How to Tackle the Holiday Season without Busting Your Budget
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Happy almost Thanksgiving! Or from the looks of most stores right now, Merry Christmas! Whether you are ready or not, the holidays are upon us. It’s time to start making your shopping lists and checking them twice, but there’s one big step before you start counting your Black Friday savings: Make a budget. (You totally knew we were going to say that.)

Now is the time to nail down a budget for all of your holiday expenses. Gift giving is the most obvious budgeting expense, but don’t forget about the others. Decorations, food for potlucks, charitable donations, Secret Santa gifts, and a Christmas day feast can easily turn into December budget-busters if you haven’t planned for them. Making time to plan for December during November is going to save you time and money during the holiday season. And who doesn’t need more of both of those?

Here are some common tips we share with our clients for the best ways to tackle the holiday season:

Try to have most of your Christmas/Hanukkah shopping done by December 1st. This way you won’t be tempted to wait until the last minute and buy things willy nilly. You will be far more intentional with your purchases and more likely to stick to your budget if you shop before December hits and your social calendar fills up. Don’t find yourself throwing things into an Amazon shopping cart four days before Christmas and paying through the nose for expedited shipping.

Budget a set amount for each person on your gift list. If you are the primary shopper in your family, this may be a long list. It could include kids, your spouse, parents, siblings, nieces and nephews, and friends. Create a spreadsheet and list each person you’re buying gifts for, how much you plan to spend and how much you have spent. This will give you the full picture of how much you’ve spent, who may be lacking or has one too many presents already.

Don’t forget all the other gifts for people who aren’t your relatives or close friends. There are plenty of other important people in your life (or your children’s life) that tend to be last-minute purchases because we forget to plan for them. These are people like teachers, mail carriers, co-workers, dog walkers, etc. They aren’t usually elaborate gifts, but if unaccounted for, they can really add up.

Plan to deck your halls and celebrate the season. One of the great things about the holiday season is all of the merriment that’s associated with it. Decorations and parties are usually not in short supply. Make sure you also budget for decorations, food, and entertainment associated with the holidays. What do you need for your Christmas or Hanukkah feast? How much are you budgeting for stockings? Are you buying a 10 ft douglas fir tree this year? Got a fancy work party that you need a new outfit for? Budget that too. If there is nothing specific, we still recommend setting money aside (think cash in an envelope in your kitchen drawer) just in case something pops up. Something always pops up.

Look ahead. Once the holidays are over, most people don’t want to think about them for at least another 10 months. But we challenge you to do it much sooner. The time to start budgeting for the holidays is January 2nd.  Take an hour or two to plan out the full year’s worth of holidays, birthdays, anniversaries, baby showers, graduations, weddings, and other gifts you have to buy. Once you get your grand total for the entire year, divide it by twelve and start saving that much every month. That way when you have a gift to by you can just take it right from your “gift fund” without putting it on a credit card. Not to mention, you’ll be that much further ahead when November rolls around next year.

Need some ideas for gift-giving that don’t break the bank? Check out Episode 23 of the Fiscal Fitness Podcast here. We also give you plenty of ideas for holiday traditions that are big on fun, low on cost.

And if you are looking for a new and better way to budget all year long (one that takes into account end-of-the-year gift-giving), see our How to Budget Guide here.

Happy Holidays! Now get to planning.

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