Be a Smart Holiday Shopper

Dec 07, 2015

MoneyLife100 In past years, Americans’ holiday spending has averaged around $700, for a total of $465 billion, according to the National Retail Federation. If you’re trying to trim your budget a little this year, or if you’d just like to get more value out of your spending, here are simple steps you can take, says the Pennsylvania Institute of Certified Public Accountants.

Make a List

Write down all of the people to whom you plan to give gifts, then set a realistic budget and see if you can afford to buy all the presents you have in mind. If you can’t, this advance planning will help you rethink how much you can spend on each person or how many people you can include on your list. That’s much better than buying first and finding out later that you’ve gone over budget and will have to do some skimping in the new year.

Check It Twice

Only 21 percent of consumers say they always compare prices before making a purchase, according to an Ask Your Target Market survey. That’s too bad. A little research—whether it’s in different neighborhood stores or on the Internet—often reveals much better deals. Another option is price matching, when stores lower their price to match another retailer’s advertised deal. But if you’re not shopping around, you won’t be able to ask for better prices and ensure you’re getting the best deal. As you’re buying, don’t forget to review any contracts or end-user agreements associated with your purchase to be sure you’ll get everything you expect.

Consider Consolidating

If you’re part of a large family, group of friends, or co-workers, it might be easier on everyone’s wallet to pick one name from a hat and give a gift to that person alone rather than trying to cover everyone. That way you can still gather to enjoy opening gifts together, but you won’t be scrambling to shop for—and afford—something for all.

Remember, It’s the Thought that Counts

It’s not always necessary to spend a lot—or anything at all—to brighten someone’s holidays. Consider thoughtful favors you can perform for a loved one. Offer to babysit for a new parent who could use some time off to run errands or to get out for an evening. Give an older friend or relative coupons that promise you will shovel their sidewalks when it snows or rake leaves in the fall. Create a photo album or scrapbook that captures important memories for a loved one. The people on your gift list will treasure thoughtful gestures like these even though they cost little to give.

Start Thinking about Next Year

Want to take the stress out of your holiday shopping in 2016? Starting early is your best bet. First, commit to putting aside a small amount each week or each month so that you have a nest egg to spend when December rolls around. In the meantime, don’t hesitate to pick up presents when you see them during the year. You’ll be able to enjoy holiday gift-giving a lot more with presents waiting to be wrapped and a little spending money in the bank.

Turn to Your CPA

Making smart shopping choices at the holidays is just one of the many ways you can manage your money and make the most of your spending power. If you have questions about these tips or any other financial issues, be sure to contact your local CPA. He or she has the expertise to help you make the best financial decisions. To find a local CPA with PICPA’s CPA Locator tool or view other resources, visit

The Pennsylvania Institute of Certified Public Accountants (PICPA) is a premiere statewide association of more than 22,000 members working in public accounting, industry, government, and education. Founded in 1897, the PICPA is the second-oldest state CPA organization in the United States.

Money & Life Tips are a joint effort of the AICPA and the Pennsylvania Institute of Certified Public Accountants (PICPA), as part of the profession’s nationwide 360 Degrees of Financial Literacy program.