When a Holiday Deal is Not a Deal

Family Matters on 11.23.11
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Photo: Kevin Dooley/Creative Commons

We all want to feel like we're getting the best deal on our holiday shopping. But we don't want to sacrifice everything for the lowest price. Giving is supposed to feel good -- to both the giver and the receiver.

We've tracked down five situations in which you may feel like you're getting a deal on a gift -- but that, in the long run, mean you're paying more in wasted time, money, or resources. When you're making your list and checking it twice, watch out for these sneaky budget saboteurs.

1.  It's a Placeholder

TrophiesPhoto: Terren in Virginia/Creative Commons

We need a gift for our babysitter or mail carrier. It's on sale, it's cute, and it's in the right price range. We're in a rush and we just want to chuck it in the cart, and check it off.

But is the present filling her need, or just ours? When we put ourselves in the recipient's shoes, gifts look different.

Think about teachers and coaches. Imagine the amount of A+ figurines, "You're the Best!" plastic trophies, and "Number 1 coach!" doodads they get. Will they even remember who they came from a year later -- if they still have them?

We can save money (and the trash piles) if we ask our child to take the time to write or draw a note. Instead of the boilerplate "thank you for...," ask him to start the note with "I remember when you..."  Get as specific as possible.

And don't be tempted to frame the letter -- teachers' houses are probably just as crammed as ours. Make it easy for her to tuck it away and pull it out when she needs a pick-me-up.

2. It Makes the Cup Runneth Over

Photo: Brad_Chaffee/Creative Commons

Each person is so important to us, and when considered individually, a hefty gift seems appropriate. But just like those "couple of things" at Target have a funny way of multiplying, gifts here and there can morph into a huge chunk of change.

The trick is planning ahead. One tactic is to pick out gifts for each person, then figure out whether we can afford the whole package. Or decide on a lump sum, then make all the gifts fit into that figure.

To really go into the holidays with eyes wide open, print a holiday budget at Simple Mom or Buttoned Up, which help remind us of all the other sneaky costs, like stamps, decor, and cookie tins.

3.  It Gives Us Gray Hair

credit cards
Photo: Andres Rueda/Creative Commons

If we're still lugging around a sack of credit card debt from last year's buyfest, there's nothing that justifies piling on more. Christmas and Hannukah are supposed to be a time of love and giving, not stress and guilt.

How to break the cycle? Make a pact to get out of debt (try Dave Ramsey's debt snowball method) and then have a heart-to-heart with loved ones about how this year can be different.

Some families agree to make hand-made gifts, or to impose limits on the number, cost, or people exchanging. Another idea that is free yet has a ton of feel-good value is giving our skills or time -- organizing someone's garage, making a bunch of freezer meals, or watching the kids for a night.

4.  It's Not Long for this Earth

trash truck
Photo: Joe+Jeannette Archie/Creative Commons

Even though we don't always have control over quality, there are ways to avoid buying play-and-toss gifts. Read reviews. Handle the stuff before we buy. Get recommendations from store owners.

Consider a more substantial whole-family gift, instead of a bunch of smaller (cheaper) ones. Buy edibles (deliciously fleeting) or experiences (surprisingly long-lasting). For big-ticket items, think about pooling funds with family members.

5.  It Involves Busting Doors

black fridayPhoto: jbhthescots/Creative Commons

Let's face it: if the thing has the word door-buster next to it, it's a new-fangled, latest-version gizmo that we don't need. Are companies purposely creating products that are meant to be outdated and replaced sooner than we can pay off our AmEx? Not sure about that, but by playing into the newer, better, faster thing, we are stepping onto a treadmill that has no off button.

So here's the deal: a deal is not a deal if it makes us overspend, do something rash, or if it hides better deals -- like the ones that relieve stress, ease our budgets, and help us connect with each other.

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