Trim your spending, firm up your savings, work out your gift giving and get your investing in top shape—just in time for the festive season.
If you’re like most of us, the holidays do a real doozy on the fitness level of your finances. And buying gifts is only half of it. The season is stuffed with other unavoidable obstacles to throw you off course, from hostess gifts to hosting parties, from making feasts to baking cookies, from charitable giving to cheery decorating. On top of that, you may have travel costs and, of course, there’s always the question of what to wear to all those social events.
Not to worry, darling, we’ve got your pashmina-wrapped back. Read on for some fun and festive strategies to keep your finances in tip-top shape this season and to avoid adding unwanted weight to your credit card statement. As a special present to you, we’ve also thrown in a few gift ideas to boost the financial well-being of the ones you love. Enjoy!
1. Influence them with advertising
Want your kids to open the present they asked for from the big man in the red suit, but also make sure it works for your wallet (i.e., is something you found on sale, savvy shopper that you are)? Try our pre-positioning technique. Here’s how: Say you go online and snap up a Barbie Dream House at 50 percent off. Then once it’s delivered and safely tucked out of sight, ever so casually mention the cool video you “discovered” online (thank you, YouTube!)—”Wow, this Dream House even has an elevator, and a hot tub for Barbie and her friends to unwind in!”—and presto, there it is on their wish list. Make sure you mail this version of the list off to Santa before they change their minds.
2. Max out savings
Internet shopping has come of age. You’ll discover the biggest inventory and best selection online. Products are picked from a warehouse and delivered straight to your door. Best of all, amazing discounts are the norm (often only for online buyers). Many sites offer free shipping if your total exceeds a certain amount (usually $25 to $100), and in most cases, returns are done easily at the retail location nearest you (or you can always ship something back). Do take careful note of holiday shipping deadlines. Most retailers have cut-off dates by which items need to be bought so you receive them early enough.
Top sites for superb savings:
GapCanada.ca: Wait for the sales with 25 to 40 percent off already reduced prices, and you could end up with 75 percent off or more. While stocking up on kids’ clothes, think of the kids-at-heart women in your life. Girls’ sizes XL and XXL for tops and skirts often fit like a women’s small at a fraction of the cost for the same preppy-chic items. Sign up for the newsletter for free-shipping notices and to be alerted the moment über-sales begin.
Indigo.ca: Awesome gifts for adults and kids often at 40 to 70 percent off in the sale section. Browse comfy throws, beautiful dishes and even that Barbie Dream House (at $79.98 rather than the retail price of $159.95).
BrownsShoes.com: Tons of inventory in the sale section at great prices. We snagged a pair of very cool (and warm!) Joan of Arctic Sorel boots for $75, down from $220. Keep watching as prices fall further over time.
MadAboutStyle.ca: Gorgeous dresses, trendy tops and bottoms, handbags and accessories—all at very affordable prices (think $150 or less) and all by unique boutique brands from style meccas such as Los Angeles.
Eluxe.ca: Think Net-a-Porter, for those of us who love stylish steals and designer deals. Start with $10 off just by signing up for the newsletter, and enjoy other incentives like 10 percent off purchases of $500 or more.
3. Delivered to an inbox near you
Cheap basketball tickets, anyone? How about horseback riding lessons for $49? Or 10 yoga classes of $29? Daily deal incentives mean you can treat someone special to something they might not otherwise do (and you might not otherwise be able to afford) simply by signing up for email alerts. We’re also talking 70 to 90 percent off spa treatments, cooking classes, tango lessons, concert tickets or a night out at a favourite restaurant. Our fave sites include RDeals.ca, Groupon.com and LivingSocial.com. Get added points for virtue (’tis the season!) at SmartBetty.com: The company donates 10 percent of the total revenue from your purchases to a local charity of your choice.
4. Start shopping early…
The prudent holiday shopper keeps her gift list tucked in her bag or typed into her PDA all year long, picking up items when she finds the right price and stashing her cool finds in a secret gift closet—conveniently stocked with wrapping paper and bows purchased at post-holiday sales the year before, of course. She is poised, prepared and ready to fearlessly face the holidays without the threat of busting her budget by needing to buy all her gifts in one go. This system will make you feel like you scored a “get-out-of-[insert your holiday here]-free” card.
5. …or really, really late
Let’s be honest: Some of us prefer living on the edge. If you’re a last-minute Lucy, we advise you to avoid shopping the week before the big day and wait instead until the day before. How’s that for motivation? Not only will you put your speed-shopping habits to the test, you’ll nab many of the Boxing Day sales before the December 26 rush, since most sores have inventory slashed and ready to unload by Christmas Eve. Word to the wise: Make sure you head into the fray with a detailed list of what you need so you can make quick decisions and get out fast. Don’t think of it as holiday shopping, think of it as pre-Boxing Day shopping.
6. Five golden rings
Did you know more people get engaged in December than any other month? Kandace McCorrister, co-founder of the online wedding and relationship community LearnLove.org, says 23 percent of guys pop the question during the holiday season. (And to think you used to dream of finding a puppy under the tree.) We don’t want to burst your bauble, but we say forget a December engagement. Instead, consider a December wedding, perhaps next year. Why? Because the biggest cost of a wedding is typically the reception (food and alcohol can run up a hefty bill—where are the teetotallers when you need them?), and booking your wedding during an off-peak time (may we suggest December 23 or 27?) or a day other than a Saturday can save you 20 to 30 percent off your reception costs. The same goes for choosing a less expensive main course. Bonus: Many venues will already decked out for holiday parties, so you’ll be slashing your decorating budget to boot! Turkey roulade, anyone?
7. Year-end stock blowout
Betcha didn’t know that stocks can go on sale, just like shoes! Well, they do, so forget Santa and take advantage of gift-bearing stocks at this time of year! In fact, December can be a great time to buy stocks. Why? Because the end of the year is “tax-loss selling season,” when stocks that are finishing the year down often drop even further, as shareholders sell them before the year ends so they can claim the tax loss.
Speaking of losses, the end of the year is a time to go through your investments and do some end-of-year tax planning. You can offset some of the tax you will owe on your gains by declaring some of your losses. So there is no need to cry over an investment loss; use it to save yourself money!
Here’s how to talk like a trader: Throw around terms like “Santa Claus rally.” Sometimes in the final week before Christmas (at the end of tax-loss selling season), you get a stock market rally. It’s commonly known in the biz as a Santa Claus rally. If you keep a watchful eye out, you may have a chance to sell high the stocks that you bought low.
Not only are the holidays the season for giving, but many people seek to bulk up on tax-deduction receipts before the year is out. If you choose to make a generous gift to charity, consider giving shares, mutual funds or ETFs rather than cash. Choose investments that are up in value and from your non-registered portfolio. This way, you receive a tax receipt for the full value of the donation without triggering capital gains tax. The charity gets its much-needed funds and you get all of the tax receipt and none of the tax. Brilliant!
Save your mutual fund purchases for January. Mutual funds distribute their income and capital gains to anyone holding units of their funds as of December 31. So if you buy in December, you could find yourself having to kick in for the fund’s annual tax bill, without even having a chance to gain anything yourself. Plan accordingly.
If you own mutual funds in non-registered accounts (for example, outside your RRSP), the end of the year is a good time to check with your mutual fund companies to see what the estimated distributions will be, so you can do your tax planning around them.
With all the money you save from these tips, you should have enough to make that TFSA contribution come January 1.