Of course, we know it’s coming. Whether it’s Christmas, Hanukkah, Thanksgiving or some other holiday that rates as our No. 1 gathering for family and friends, most of us just can’t seem to really enjoy our favorite season because of the stress it brings. Year after year, we can’t seem to get a handle on what it would take to make it more manageable.
Maybe it’s time for a change — a real change that will get you in a position to truly welcome that annual celebration instead of secretly dreading it. If you’re like most Americans, that likely means overcoming the financial strain that these celebrations bring on, as well as properly planning far in advance for the activities that surround it.
Here are 5 important tips that will get you on the right track. However, it also requires you to get into the right mindset. For example, it’s crucial that you resist the urge to overachieve and overimpress.
1. Set a Modest Budget and Stick to it.
Take the time to determine how much you can reasonably spend on your holiday, including a gift for each person on your list, food for your holiday gathering, decorations, gas for any out-of-town trips and shopping excursions, and the office gift exchange. Try to think of every possible scenario in which you will likely face additional expenses beyond your regular monthly budget. Total that amount and add 20 percent for any unexpected expenses, such as an increase in utility expenses as a result of hosting overnight guests.
2. Save Now.
Don’t wait until several months before your holiday to decide that it’s time to start finding the money to fund your budget. Set aside a certain amount each month, starting at the beginning of the year. Keep it simple by setting up a savings account at your bank or credit union with automatic deductions from your paycheck.
3. Plan your Gift-giving 6 to 9 Months in Advance.
There’s no reason you can’t decide on the ideal gift for your mother-in-law, your nephew or your best friend months in advance. By having the time to be very thoughtful — and not rushed — chances are you will think of items that perfectly suit your gift recipients. Write down 2 to 3 ideas for each person. Throughout the year, as you’re shopping sales and clearance racks, check to see if you can find all the items on your gift list. If you come under your budget for each person, resist the urge to pick up a little something else to make up the difference. Pocket the savings (which can be significant) instead. Another gift that will be deeply appreciated is one you make yourself, especially among the older people on your gift list who likely have everything they need. Consider DIY projects from knitted scarves to baked goods.
4. Decorate on a Budget.
Of course, decorating typically is one of the biggest hallmarks of the holidays—both indoors and outdoors. As a result, it also can be among our big ticket items. This is one area that it makes sense to make an Excel spreadsheet to compare the overall costs of purchasing reusable décor, including artificial Christmas trees and wreaths, to purchasing live trees and greenery. Compare the cost of a one-time investment of a quality artificial tree to the annual purchase of a cut tree over a 10-year period, for example. Likewise, make a commitment to purchase holiday ornaments that you know you and your family will enjoy year after year. Try to forgo the trendier Christmas decorations that may look outdated in a year or two. The savings from this approach could be significant.
With your strategy in place to celebrate the holidays on a budget, there’s no doubt that you will be able to sincerely enjoy a stress-free, debt-free holiday season. Start planning now so that you can be in the holiday mood throughout the remainder of the year.