Written by: Deborah Cartisser
Welcome to the most expensive time of the year. The holidays can be a stress filled race against time or they can be a joyous time spent with family & friends, inspired by the wonder of the season. With some planning and simplification, you might be able to experience more enjoyment. Are your holidays tumultuous and filled with overspending? Some of the suggestions below may help systematize the chaos and leave you filled with cheer rather than burdensome debt.
Establish a Holiday Budget
Be realistic about what you can afford to spend without increasing your debt. Make a budget and stick to it. If the amount you have leftover at the end of the month isn’t enough to cover your holiday expenses, think about some of your discretionary spending that could be eliminated. Skipping your daily latte or cutting out a few restaurant meals could add some more to your budget.
Instead of getting a gift for each of your siblings or friends, suggest a gift swap, with a maximum amount. Getting together for a gift swap can be more fun and more memorable than having to get a gift for each person. Suggest an evening out together or a shared experience instead of gift giving. Chances are, if you are looking to simplify your gift giving list, your friends are too. Try this with your siblings too or agree to give gifts just to children. You might be surprised by the responses you get from others. Have this conversation before the other person has already purchased a gift for you.
Make a Plan
Spend a little time thinking about what you want to get for whom and create a list that you can stick to. The purpose of this step is to avoid impulsivity that can drive us to spend more than we intended. List the amounts for each and remember that inflation is more of a factor this year than in past years. Be realistic with the amounts. Don’t forget to include events on your list. Add the cost of extras, like a holiday outfit, preparing a holiday meal, wrapping paper, shipping costs, etc. If you are hosting a meal, consider borrowing decorations or serving pieces. People typically ask what they can bring so be prepared to give them an assignment. Look at your list and prioritize the expenses. You may not be able to do everything on the list and that’s ok as long as you’ve made a conscious choice, rather than being swept along in the spending spree.
Credit card rates are significantly higher than they were previously, so avoiding credit card purchases can help you long term, unless you pay everything off when you receive the bill. Check your credit card balance before getting started so you know what your monthly obligation is and how much you want to add to the monthly bill. Starting with this step gives you a realistic view of your current situation. If you are someone who tends to overspend on a card, use cash instead. It’s easier to notice overspending when it happens. Use an app like YNAB or Pocket Guard to help track where your monthly expenses go and where you can focus on making reductions. See the guide to best budgeting apps for 2024 from Nerd Wallet https://www.nerdwallet.com/article/finance/best-budget-apps.
Shop the Sale
Download retailer apps or subscribe to an email list, which can give you a heads up on a sale or give out codes that aren’t available to other customers. Price compare on line for the item you are searching for before buying. Use apps like Rakuten to earn cash back. Don’t be fooled by claims of Black Friday deals without running a price comparison first. Sometimes the “deals” aren’t much lower than the regular price. Many stores have a price match guarantee, so it’s worth asking if you find a better price elsewhere.
Crossing items off your list early gives you access to more selection, and often, better prices. Allowing yourself more time to shop for deals can help you make it to more of the items on your list. Look for opportunities to earn points or cash back on card purchases that you immediately pay off. Shopping at the last minute increases the likelihood that you will spend more. Shopping on a weeknight is less stressful than weekend shopping and you’re likely to make better decisions. It’s never too early to start thinking about next year.
Allocate Your Time
Be mindful of how you are spending your time. Figure out ways to spend your time on things that bring you joy and people who make you smile. Would you be happier spending time shopping in the mall or quickly picking out gifts on line? Ask for help. If you know your sister is going to a certain store, ask if she can pick up a specific item on your list. Allow time for the traditions you love, whether it’s making cookies with the kids or hosting a gathering with friends. Don’t be afraid to say no to an event or a request for your time. Have your polite refusal practiced and ready so you don’t inadvertently say yes in the moment. Enlist your kids to help you. Create a list for them to accomplish during the weekend. They may not be able to shop but they can fold laundry and free you up from other tasks. Enroll vendors to help you, from grocery delivery to in-store pickups.
By spending a little time thinking about the financial well-being you want to feel in January, you can avoid some costly mistakes and have a more joyous holiday season.
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