The holiday season is upon us. This time of year can be filled with lots of fun activities and positive emotions. However, it can also be a stressful time for many, running from one party to the next, trying to get it all done in time and wondering how you are going to pay for it all.
Here are some tips to help reduce the anxiety associated with the holiday season.
- Plan Ahead. The earlier you start planning, the less likely you’ll make last-minute impulse purchases and decisions. Start saving money in January into a gift or holiday account so you don’t rack up a big credit card bill during the holidays. Keep a list on your phone or computer where you save gift ideas, whenever they come to you during the year. This list will help you avoid making last minute impulse purchases that may not be appreciated. Many stores offer discounts to those who shop early. For example, many of the photo websites offer significant discounts if you order your cards and photo books early. Starting early in the fall, make a list of all your potential holiday expenses, including gifts, cards, entertaining, charitable gifts, postage, etc.
- Build a budget. First, decide what you can afford to spend in total on all holiday expenses and include everything. For example, you might decide you can only afford to spend $2,000 during the holidays. Of that, $1,000 will cover holiday gifts (including shipping), $500 holiday cards (including postage) and another $500 on entertaining. Make a complete list of all the people you’d like to give gifts to, including family members, friends, teachers and service providers. After you make your list, decide how much you can afford to spend on each person. Be realistic in your gift decisions. Also, consider giving people baked goods and other home-made items instead of buying gifts. This type of thoughtful gift can be less expensive and is often more appreciated.
- Set expectations early. If money is tight, it’s best to set expectations early, especially with children. Kids appreciate being told the truth and hiding money issues from them will only harm them down the road, so be open and honest with them if you can’t afford to spend a lot on gifts. If you’re feeling pinched for money, you might suggest to your family that you draw names and only buy one nice gift for a family member instead of lots of mediocre gifts for everyone.
- Look for discounts. Shopping online is a great convenience, but don’t click “buy” until you’ve searched the internet to make sure there are no coupons or discounts available. Google the site name and “promo code” or “coupon code”. Bargainist.com and RetailMeNot.com, for example, list deals on free shipping and discounts.
- Track your expenses. You won’t know if you’re on track unless you track your expenses. Create a system that works for you, such as saving receipts in an envelope, tracking them in a spreadsheet or using a program like mint.com. As with dieting, you’ll find that when you track your spending (as with calories), you’re more likely to spend less.
- Just say no. Don’t feel like you have to go to every party and give gifts to everyone. Consider sending distant friends an e-card instead of a physical card. Don’t feel like you have to go to every holiday party if it means racking up babysitting expenses, buying new clothes or consuming undesired calories. You’ll enjoy the holidays much more if you have time to stop and really enjoy a few well-chosen events with loved ones.