase and watching my bottom line.
Practice the Art of the No and accept that not every wish can be granted.
Most of the time, avoiding Christmas budget busters boils down to your ability to say No to extra expense. You have to be willing to walk away from the great deal you can’t get and the extra items you don’t need. Be willing to leave stores empty handed so that you stay within your budget. You may have to get creative to satisfy the kid (or inner child) whose heart is set on one particular item. You may not be able to satisfy every heartfelt wish. That’s okay. Sometimes you just need to accept that you have a limited ability to play Santa.
Buy your presents. Work those wish lists. Give awesome Christmas gifts to the people you love.
Just don’t let your drive to play Santa bust your budget. Keep a lid on your spending, so it doesn’t follow you into the New Year.
What have been your Christmas Budget Busters? Do you practice the Art of the No?
First Published 11/23/2015 and updated 11/17/16