A Gift Card Holiday

I am a gift giver. I make notes of what people tell me that they want throughout the year. I start budgeting with google spreadsheets in July. I create shopping lists in September. I get pumped when holiday ads come out early. I research items relentlessly until Black Friday. And when the time comes to give gifts, I ride that high up until my niece’s birthday in January.

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My usual budget for the holidays for 13 people and some small gifts for friends and coworkers: $2,000. And how did I pay for it? CREDIT CARDS.

Obviously, that isn’t happening this year. I am on a mission to remove all credit card debt from our lives. (And we’re on track!) But with my husband’s unemployment, we are limited in what we have to work with.

Our new budget this year? $300.

How are we reducing our budget by 85%? Easy. We aren’t paying for the majority of the gifts. Husband and I are blessed to have been graciously showered by our friends and family during our engagement. And like most engaged couples, we were occasionally showered with the same gift several times (try 5 times for one lucky french press coffee maker). We returned over $500 of repeated, broken, or no longer needed items from our registries. Now we have a ton of store credit to spend.*

To top it off, we also have gift cards. We are not big shoppers, so when we occasionally got a gift card as a gift, prize, or reward, we stashed them. To diversify our gift card holdings, Husband and I also participate in online surveys where we earn points for rewards. Our favorite is YouGov. Through this process, we have been able to get countless of gift cards for restaurants, movie tickets, and shopping. And we cant forget about our credit card points. For my US Bank card that’s just about paid off, I was able to change my points in to cash to pay for a gift a gift card couldn’t get (ironically, it was for a different gift card!).

Through this smart saving, we are able to slash our out of pocket gift giving dramatically. And the best part is that no one is getting a gift that they didn’t want or need. My Grandma certainly isn’t getting a Nintendo game just because we had a Best Buy gift card laying around.

How to have a gift card holiday:

  1. Come to the shopping season prepared. Take notes in advance so you’re not running around looking for a perfect gift for Aunt Edith. And while you’re at it, BUDGET. Don’t walk in to stores blind. Research items and sales, and try your best to not get sucked in to Black Friday or Cyber Monday rushes when deals are often better later or earlier.
  2. Have a return at a popular store? Get store credit and save it. Keep your receipts or ask for gift cards. And ALWAYS check how long that store credit is good for.
  3. Getting gift cards bringing you down? Turn it in to a positive and save them! Most people use those gift cards for things they do not need or want. Your trash may be someone else’s treasure. Hold firm! Or, use a service to exchange the cards** for something else if no one would want a gift from Tattoos R Us.
  4. Sign up for surveys or other reward programs where you can turn 5 minutes of work in to points for gift cards. It may take awhile to earn it, but it’s worth it in the end.
  5. Don’t use credit cards to pay for your shopping card. Instead use old points to purchase gifts or gift cards while you work to pay off that debt.

*I realize that using returns on wedding gifts to buy other gifts may seem odd or totally wrong to outsiders. But let me assure you that if the gift was money, it would most likely be used on similar items. We were able to buy everything on our registry that was needed with a good portion of that return money. Thanks family and friends!

**I was not compensated for linking to this service. I have used it three times and have had good enough experiences to recommend it on its own right. There are other services out there as well that offer similar deals. 

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Pay, Save, or Spend?

We’ve had some scares come up this weekend. And with unemployment looking like it’s more and more of a pipe dream… I’m not going to lie and pretend that I am not scared for what is to come. Everyone said that marriage would be hard. But really, this soon? What happened to “newly wedded bliss?”

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Frankly, we’re still wading through the haze of the post-wedding blues. After 21 months of planning a totally lavish, expensive, and time consuming wedding, life hasn’t even settled down. Instead it has thrown us horrible curve balls. Despite that, we are still in the phase of “Do your remember that promiscuous bartender at the reception?” or “I will never forget our first dance…awwww.”

But I think this weekend finally snapped us out of it. We were given what will most likely be our final wedding present- a check of $200 from a relative of my Husband. My first thought was, “HELL YEAH! MONNNNNNNNNNEEEEEEYYYYYYY!!!” And then I remember that I am trying to be responsible and an adult about these things. So then I changed my tune to, “HELL YEAH! DEBT REPAYMEEEEEEEEEENNNNNNNNTTTTTTTTTTTT!”

And then we got that letter from the unemployment office in the mail.  

I’m back to the old conundrum. Knowing that our future has a good chance of falling apart at the seams- what do I do with this bit of extra income?

Do I put it towards our credit card repayment plan knowing that we may be dipping in to that emergency savings ASAP. Or, do I just put it in the savings account and be cautiously proactive? Third option- since giving Christmas gifts must be done with my family, should I use it to buy gifts?   

Part of me wants to continue on our debt pay-off track. We’re doing so well for total newbies with zero background on debt. I’ve been diligently reading blogs and following along with inspirational people on twitter. I feel like I am truly setting myself up for success and delaying our repayments is just going to hurt us in the long run.

On the other hand, I’m a total wimp when it comes to making these decisions and I often get caught up in how it’s “ok right now” without really thinking about how it’s not ok right now. We are paying over $400 towards our credit cards each month and even more on our student loans. We were essentially paying 20% of our hard earned money on paying minimum balances on cards and loans! NOT COOL!!

Now that you’ve heard me rant and go back and forth on my options, I want to know your opinion. What should I do with my extra $200? Repay some debt, fluff the emergency savings, or spend towards Christmas?

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