Elizabeth Stangel: Client Service Coordinator
The season of giving often feels like it’s turning into the season of spending. Ease some of the holiday gift-giving stress by creating and sticking to a holiday budget. Here’s how:
GET DOWN TO THE NITTY GRITTY
- Holiday spending consists of more than just gifts. Make a list of holiday associated expenses beyond the cost of gifts. Include items like, cards, wrapping paper, cost of food for events, travel expenses, postage for your greeting cards, etc. Many people strictly budget their gift expenses but forget that these seemingly miniscule expenses add up.
- Go into your holiday shopping with the mindset that you are only “allowed” to use money you have set aside for Christmas. Avoid spending more than you have with a plan to pay it off later. Credit card bills can add up quickly, leaving you with a debt hangover come January. Many people find it helpful to stick to a cash-only system to avoid the temptation of overspending with credit cards. Others use credit cards to rack up reward points but pay the card off immediately after using it. Before you even start your shopping, you need a clear spending limit for every holiday expense.
MAKE A LIST: CHECK IT TWICE
- Once you have a list of holiday incidentals and a clear dollar amount you are planning on spending, compile a list of every gift you expect to need through the entire holiday season. Don’t forget your office exchanges, gifts for the mailman, and hostess gifts for your New Year’s get-together. Put a dollar figure next to each name on your list and establish a maximum spending amount per person. Before you hit the mall (or before adding anything to your online shopping cart) try to have one or two ideas for each person you need a gift for.
TRACK YOUR PURCHASES
- Keep track of every gift you buy throughout the holiday season. As you purchase items make sure to subtract the amount from your Christmas budget total. This will help you adjust if need be. Save every receipt as you track your expenses, not only will this provide a reality check, but it will also help create a budget for next holiday season.
- Plan for major sales- you might be able to find high ticket gifts for less money than you budgeted for giving you wiggle room for others.
- If you’re shopping online make sure to check sites such as retailmenot and offers.com for promo codes and coupons.
- While you’re waiting in line at the checkout, quickly price match items at different stores using your phone. Most big-box stores will honor sale prices of competitors if you find a better price elsewhere.
- Don’t let the words “doorbuster” and “one-day only” steer you in the wrong direction. Often there isn’t a huge difference in markdowns between Black Friday sales and regular holiday sales. Don’t buy something just because it’s on a “one-day only” special, chances are it will be on sale again, sometimes for better deals than the original sale.
- Consider giving handmade gifts, sweat equity goes a long way. They may cut down on some costs while also creating something more memorable than a store-bought gift. These types of gifts may not work for everyone but are awesome options for others. Grandma and Grandpa may enjoy pictures of the little ones with a handmade card from the kids lots more than a store-bought item. Teachers may appreciate homemade cookies or treats around the stressful holiday season more than their thousandth coffee mug.
- You may want to budget in a couple small extra gifts in case your nephew decides to bring his new girlfriend unexpectedly, or someone you weren’t expecting a gift from shows up with a present for you. These gifts should be relatively generic, even better if it’s something you’d enjoy for yourself in case you don’t end up needing it. Having these little extras can ease your mind and save you the hassle of scrambling for a last-minute gift.
- Try to buy one time from each online retailer to cut multiple shipping charges.
THE BOTTOM LINE
- Don’t let your holiday gift cheer land you in a new year of crushing debt. By establishing a clear expectation for your budget, getting a little creative, and trying your best not to overdo it, you’ll be able to spend the most wonderful time of the year stressing less and enjoying more.
Use our Expense Tracker to help keep yourself on-track!