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I usually wait until late November to roll out this article. This year, different story: I'm on top of my game. I'm warmed up and ready to get ready for the holidays. Like this article, I'm way ahead of schedule, and you can be, too!
I'm pretty sure I'm not the only one who remembers last year -- standing in line 20 yards away from the cashier, swearing that next year would be different because I was going to plan ahead. (Anyone?)
Well, next year is here. This is the year that we become one of "them." You know who I'm talking about:
- They compile a list of gift recipients weeks before they get to the shopping mall parking lot.
- They don't have to fight tooth and nail on Black Friday for the last bedraggled Tickle-Me-Whatever on the shelf, because the one they snagged on sale (with a President's Day coupon) is already wrapped and hidden under the tarp in their attic.
- They don't dread January's credit-card statement, because they budgeted for holiday spending -- and stuck to it.
- They have the time to bring cookies decorated with red and green sugar sprinkles for the entire office to enjoy. From scratch.
So who's with me? Who's ready to be one of those well-organized, budget-conscious, financially responsible consumers we swear every Jan. 1 that we can become?
Would it help if I told you that you probably already have everything you need to pull this off -- and that it's only a matter of doing a few really obvious things in a certain order to save some serious cash?
The best thing you can do for the next 20 minutes
You are about to read 400-something words of advice that you've heard ad infinitum. That's right, in the list below, there are no knee-slapping "gosh, I didn't know that!" morsels or "hey, I gotta let 387 of my friends know about this!" tidbits worthy of posting on Facebook.
The lack of novelty in the forthcoming advice should come as a relief. No need to learn any fancy new tricks (or long division) to survive the holidays financially intact. You know this stuff already. There's just one small thing you need to do differently from last year: Don't blow this off.
Really, that's just a small thing. Take the next 20 minutes to map out your holiday shopping strategy. If all you do is muddle through just the first two items on this list, I guarantee you'll spend less than you would otherwise. Get into it a little more, and you'll exponentially improve your sanity and your savings.
5 run-of-the-mill holiday survival tactics that actually work ... if you do them
1. Revisit last year's expenses: Did you keep track of what you spent last year on holiday festivities? No worries: Your lenders sure did. Dig up your credit-card statements from last year for a horrifyingly accurate account of the November-December damage. You can do one of two things now: Challenge yourself to spend less. Or challenge yourself to spend no more than you did. You know the right thing to do.
2. Actually make a list of gift-ees: It may be cliche, but shopping with a list will keep you honest. Next to each person's name, write a few gift ideas and a target dollar figure. Pick a range, and make it reasonable. Voila, your holiday scorecard! If you are facing financial hardships that you weren't last year, make sure to aim low. With so many purchases made on impulse, committing a list to paper and (most importantly) sticking to a list can save you a serious bundle. Or, even better ...
3. Leave the credit cards at home: Yes, credit cards are convenient -- they offer purchase protection, rewards, an easy way to track your spending (albeit after the damage is done), and they take up less wallet room. But they're also too convenient. Studies show that people spend more -- and more impulsively -- when no actual cash changes hands. Instead, carry the cash you need for each shopping trip. I guarantee this all-cash diet will cut down your holiday spending by at least 10%, and likely much, much more.
4. Don't dawdle: Malls are many a budgeter's downfall. 'Tis the season for temptation. Because you made a list (right?) you won't be tempted to wade through the crowds to pick up a little something for yourself. If you feel your resolve growing weak, bring this list of five mind games stores use to make consumers spend more so you can identify the traps. Even better: Avoid the bricks-and-mortar stores altogether and shop online. Gift wrapping? Card? Shipping? Click. Click. Click. Done. Done. And done. (See our advice under the "Let your fingertips do the browsing" heading for tips on navigating the Web retail bonanza.)
5. Set a deadline: The holidays are really about being with the ones you love. It's hard to play board games with the kids or trim the tree when you're standing in line on Dec. 24. Set a firm deadline for your shopping, wrapping, shipping, and even house cleaning. You'll be a hero to your family if everything's done two weeks before the big day.
Motley Fool personal finance columnist Dayana Yochim will not -- she repeats -- will not spend December in Ultra Hysterical Holiday Triage Mode (again). We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.