Ten Ways to Get More from Your Salary this Holiday Season

by Salary.com Staff - Original publish date: January 18, 2012

There is always a temptation to over spend during the holidays. In light of the current economic situation it is more important than ever to avoid getting deeper in to debt in order to satisfy gift-giving obligations. Don't despair. Salary.com has put together a few ideas to help you shift your focus and have a happy holiday season.

Develop a plan

Decide ahead of time how much you can afford to spend and on whom you plan to spend it. By looking at your entire planned gift giving at once, you'll make better decisions once you get into the thick of holiday shopping. Once you have a list of everyone you need to buy something for, make a list of gift ideas you might get each person. Then calculate the total anticipated cost and adjust as necessary. This will help to eliminate last-minute impulse buying. Make a budget and a list – and stick to it!

Do your research

Save time and money by researching prices online before you go to the store. There are lots of sales out there, so look before you buy to get the best deal. If you are shopping online, search the internet for coupon codes and don't forget the bargain bins. There are many sites that offer online coupons to help you get the lowest price on the items you are looking for. Order early to avoid paying for priority or express shipping to get there on time. Most online retailers have a special holiday shipping policy, so be sure to read it and plan accordingly.

Take Advantage of Retailer Discounts

Many companies count on the fourth quarter to bring in revenue and profits for the year. However, retailers will be doing their best to offer the lowest prices in order to compete for the significantly lower amount of cash that will likely be spent on the holiday's this year. In fact, many retailers are already offering deep discounts to encourage hesitant consumers to buy. Many companies know this will hurt margins, but are willing to take a hit to entice buyers and initiate sales.

Consider creative sources for gifts

Shop beyond the mall and look to new places to purchase gifts that you may not have considered in the past. Check out garage sales, estate sales, thrift stores and flea markets. It's not uncommon to find new or 'like new' items at a reasonable price. Also consider giving small, local, owner-operated establishments a try. They offer unique gifts often made by local artisans that can make your gift a unique "stand-out".

Home made items

You don't have to be the most creative person on the planet to come up with a nice home crafted gift. And with inexpensive packaging, you can actually create something memorable and thoughtful.

Baked goods and handmade items make wonderful gifts. Consider placing the dry ingredients for a cookie or cake mix in a decorative jar and attach an attractive recipe card with cooking instructions.

Apply the same idea to hand-made soaps, candles or potpourri mixture. Candle and soap-making kits are available at most craft stores at a reasonable price.

Scour through your archive of photographs and pull together a personalized album featuring shots of the recipient through the years.

Give your favorite things this holiday season

These items don't necessarily have to be expensive, just things you personally enjoy using. Pull together items in a modest yet festive basket or gift bag. Items to include can be as basic as favorite breath mint, gum, candy, soap, lotion, nail file, socks, slippers, lip balm, thermal mug – you name it. By giving inexpensive items that you love and use everyday, not only will the gift be more meaningful, but the recipient will think of you every time he or she uses the gift(s).

'Yankee swap' or gift exchange

Focus most of your gift-giving expenditure on the kids in your life and consider setting up a gift exchange for adults. Each participant brings a wrapped, unmarked gift and places it in a designated area. Guests are assigned a number or their names are randomly drawn. Then they select and un-wrap gifts from the pile in the pre-determined order. Set a dollar limit and choose a theme to make it more interesting. This idea is easy on the wallet and focuses the attention on being together rather than the gifts themselves.

Go Green- with your gift giving this holiday

If you are looking for ways to feel good about yourself this holiday season, consider going green. Look for fair trade certified products like coffee, tea, chocolate and cotton. Buy directly from producers like local artisans, farmers and other producers. Also look for products made by workers co-ops or by union labor.

Be honest about your financial situation

The current economy is challenging for everyone. If your budget is extremely tight this year, you need to shorten your shopping list. Don’t hesitate to communicate your situation to those you usually exchange gifts with. You may even consider talking to some friends and/or family members in advance and agree that you won’t exchange gifts with them. Instead you might propose an outing to do something you each enjoy like a hike, a stroll though your local town center to see the holiday lights or share a modest holiday potluck meal together.

Rediscover the meaning of the Holidays

The holiday season is a time for families and their extended family of friends to come together. Don’t let financial problems take away the importance of being together. Instead of focusing on the material aspects of the season, invest time in reconnecting with one another. Play a board game around the dining room table, prepare a meal together, or play some ball in the backyard or at the local park.