While I’m planning how many times I’ll be watching Elf or debating how many times I should re-watch the moment Clarence gets his wings, I’ll also be getting down to a little pre-festive business. Cup of cheer in hand, I'll be making a plan to ensure this season of joy and giving doesn’t turn into a season of debt.
Whether you celebrate Diwali, Hannukah, Kwanzaa, Christmas, or just have a travel-laden Thanksgiving and New Years ahead of you, the time between the beginning of November and end of the year can get expensive and over-booked very quickly.
Even though I tend to gloss over Thanksgiving in favor of getting ahead on the "Christmas Spirit," I don't just do it for the lights, the hot chocolate, and the music (though they help). For me, there's something about the giving that's at the root of so many holiday traditions that makes it a special time. Companies, however, are on to this magical glow; they capitalize on it to make their end-of-year sales, and the average consumer can easily end up in a frenzy, worried that they haven't bought enough gifts or done enough to create those perfect memories.
Last year, a financial advisor from base resources joined our Squadron Spouse’s Thanksgiving Party and gave great tips about being fiscally savvy during this season of spending. I normally go to these things a little arrogantly, thinking I know it all, but she was an expert who knew her stuff. I was humbled when she highlighted several things that often get lost in the chaos, and made a resolution then and there to factor them into my budget.
If you're in need of some sage advice, consider her tips. It's a little early gift from me to you.
First things, first. Discuss a set a holiday budget, regardless of what you're celebrating. If you're planning for a gift-giving holiday (as opposed to a travel holiday), it’s a good idea to do this early in November. This enables you to plan for Black Friday; I don't know about you, but I'm always trying to maximize my budget.
This year, if you’ve never planned for gift-giving shopping in advance, it’s a great time to start planning for next year. Go ahead and start setting aside a few bucks here and there every month, so come next November, your monthly income won't be impacted for a two-month period.
Decide What Fits into Your Budget
This is where I was surprised to see how wrong I’d been about a setting a holiday budget. I always knew that gifts and travel were included in this budget, but that’s not all we spend money on this time of year. Here are the little things that add up quickly, even as they stealthily slip on to your to-do list and dip into your wallet:
- Cards and Stationery
- Wrapping Supplies
- Baking Supplies
- Packing Supplies
- Shipping Costs
- Food for bigger Meals
- Sitters for more parties
It’s so easy to blow your budget when there are so many people you want to bless this season.
I completely understand this problem, but it’s so important to stick to your plan so that you can maintain financial wellness this season. If you know you're likely to go over, factor in a little wiggle room when you make your plan. That way, you'll have a built in buffer to help cover a few little extras that may crop up.
Another way to solve this particular problem is to do your holiday shopping throughout the year. Go ahead and have a per-person budget in writing, and pick up gifts here and there if you find a good deal, or something that would be the perfect fit. This gives you a chance to stockpile gifts for any occasion, and to ensure you don't forget anyone during the holiday season.
When all is said and done, some of my favorite gifts are actually the least expensive. There is something special about opening a homemade gift, or receiving quality time and experiences rather than an object that could end up gathering dust. If you move as often as we do, you know that these gifts are easier on the pocketbook, kinder on the packing list, and best of all, they create lasting memories that you can cherish.
You know what you need to do, and you know now is the time to do it. So, pour yourself a cup of something cozy, and get that holiday game plan on the books. Once you're done, you'll be prepared to fully enjoy all of the festivities on the horizon!
Written by: Zaneta Padilla