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Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Money Matters: Budgeting for the Holiday Season

Yesterday a colleague mentioned how crazy it is to see aisles and aisles of Christmas decorations in stores just feet away from Halloween candy and costumes. I’ve accepted the HalloGivingMas mashup going on in the stores and told her it no longer surprises me. Stores are aiming to get consumers spending as early as possible to positively impact their bottom line. As she walked away, she nonchalantly said “Well, I guess it is only two months until Christmas” and I was like “True” but my brain was like OH MY GOODNESS! WHAT AM I GOING TO GET EVERYONE FOR CHRISTMAS? WHEN WILL I FIND TIME TO CURATE GIFT GUIDE 2013?? WHERE DID THE YEAR GO??? WHAT ABOUT THANKSGIVING??

Then I calmed down and started thinking of more practical concerns like how much I can budget for the holidays (including gifts, travel and entertaining) while keeping my monthly savings plan in tact. My solution was to create a plan that will keep my spending in check and alleviate the stress of the post-holiday bills. Here are some of my money saving plans for the holidays. 

First things first. Push off the pressure. If you can’t afford to buy everyone (or anyone) a gift, don’t. At the end of the day, the holidays aren’t about gifts. They are about spending time with people you love and being thankful for what and who you have in your life. Don’t beat yourself up about not getting people gifts. If they love you, they’ll understand. p/s I know it’s harder to explain that to kids when every classroom, commercial and store display is geared towards getting new stuff to replace your old stuff that couldn’t possibly still be good enough stuff. There are resources for parents who don’t want their kids to be left out. Check out Toys for Tots in your city.

Do a gift exchange pool (think Secret Santa) with your family so you have responsibility for one big gift or a few small ones. Set a cap on spending so one cousin isn’t unwrapping a bag of discount socks from the corner while her sister is dancing for joy over her coveted navy blue Tory Burch riding boots (not that the holidays should be about who got the better gift). In my family, we do a 15 and 15 gift exchange. You can read about it here

Budget and don’t Budge It. Decide how much money you can spend and don’t go over your limit. How much will it cost to host family and friends for a holiday meal? How much do you have to spend on gifts? Do you have to buy holiday party attire? Do you have to travel? Factor all of that in.

Have lots of gifts to buy? Shop early so there isn’t one month where you take a big hit financially. Pay attention to sales. Sign up for e-mails from your favorite stores to gift from. You’ll get alerts when there are specials. If you work for a big company, look for deals at stores that offer your company a discount. Check out shopping network sites. Usually they allow payment in installments. This might help you avoid blowing your monthly budget.

Traveling? Look for ways to save. Shop for a plane or train ticket early. Avoid traveling on a peak travel day (like the day before Thanksgiving) if possible. If your travel dates aren’t flexible, sign up for alerts with sites like Orbitz, Kayak, and Travelocity so you can monitor prices as they go up and down in the weeks leading up to your travel. You can also bid on tickets through certain travel sites (like Priceline). If you’re renting a car, do it early. They go fast and prices go up the closer you get to the holidays. Also, look for deals and discounts you can get through your job, AAA, etc.

Potluck! Excited to host your huge family for a holiday meal but a little scared of the grocery bill? Ask everyone to bring a side dish, dessert or a bottle of wine. You supply the main dish. Send around a sign up sheet a couple of weeks before so you know everything is covered. You give up a little control over your meal but you save some money.

DIY. In my opinion, homemade gifts make the best gifts because of the time and thought you put into them. You can bake, paint, sew, write…whatever suits your talents. Lacking inspiration? Hop on Pinterest. Just be careful not to go crazy and spend more money on supplies for your DIY project than you would on buying a gift.

Donate. Suspend gift giving within the family for the year and put what you would have spent towards donations in the names of your friends/family members.  There are so many people who don’t have what they need to get through the holidays. If you are able, sponsor a family. Invite a lonely neighbor over for dinner. Buy toys for underprivileged children. Volunteer at a soup kitchen. Do what you can for those who can’t afford to do for themselves. It sounds corny (and cliché) but your kindness and your time are really the best gifts you can give…and the way you feel after is the best gift you could ever get.

Have your own tips for saving during the holidays? Leave them in the comments below!

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