Money Smarts Blog

Setting a Holiday Budget and Sticking to It

Nov 13, 2019 | Lisa Perkins

Happy couple holiday shopping

The holidays are right around the corner, and you’ve either already started planning or you’re trying to figure out how to pull it off. I’ve been there… It’s that time of year again, and I didn’t start saving early enough. Yikes! No matter which holiday you observe in December, you may encounter additional stress without planning ahead.

Dashing Through the Stores, How Am I Going to Pay?

Don’t let holidays haunt you for months long after. Today we’ll share some tips on how you can set a budget, stick to it and prepare yourself for the following year.

First things first

Make a list and check it twice! Document all expected expense categories and decide how much you can allocate to each. Be reasonable and realistic!

Some budget items to consider:

  • Décor
  • Gifts, listed by recipient
  • Food
  • Clothing for special events
  • Entertainment
  • Gift wrapping supplies: wrapping paper, tape, boxes, bows, tags
  • Cards
  • Shipping/postage
  • Gas/travel
  • Donations

Next, plan out your shopping

  1. I prefer to start shopping for gifts early. But I’ve definitely fallen into to the trap of buying more than I would have because I’ve found “must-haves” as the holiday neared. Hindsight (and a drained account) put that habit to bed. I find it best to plan for major sales to stay ahead of the game. Black Friday and Cyber Monday are great times to make your dollar go further. That’s when I typically check the most off my list. Getting items from your list at a discount rather than paying more at the last minute is a major win!
  2. Don’t fall into the trap of impulse buys – stores change their layouts for holiday shopping to try to get you to buy that oh-so-adorable-but-so-not-necessary Christmas sweater. If it’s not on the list, it’s not needed right now.
  3. Compare sale ads to see who has the best offer. If purchasing online, also compare shipping costs, shipping time, and availability of free in-store pickup. This can help keep you out of crowds and, for me, reduces the risk of purchasing additional items that aren’t on my list. On the topic of shipping – make sure you order with enough turnaround time to avoid paying for expedited shipping. Every dollar adds up.
  4. Keep tabs on spending. Whether going old school with pen and paper or trying out an app like Santa’s Bag, it’s important to know what you're spending. I personally love the app. Each time I make a purchase, I document it in the app. It’s password protected, so no snoopers in my house! It also keeps a running total and displays my progress toward the budget amount I entered. If you don’t have a smart phone or prefer paper over digital, always keep your original budget list with you. When you spend, write down your totals and check off items purchased to avoid duplicates.

Get the Best Deals for Your Meal

Keep an eye on the grocery ads too. Many of them have price match policies in place to allow you to accomplish all of your food purchases in one location rather than driving around town to hit each sale. If you do end up needing to hit several stores, do this en route to another planned destination to avoid wasting time and gas.

Looking Ahead

Once everything has slowed down, immediately start preparing for next year. Total all of this year’s expenses and divide by 12 – save this amount monthly to keep you on track for next year. Take advantage of post-holiday sales for gift wrap, décor and cards – this will put you ahead of next year’s budget and at a fraction of the normal cost!

Ultimately, holidays bring added expenses but shouldn’t bring added debt or stress. Make sure that you only give until it feels good, not until it hurts. It’s not about gifts, it’s about the company you’re with!

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