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Holiday Spending Tips: Plan Better and Beat the Stress!

Every year, the holiday decorations and holiday-themed music seem to start earlier and earlier. 

So do the sounds of credit cards swiping and keys tapping/fingers swiping as online shoppers scour the internet for the best deals.

For some people, this is truly the most wonderful time of the year. But for many others, this time of year also signals heavy spending that results in a spending hangover come January. 

This is the perfect example of how many of our financial decisions are behavioral and emotional, not necessarily logical. The holiday season does not happen upon us with no warning. Like clockwork, it arrives at the end of every calendar year, and we’re usually signaled to start thinking about it once the stores start stocking their holiday wares post-Halloween. Thanksgiving is almost an afterthought in the midst of Black Friday deals. Then it’s this mad rush, coupled with a sense of urgency that doesn’t stop until the New Year’s celebrations wrap up.

Remember, many businesses have been diligently preparing for this time of year all year long. It’s your job, as the consumer, to stay the course and not get caught up in the frenzy to the detriment of your wallet.

Are you the person who always has good intentions with holiday spending, but it never goes as planned? Here are some tips to help you along so that you don’t go overboard and have major regrets come January:

HOLIDAY BUDGET

Let’s go ahead and replace “budget” with “spending plan.” This gives YOU control over your own money; you will be the one to plan how this money will be spent.

A common problem is that many people don’t have a spending plan. Or if they have one, it’s vague and easily pushed aside when you find the “Best Deal Ever.” 

Also, remember that holiday spending is not limited to gifts. People will go to the ends of the earth to find incredible deals, but maybe your time would have been better spent on finding savings with these other holiday-related expenses. Here are other categories that you will need to take into account over the holiday season:

  • Gifting accessories: Wrapping paper, gift bags, gift boxes, tissue paper, ribbons, bows, name tags, tape
  • Shipping charges
  • Holiday cards
  • Photography: Pictures with Santa, professional family photos 
  • Holiday travel: Airfare, lodging, car rental, food, destination-specific spending
  • Entertainment: Shows and performances, movies, sporting events, etc
  • Holiday attire and accessories
  • Hosting/Entertaining: Food/Catering, decor, event rentals
  • Holiday lighting
  • Holiday tipping: Here is a guide from etiquette guru Emily Post
  • Food and drinks: There’s always an abundance of cooking, parties, and eating out that happens around the holidays!
  • Donations/Charitable Giving

As you can see, the amount spent on gifts can pale in comparison to what you’re spending for the holidays in total.

Don’t forget that many of us gift ourselves this time of year, or we use this time to stock up on certain items.

If you’re not sure how to set your spending plan, you can look through your old bank and credit card statements from this time last year in order to get a ballpark figure of what you have spent in the past. 

The other option is to set an amount and keep close track of your spending (see below).

GIFT LIST

Who will be getting gifts this holiday season? People to consider:

  • Family members (including your non-human family members!)
  • Friends
  • Co-workers
  • Teachers
  • Childcare providers (daycare providers, babysitters, nannies, au pairs)
  • Petsitters, dogwalkers, your favorite veterinarian 😉
  • Hostess gifts
  • Anyone else special in your life!

If you are at a large family or work gathering where it is near impossible to get every single person a gift, then going the Secret Santa route is a good one. Each person is randomly assigned a gift recipient, and now your gift obligation is to one person, not 20.

If you don’t already have a gift list, I highly suggest that you start one RIGHT NOW. You will thank yourself in the future when you revisit this list every year.

This list should include:

  1. Person’s Name
  2. Gift Idea
  3. Amount to spend

Start price comparison shopping ASAP. From my experience, the Black Friday and Cyber Monday deals aren’t necessarily the best deals. Merchants know that people want to get some good deals NOW, so don’t procrastinate because you’ll run the risk of having that item sell out or actually going up in price due to supply and demand. 

Life Hack: If you regularly send holiday cards, you already have a list with names and addresses. Simply add columns for “Gifts” and “Amount” to those that will be receiving gifts. You can easily update this master list every year and refer to the previous year’s list to refresh your memory.

CONSIDER NO COST/LOW COST GIFTS

Plenty of people appreciate gifts, but remember to get creative and see if there are ways you spend less and have your gift mean more. Don’t feel obligated to spend money just because it’s expected. Take into account the other person’s needs, wants, and personality. 

Some people truly enjoy receiving gifts, and they are very specific about the types of gifts that give them joy. For others, receiving gifts is appreciated, but they cherish experiences over material gifts.

Remember that handmade gifts and your own kitchen creations can be more meaningful than store-bought gifts. 

Also consider the gift of time and experiences; promising someone that you’ll treat them to a cup of coffee, a night out to the movies, or that hiking adventure at the local park is a chance to create memories and strengthen those important relationships. 

The amount of money spent on a gift does NOT reflect how much you love and appreciate that person in your life.

ENVELOPE METHOD

If you know that you have a hard time controlling your spending, consider using cash only. The envelope method is a method of budgeting where you pre-determine the amount you want to spend in a specific category. In this case, you can make a general “Holiday” envelope, or you can divide this category into subcategories.

You withdraw this amount as cash, then you commit to spending from the envelope(s).

As you can imagine, parting with physical cash is more painful than making that purchase on a card. Seeing your thick envelope getting thinner and thinner over time forces you to come to face the reality that your money is, indeed, finite!

KEEP TRACK OF YOUR SPENDING

If you haven’t kept track of your holiday spending, but now you’re committed to doing better now and for the future, this is the perfect time to start. 

Find and keep those receipts for any holiday-related purchases. Store them physically and/or digitally. You can make use of apps, such as Mint.com or YNAB.com to help you keep track of your expenses.

Regardless of the method, you want to make sure that you’re being honest with yourself when it comes to your spending so that you’re not repeatedly “surprised” every year when the holidays roll around.

Once the season is over, tally everything up. Are you comfortable with this number? Do you feel like this is representative of your typical holiday spending? Do you think you should be making any changes going forward? 

From here, you can create a sinking fund so that you’re prepared for next year.

HOLIDAY SINKING FUND

Regularly contributing to a dedicated savings account for a specific purpose is often referred to as a sinking fund. You can start a holiday sinking fund as soon as January rolls around.

Step 1: Tally up the total from your most recent holiday spending.

Example: Based on your spending this holiday season, you expect that it will cost $2000 total for next year’s holiday spending plan.

Step 2: Decide the length of time that you want to be contributing to this sinking fund. 

Example: You want to save for this over a 6 month timeframe. You will then need to save $2000/6= $333.33 per month in order to hit your sinking fund goal.

Come June, you’ll have your holiday sinking fund completely funded and ready to go! Keep this money in a high yield savings account, and you’ll even make a little bit of extra money in interest.

It’s a great way to save throughout the year so that you feel prepared, calm, and joyful when you start spending. This is in direct contrast to the typical feelings of guilt, stress, and overwhelm that accompany holiday spending.

CONCLUSION

Let’s face it: this is a very busy, and frankly, stressful time of year for everyone. It’s hard to feel especially organized or prepared when you’re being pulled in so many different directions.

There is also a real urge to go on a buying spree, whether it’s due to constant advertising and/or overly high societal expectations to spend, spend, spend.

Remember that the holidays is a time of celebration and spending time with those you cherish the most. It does NOT require that you spend extravagantly in order to have a happy holiday season.

Remember that you have choices throughout this entire process. Spend with intention and purpose. The goal is to have a full heart without the empty wallet!

What are some other holiday spending tips that you would recommend? Comment below!

2 Comments

  1. Anne wilson on November 27, 2019 at 3:21 pm

    Great reminder. I do now have a sinking fund which is helpful. I do have a list and items on it and how much it will cost. Even with that I am worried about going over. Fingers crossed.

    • RLDVM on November 27, 2019 at 8:50 pm

      It’s amazing how quickly everything adds up! You’re really ahead of the game by building awareness around this- far too many people don’t prepare or budget. You’ve got this!

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