Ho, Ho, Hold onto Your Wallets
Only 67 days until Christmas! That’s right, as of today, October 19, we are just over two months away from Christmas Day. Some of you already have several items checked off your gift list and are using total restraint not to start decking the halls. The rest of you may be rolling your eyes and whispering “Bah Humbug” under your breath. No matter which scenario you fall into, the holiday season is one of giving, which also means it can be one of spending.
While the season is fondly known as “The Most Wonderful Time of the Year,” it can also be the most expensive, causing stress, frustration, and debt. So how do you keep your head and your finances merry and bright? Consider putting together a holiday budget. For those of you cringing at the word budget, how about a holiday spending plan? This plan will keep you on track, prevent you from overspending, and potentially keep you from racking up debt. Now that’s enough to have you rocking around the Christmas tree in no time!
Step 1: Make a List and Check it Twice
The best place to start is to create a list of all your potential holiday expenses. The more detailed the list can be, the better. By taking this first step, you are thinking through how far your holiday budget needs to stretch. It will give you a basic idea of things you need to pay for and if you need to limit spending in other areas. This may take some time at first, but in the long run, creating a list of expenses will save you time and stress. Below are examples of possible spending categories:
Food and Drinks. Parties, kids school events, company for the holidays
Entertainment. Holiday shows or concerts, going out to eat
TIP: If your budget is struggling, the entertainment category could be one area to cut costs. Host a Christmas movie-watching party instead of going out. Get a group together to walk through the Rotary Lights at Riverside Park.
Holiday Travel and Pet Boarding. Gas, airfare and bag fees, hotels
Holiday Decorations. Tree, outdoor lighting, wreaths
Gifts and Charitable Donations. Family, school and work exchanges, teachers, neighbors, hairdresser…this list can go on and on and is often the largest category of the budget
TIP: For each person you have on your list, create at least 2-3 gift ideas within a designated price range. This will keep you focused while shopping and help you stay away from impulse buying, which leads to unnecessary returns and fighting crowds.
Shipping costs. Ship packages sooner rather than later; anything faster than standard delivery is going to sock you
Miscellaneous. Holiday family photo shoot, holiday cards and stamps, wrapping paper, tags, bows
Step 2: You Don’t Have to be a Scrooge to Stay Within Your Holiday Budget
Now that you know where your money is going, determine how much you actually have available. This step is important and will change each year. Let your circumstances and priorities be your guide. Look at your overall budget and decide how much you can put into holiday spending. In this step you decide if your spending will be money that you have or don’t have and will have to pay off later. This means setting spending limits and keeping those limits realistic. You want to give little Suzy everything on her list, but it’s just not realistic. The amount you spend during the holidays should be based on what you earn, what you have saved, and what you can move around in your budget.
Once you have an overall holiday amount in mind, determine specific spending limits for each item listed in step 1. Start with the highest priority and non-negotiable. For some it might be airfare, for others it may be a gift for the mother-in-law. Assign number values to each item and keep subtracting from your total amount budgeted. If after doing this step, you find that your total amount allotted is not cutting it, don’t panic, you do have options:
- Where possible, lower the anticipated spending amounts of your high priority expenses
- Increase your total budget
TIP: Get a temporary seasonal job or buy gifts with unused gift cards
- Eliminate items that your budget cannot accommodate
TIP: Prior to the holiday season, speak with family and friends you will be buying for and agree on a predetermined spending limit or introduce the idea of a gift exchange instead of buying for everyone.
Step 3: Deck the Halls with Spreadsheets, Budget Apps, and Receipts
You know what you need to buy and how much you can spend. What’s next? Keeping track of your budget is the next step to staying on course. It may seem restrictive, but it allows you to be flexible with your spending.
Keeping Track of Your Budget
- Helps you meet your holiday budget goal
- Alerts you that you are overspending in one category
- Points out that you may have extra money in one category that can be used in another
- Holds you accountable
- Guides you when budgeting for the following year
Resources to Keep You on Track
- Create a holiday budget category in Every Dollar app EveryDollar – Ramsey (ramseysolutions.com)
- Contact your bank to see if they offer a Holiday Savings Account
- Use the good old-fashioned envelope method to separate your cash into categories
- Use pen, paper, and notebook
- Create your own customizable spreadsheet
Whatever method you decide to use for tracking, be consistent about subtracting each purchase from your total budget. Doing this allows you to see how much you have spent and what you have left. In other words, you are keeping up with spending to keep from overspending!
TIP: Always keep your gift list and budget resource with you.
Step 4: Don’t be a Cotton-Headed Ninny Muggins – Stick to Your Holiday Budget
Buddy the Elf felt horrible for not being able to meet his quota in Etch-A -Sketch making. Don’t let yourself feel that way in January when you start paying off your holiday purchases. According to debt.com, last year 41% of consumers were willing to go into debt for their holiday shopping. With interest rates on the rise, it is a terrible time to run up your credit card balances. Sticking to your budget is hard, but it’s the most important step. It takes discipline and organization (see Step 3 again). To avoid letting your spending get out of hand, use only money you have set aside specifically for your holiday spending. You cannot overspend what you do not have.
TIP: Try utilizing a cash-only strategy. If you use a credit card, put cash into your checking account so you can pay the credit card bill when it comes.
Remember to be honest with yourself. Although Black Friday and Cyber Monday advertise good deals, impulse shopping tends to get out of hand. You may find yourself purchasing items you don’t need. Only buy items you have budgeted for.
TIP: Be creative with ways to keep spending down on decorations and miscellaneous items. Get crafty and make your decorations or check out The Dollar Store for wrapping paper, tags, and bows. Challenge yourself to stick to your budget in EVERY category from Step 1.
Step 5: Maybe Christmas (He Thought) Doesn’t Come from a Store. Maybe Christmas Perhaps Means a Little Bit More
Thank the Grinch for that one. It’s worth remembering as you go through the steps of holiday budgeting. With a little creativity, you can spend less and give a more personal and meaningful gift. Start by looking at your talents. If you can make it, you can gift it. Here are some ideas.
- Are you a whiz in the kitchen? Give the gift of homemade jams, a tray of assorted Christmas cookies or canned sauces. People who are not as gifted in the kitchen will appreciate this more than you know.
- Is crafting your thing? Share your gift of wood working, sewing, knitting, painting, or making pottery.
- Build a gift basket. Buying a few smaller items can be less expensive than one large item, and it shows creativity and thoughtfulness and something money cannot buy.
TIP: If you are making multiple gift baskets, buy the items in bulk to maximize cost savings.
- Give the gift of time. Actions speak louder than words or presents. Offer to babysit, watch a pet, or shovel snow.
Let the suggestions above be a jumping point for you to rethink your approach to gift-giving. Some of the most thoughtful and appreciated gifts are those that are not bought. It is funny that the most popular day associated with holiday shopping is Black Friday, which ironically is the day after Thanksgiving, when we all take time to be thankful for what we have. Keep in mind you have nothing to prove with your gift-giving. That is not the point of the holiday season.
Jingle All the Way to 2024!
You may be thinking, it’s too late for me. It’s already the middle of October! Whether you are starting your budgeting in January or October, the planning and saving discussed in the steps above are the best ways to lessen the blow to your wallet during the holiday season. If the idea of starting this now seems too overwhelming, make it a priority for the 2024 holiday season. Saving smaller chunks of money over a longer time will make the season of gift-giving less stressful and more enjoyable. And your pockets will be jingling with much more than bells!
Education Specialist, ViaroHealth
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