Canadians adopt “smart shopping” strategies this Christmas season

Forking over hard-earned cash for new holiday dresses, turkey dinners, greeting cards and expensive gifts for the extended family may seem difficult given the tough economy.

But this doesn’t mean Canadians are anywhere close to replacing their usually jolly holiday attitude with a grumpy Scrooge-like demeanor.

In fact, rather than cancel the Christmas tree and rain on the children’s festive parade, a survey reveals Canadian families are celebrating the season by implementing budget-friendly strategies.

A national survey of 1,001 Canadians commissioned by debit card services organization, Interac Association found half of Canadians have already set or are planning on setting a holiday shopping budget this year.

The survey was carried out by Toronto-based research firm, The Strategic Counsel.

And – surprise, surprise – the survey discovered women budget more than men.

The percentage of budgeters has not really changed from past years, either you budget or you don’t, says Caroline Hubberstey, director of public affairs at the Interac Association, but interestingly, there is a wider variety of money-saving strategies being reported.

Seventy-three per cent said they will research and compare prices online before buying and 60 per cent said they are buying early to take advantage of year-long sales.

Fifty-one per cent of shoppers will buy incrementally to avoid one major hit to their bank account and 71 per cent are setting spending limits on each person they buy for or are cutting back on other purchases to focus spending on holiday gifts. 

And to avoid the hefty interest fees and spend within their means, 56 per cent plan on using Interac more often.

“With more Canadians watching their holiday spending habits this year, many are relying on Interac payment services to help them stay on track,” said Hubberstey. “People tell me they’re on the Interac debit diet.”

Budgeting is vital if you don’t want to pick yourself up from the floor after getting your January credit card bill, says one expert.

Kim Danger, family savings specialist at Coupons.com, says people can also avoid the shock of an inflated credit card bill or a low bank balance in January by simply setting and sticking to a holiday budget before they hit the mall.

“Set a budget before you leave the house, write down who you have to buy for and also include items such as apparel for parties, Christmas cards, postage and expenses for hosting,” she says, ” you need to include it all because it all adds up. If it adds up to more than you can afford – you have to cut back.”

Shoppers, she said, need to avoid making impulse purchases at the mall. While visiting early bird sales can be advantageous to meeting your budget, many overspend and buy for themselves when they see great deals.

“Don’t be tempted,” she says. “Take advantage of sales, but have a list in your hand and stick to it.”

Danger recommends researching sales online, not only for the money-saving benefits, but also to reduce the likelihood of impulse purchases and reduce stress.

Her Web site, Mommysavers.com, compiles a list of sales in stores and Coupons.com not only includes deals for groceries, but also discounts on electronic items and children’s games, such as LeapFrog.

“Clipping coupons can be tiresome but there are a lot of great Web sites that compile sales and list all of your money-saving deals in one place.”

Unique gift-giving and homemade gifts are also recommended.

Danger says a homemade gift or a donation is perfect for the Christmas season because they have more meaning and are often more warmly accepted than a boring sweater or DVD.

Crafty gifts are most popular in British Columbia with 39 per cent planning on making something and 51 per cent reporting they will make a charitable donation. Homemade gifts are least popular in the Maritimes.

Forty-three per cent of total Canadians plan to make a small donation to a charity instead of spending money.

Thirty-one per cent of budgeters surveyed by Interac say they are planning on making their own gifts instead of buying them.

Forty-eight percent will participate in a gift exchange or give a group gift to reduce costs, and 21 per cent will re-gift (Ontario apparently has the largest number of “re-gifters.”)

Seventy-two per cent of Canadians are also planning on saving money by re-using wrapping paper, gift boxes and ribbons.

Danger said families that take some (or all) of these steps will be fine economically this season. Creating a number that you can afford and stick to is the hardest part, she says.

“If you have a $50 limit, stick to it – you will be surprised by how creative and resourceful you can become to stick to the budget and explore what other gift options are out there.”

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