The holiday season is a blessed time of the year, but one that can also wreak havoc with our budgets. Like every other expense we deal with (yes, as much as we don’t like to think of it as such, with everything else Christmas represents, it is very much an expense!), having a plan will keep you from over spending and busting the budget you’ve worked so hard to maintain during the year.
But how to do that?
1. Set your budget in advance. In virtually any expense, you’ll usually spend less money if you set a budget in ahead of time. At a minimum, this provides a ceiling on how much you can spend, a function that’s completely necessary in the Christmas buying frenzy.
It’s the human factor—buying gifts for others is highly emotion driven, and that sets us up to go a little crazy. The only way to effectively corral that condition is by putting an absolute lid on how much you’re prepared to spend in advance. If you’re having trouble establishing what that lid should be, ask yourself how much you’ll be prepared to pay when the bills start coming in January.
2. Pay in cash. Speaking of January, here’s a bit of advice you’ll love having followed when the holiday festivities are behind us and we flip into the new year: when ever and where ever you can, pay for your purchases in cash.
Two forces will be in play here, and both will work in your favor. First, by paying in cash, you’ll be more likely to stay within your predetermined budget. After all, with cash you can’t spend more than you have the way you can with a credit card. Second, the more you can pay for in cash, the less extravagance you’ll be stuck paying for when it’s all over.
3. Spend time with people rather than giving a gift. You don’t need to buy a gift for everyone on your list. A visit can be the best gift of all, and it doesn’t have to cost any money at all, if it costs anything. This is especially true with the elderly in your circle. Often, we struggle to find the perfect gift for them, when the thing they most want from us is our time—especially at the holidays.
4. Starbucks gift cards to the rescue! Some people don’t like the idea of giving gift certificates (too impersonal?) but they have their place. I think they’re perfect when you want to give someone something but don’t have either a big budget or a lot of time to shop and figure it out.
Starbucks gift certificates in small denominations—maybe $5—are a way of letting a person know you’re thinking of them. They’re great for friends and especially for coworkers.
No matter what, you can rest assured that Starbucks gift cards are always appreciated for at least one of two reasons: 1) most people go to Starbucks at least occasionally, and if they don’t 2) the cards are readily re-gift-able to others!
(Admit it—that last one has you thinking about it, doesn’t it?)
5. Keep family gifts to kids only. Buying gifts for everyone of your extended family and close friends can get prohibitively expensive. In both my family and my wife’s, we decided years ago that we would buy gifts only for the kids. Not only does this cut down on costs, but it also reduces stress. Buying presents for dozens of people is time consuming—wrapping them is even more so.
Bonus: by eliminating gift giving for adults, you no longer need to trouble yourself with having to find the “right one” for everyone, but also the need to pretend that you actually like everyone else’s choices for you. In truth, I’m guessing everyone on both sides of our family has been relieved at the change.
6. Shop early. By doing your shopping before Thanksgiving you give yourself both time and peace to shop at your own speed, as well as to take advantage of any pre-season sales. But if you don’t finish before Thanksgiving, there is a Plan B!
I’ve found that you can achieve close to the same results by doing your holiday shopping during the quieter times of the week even in December. Despite the holiday crush, the stores are close to empty on Monday and Tuesday nights; alas, holidays or no, most people still have to work!
Take advantage of the peace and quiet these evenings offer, to enable you to sail through the stores, shopping for bargains at your leisure. Wait until the weekends, and you’ll be in the crush with the masses, getting stressed out and ultimately paying more for everything just so you can get out and get home.
With some advance planning you can save hundreds of dollars in the upcoming holiday season!
What are you doing to keep from busting your budget this holiday season? Can you offer any advice that will help others?
(photo credit: Dave416)
This post is from FiscalGeek staff writer: Kevin Mercadante. I’m very excited to have him contributing to the site. You can find out more about him at his own blog OutOfYourRut.com.