Christmas in July? You have to be kidding me! As a matter of fact, now is the perfect time to upgrade how you track your holiday spending and manage your budget. For years I have kept a gift-giving spreadsheet for the holidays (and birthdays) reminding me of what we gave, to whom we gave, and how much the gift cost.
Sounds like I’m taking all the joy out of giving, right? But bear with me. How many times have you been shopping frantically, worrying whether you gave a similar item to your loved one last year, but you can’t remember? How many holiday shopping budgets have gone by the wayside simply because you couldn’t keep track of it all?
The solution is simple: Make a spreadsheet. While you can create a written list, it saves time and work later using a spreadsheet. How you choose to track and organize your shopping doesn’t matter. I like to break down the process into three simple steps.
Brainstorm your list. Recall the people you gave gifts to last year and enter their names in the first column. I categorize mine — to make it easier to find people — using these categories: Greg’s Family, Dawn’s Family, Work, Friends, Service Providers, and finally, Rowan/Greg.
Brainstorm your gifts. The next column is where you keep track of the gifts. Think ahead of time about what a person needs or what specific gift you’d like to make or buy. You can adjust your thoughts and ideas as time passes, but this will get you started.
Determine your budget. Use the third column to estimate the amount of the gift and/or establish your budget for that person. If you set overall budgets for gift giving, that is great. Spreadsheets total columns with the click of a button, so as you input the amounts for each gift, you can compare your running total with your overall budget.
As the season approaches, you can add, delete, or reorganize as you please. While the first year is more time consuming, subsequent years are much easier. Each year I take some time to review the list and confirm the recipients are those I still want to gift.
In case that sounds draconian, I’ll give an example. My daughter rotates through activities as the years pass. We might provide a gift to an instructor one year, while the following year after the activity is over, we won’t. Referring to last year’s list also reminds me of new folks I want to add.
This exercise has benefitted me greatly:
It keeps me organized. Often, despite my efforts to simplify, life gets busy and my schedule spirals out of control. That’s when I feel stress. Because the holidays are a time of the year when this typically occurs, keeping myself organized reduces my stress.
It makes me more mindful about giving. This statement might seem contradictory. After all, being more structured and methodical may seem cold and impersonal. I have found the opposite to be true. By starting months in advance envisioning how I’d like upcoming holidays to happen, it’s easier to put the balls in motion to make my vision a reality. Thinking about the loved ones in my life and folks who have made my life easier and richer over the past year makes me happy and grateful.
It helps me be more appropriate with gifts. I’m not a terribly creative gift-giver. I am minimalist in my needs and wants, and consequently, I aim for practical or consumable gifts. If I’m frantically buying gifts at the last minute, all my minimalist pragmatism goes out the window.
It encourages creativity. My daughter Rowan and I prefer to make gifts when we can. Starting early with planning enables us to devise a fun and viable project.
It keeps me on budget. For several years, I “gamified” this project. I attempted to reduce the number of gifts and the cost of our holidays overall. Being able to refer back to the prior year encourages me stay on the straight-and-narrow with my budget.
If the holidays cause you stress and end in blowing your budget, try pre-planning. Make it fun and easy! You’ll be surprised at how enjoyable your holidays can be.
Do you plan your holidays this early? What tips do you have for holiday planning? Share your thoughts below. Or if you want some like-minded friends, join the free SimpleMoney Community on Facebook to share your ideas there.
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*This article was previously published in WNC Woman Magazine.
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