What happened? You blinked and all of a sudden Thanksgiving is over! Christmas is right around the corner, and you feel unprepared to say the least. Now what? The holiday season is notorious for causing people to overspend and maybe rack up dangerous amounts of debt that will cause cash flow problems in the New Year. Here are three ways to keep from breaking the bank this season:
Do NOT feel obligated to buy a gift for everyone that you come in contact with or even everyone who gives you a gift. Make a list of those who you would like to buy for and stick to it. If you keep adding people, you’ll never stop. Once you have made this list – hold onto it for next year. Establish a total that you would like to spend on gifts, and then divvy it up amongst the people on your list. Once you know your total, divide that number by 12 and set aside that amount every month so that you’ll be ready for next Christmas!
One cost-effective option is to get your family on board with the “drawing names” approach. Put everyone’s name in a hat then have everybody draw. Each person is only responsible for getting a gift for the family member they draw. This way you only have to buy one gift, not multiple. An alternative to this is a “grab bag” type scenario where everyone brings one gift and everyone leaves with one gift.
If you want to do something nice for your friends/neighbors/co-workers, you don’t need to buy them each a gift certificate. Bake a few batches of cookies or other portable treats and pass them around at the office or your neighborhood. Individually wrap them or put them on a cute disposable holiday-themed plate for a more festive feel. Or maybe you could just go out to coffee or happy hour or host an office potluck and spend some time together.
When you do go shopping, don’t just head to the mall and stay there until you’ve crossed everyone off your list – do some comparison shopping and make a plan. Never pay full price if you can help it! Check websites like Amazon and eBay to see if you can get a better deal. There are several coupon apps available for your device like RetailMeNot where you simply enter the store name to find any available coupon codes for use online or in the store.
If you want to give a REALLY valuable gift to someone, don’t go shopping at all! Offer them a free night of babysitting, dog walking, house cleaning, or just some quality time together. Most of the time, we value experiences much more than material things. These are the gifts they will really remember and truly appreciate. Host a cookie exchange, a DIY spa night, a potluck dinner, or movie night. If you’d like to incorporate a charitable tilt, find a way to donate your time instead of your $$$. Schedule a group volunteer night at a soup kitchen; sponsor a family in need, or work with your church or local community center to find an event and pitch in.
Holiday cards have a sneaky way of draining your pocketbook. Printing cute cards is easy through online sites, but beware – $2.00 per card sounds cheap, but it can add up fast! If you order 50 cards, you’re talking $100 plus the cost of postage. If you’re trying to save money in this area, consider emailing your holiday message or order actual picture prints for ten cents a pop instead of $2.00 for the same photo printed on a card. I personally LOVE receiving and giving photo holiday cards and usually leave them on my fridge all year long. If printed photo cards are an important part of your holiday traditions, simply incorporate the cost into your budget each year so it doesn’t sneak up on you.
Every weekend in December seems to be full of parties and holiday functions. It is easy to think that you “need” a new dress, pair of shoes, or (insert your vice here), but in reality – you have options. Do a deep dive into your closet and see what you have to work with. Many times, you can wear the same dress but completely change your look by changing it up with a different scarf, shoes, or jewelry. Get together with some friends and borrow each other’s outfits, dresses or ugly Christmas sweaters, so you have something “new” to wear to every event. If you do end up buying new attire, make sure that it is functional. Ask yourself what else you can wear it for – weddings, work events, etc.? There are also several sites out there where you can rent formal attire or buy used. Try RentTheRunway.com for a formal dress rental or ThredUp.com to purchase a gently used ensemble.
Don’t let financial woes ruin your holiday season. Plan ahead for expenses like gifts, holiday cards, and parties so that you are not frazzled by last minute shopping or stressed out by a large credit card bill. The holidays are a time for fun and celebration – let’s keep it that way!
Jamie Bosse, CFP®, RFC