The holiday season is my absolute favorite time of year. I love the weather, the general joyous vibe, the season of giving, it all makes me happy on the inside. This is a serious time of year however, in the fact that if you don’t prepare for it, it can break you. And of course I am referring to the financial aspect of the season, but it can apply to much more including mentally preparing for the busy time ahead.
So you can probably guess what I believe the key to having an enjoyable and stress-free holiday season is…..which is being prepared by SAVING. I’ve heard it before, “Madison I can’t save for other things throughout the year, what makes you think I can save for Christmas?!”. Time to learn friend. Being prepared for these few months is the absolute key, and I’ll tell you why.
When I tell you that this is my favorite time of year, I’m not kidding. I LOVE gifting. And this is the one time of year that buying things for virtually everyone you know isn’t viewed as borderline creepy. (Can you tell that gifting is one of my love languages?) And before I started learning self control and budgeting, I have been known to blow several thousand dollars during Christmas time. And no, I’m not exaggerating. Though I slightly hope that my husband doesn’t read that part. Several thousand dollars sounds like a ridiculous amount of money, but the holiday money traps adds up SO fast. When I try to help others rein in their holiday spending, there are so many aspects that are forgotten and therefore don’t get worked into the budget. So, like when setting up any budget, start by sitting down and writing out things you KNOW you spend money on. This includes your kid’s presents, the white elephant gift for the family party, work gifts….you get the idea. Write down what you know will cost you every Christmas.
Below are some costs that get forgotten most often:
- Christmas or Holiday Photos
- Christmas Cards
- Extra Money for Food
Though these things get forgotten, they are not cheap, photos and Christmas cards add up FAST. Honestly, these are usually the first two things that I bring up to forego when clients are still in the debt slashing phase. If you are drowning in debt and need to get your financial life together, the holiday season shouldn’t be a big one for you this year. The first year that my husband and I started cleaning up our finances, we bought very few gifts, we bought none for each other, and made it known to our family that we couldn’t participate in the gift exchanges that year. I know it’s not quite as fun, and it hurts our pride a little. But we only had to do that for one year and now that we have gotten rid of debt, I can tell you that passing on that one year was totally worth it. Christmas photos and cards cost on average, $250-$300, and that can help a lot if you are paying off debt. Of course, you can always cut down on how much you spend for each person as well, which leads me to my next tip:
Set a limit for gifts and STICK TO IT. This limit should be reasonable and non negotiable. The best way to do this is write out a list for everyone you buy for (this was a HUGE eye opener for me as I realized I typically bought something for nearly fifty people!) and then set a general price limit for each person. This includes your husband, kids, nieces and nephews, great aunt Bertha and the like. Once you have a general gift limit, then add in the extras like Christmas cards, and I always recommend adding about $200 to your grocery budget for each month of the holidays. Then once you have that number, I always have a line item in every budget plan that is labeled “extra”. This is because even though you try to plan so well, you still end up forgetting that your brother has a new girlfriend that is coming to the party that you want to get a gift for, or your aunt decides we are going to do crafts at the party this year that ends up requiring a $100 to Hobby Lobby. Things always pop up, and that is why you plan for “extra”. This amount can vary of course, but I have $200 in our “extra” fund.
Now don’t sit down to do this budget in November. You know in January that Christmas is every December, so make the list at the beginning of the year and then you actually have time to put back the money you need for the holidays. This is doable friends I promise! We had nearly $2,000 saved by the time November rolled around this year, I got all my shopping done and it was so much more enjoyable. My biggest tip for enjoying the holiday season is to GIVE. Our culture of Santa and elves watching our kids to make sure they are “good” enough for presents instills in us an attitude of selfish wanting rather than a heart for giving. This is the season of giving, and I promise giving to those that need it will fill your heart way more than getting anything that is on your list. If you are out of debt and have the ability to, I challenge you to make your “giving to those in need” fund larger than your Christmas fund. Get involved with your local community because I promise you there is a need. And if you don’t know where to start, local churches, DFCS office, nursing homes, and shelters are a perfect place to start.
I saw a photo on facebook that said ” No holiday should manipulate you to the point where you’re going into debt just to show someone you love them.” It’s ludicrous. I know the Black Friday sales (which p.s aren’t really great sales anymore) and $3.50 3-wick candles at Bath and Body Works are so tempting, but remind yourself that it is the season of giving, not getting or spending, and giving love or your time is worth more than whatever you want to buy. If you are in a good space financially, plan and spend your money responsibly, I promise it is just as fun if not more fun because you can actually buy without worrying of going broke.
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year friends!