We all know that special someone. That special friend who is totally organized. The one who upon a simple query will answer, “Of course all my Christmas shopping is done! I start in June!” After we smile and offer a polite reply (while secretly fantasizing about ripping her perfect head off), we vow that NEXT year we are going to get an early start.
Maybe it’s just me. I’m notoriously a “last-minute Lucy,” and the holidays tend to be no different. If I’m lucky and on the ball, I’ll remember in October or so to pull out my gift list (a spreadsheet, of course!) to get a bead on the upcoming gift season. Since I have relatives with November birthdays, I usually start the first of November. So, I’m proof that you can still plan and budget for the holidays, even this late in the game.
Come November, it’s likely you’re freaking out about holiday expenses. And you’re not just worried about gifts, of course, because there are numerous other ways to blow your money this time of year. Take a break from the worry and consider doing some of these things to help proactively ease the financial burden of the holidays.
- Survey the entertainment situation. What are your plans for Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s, and all the holidays in between that you celebrate? Planning to eat out? Having friends or family over? Start with a list of events and create a target budget for them.
- Create a gift list. Do you already have gifts ready for some of your loved ones? Make a list of what you have so you don’t overbuy, and determine where you are in your holiday shopping. As you make your gift list, pause and consider whether you really, truly need to make that gift, or would a nice card suffice? Prune your list and brainstorm ways to provide thoughtful gifts in a more scalable way. For example, if you routinely give gifts to work colleagues, could you instead bake some cookies to wrap up festively? Homemade gifts, especially the edible sort, are always appreciated, and can save you some serious dough. Simple gestures of kindness are one-size-fits-all gifts.
- Cheap or free entertainment. Now reconsider your holiday plans. What are some ways you can celebrate the holidays without spending money, or at least without spending as much money? Go back to your entertainment list and see what modifications you can make. For example, maybe you always meet a certain set of friends or family members for a meal at a restaurant for the holidays. Instead, consider inviting them over for a potluck dinner. Or maybe you could change the event to be BYOB drinks and snacks in the late afternoon. What about a game night? Offer to provide hot cocoa and cider, and play games instead of spending hundreds at a restaurant. Generally speaking, people are just as happy to have a new experience.
- This goes for kids, too! You can also have excellent holiday adventures with your kids without breaking the bank. Drive around neighborhoods that have great Christmas light displays, and see what your city or town is offering for fun, but inexpensive, holiday entertainment. Don’t forget family game night! This is something we do all year long, but sometimes our attention wanes from our regular schedule. During the holidays, we double down. With extra days off to potentially schedule, create fun game tournaments or something to get the kids jazzed about family time. Prizes can be holiday candy or cookies. Or perhaps just bragging rights!
- Remember volunteering. Volunteering together is an excellent holiday experience for your family or for a group of your friends. Give back to the community by volunteering for a few hours. It’s the cheapest and easiest way to get that warm glow of holiday cheer in your belly!
- Have the conversation. If your finances are extra pinched this year, communicate that with your friends and family. Don’t fall into the trap of trying to hide your financial distress by putting on a show of “we’re doing just fine!” Be honest with yourself and then with others. This conversation can go hand in hand with suggesting some new ideas for creative, but less expensive, celebrating.
It’s all about the planning. Regardless of how you spend your holidays, planning ahead will help reduce worrying and pressure. Sometimes it can feel easier to just bury your head in the sand (or snow) and avoid the whole topic. Instead, embrace the true spirit of the holidays. Use your creativity to lavish love and attention on your beloveds instead of spending all the money you have and more. Celebrate the holidays without breaking the bank.
What ways do you plan ahead to avoid holiday budget disaster? Please share your thoughts and ideas!