by Peggy Doviak, CFP®
Do you approach the holidays with a “Ho, ho, ho,” or a “Bah, humbug”? No doubt December can be a stressful month. It seems like the time between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Eve is a nonstop cycle of events, expectations, and expenses. But you can break that cycle. This year, give yourself the present of actually enjoying the holidays. A great place to begin is by gaining control of your spending.
I’m not going to be a Scrooge and tell you not to give gifts. That custom is gaining in popularity, and if it works for you and your family, that’s great. Still, most people purchase presents, and with a little planning, you can save quite a bit of money.
Begin by creating a shopping list. The stores are designed to encourage impulse buying. Honestly, that might be one of my biggest spending flaws. I see a treasure at the end of the shelf, and I want it! Don’t be like me! Instead, create a list in advance. To help myself, I use a phone app that lets me add people and gifts on the spot. Then, when I make the purchase, I cross it off.
Once you have your list, start shopping far enough in advance that you can compare prices. Again, phone apps can help with that, or you can check out several store prices online or in person. Also, see if there are any coupons available. An extra 10% or 20% discount really adds up over several purchases.
When you are trying to buy gifts for children and teens, don’t rush out to buy something just because they mention it once. Kids are notoriously bad for wanting something new every week. Rather than making a purchase the first time they mention an item, listen for patterns, and maybe even ask them outright what they really want. You might prefer your gift to be less of a surprise and more of what they want.
Additionally, don’t feel compelled to purchase presents you really can’t afford. Explain to your children or grandchildren that your family has lots of love but not necessarily lots of money. It’s okay—don’t beat yourself up! The worst thing you can do is begin to encourage children to have unrealistic financial expectations. Remember, they will always know someone who has more money than they do.
Once you have purchased your gifts, total up the price. Then, next year, try to save one tenth of that amount each month. That way, by Halloween, you will have your holiday finances in order, and you can look forward to the season without dreading bills that come in January.
Finally, remember that the real meaning of the holidays doesn’t involve spending money. We all crave love, and we all need time. Dust off some family holiday traditions that have fallen away. At least pull out your cellphones, look at your calendars, and find time to have dinner together. If money’s tight, top off the meal with a drive to look at Christmas lights or a killer round of your favorite board game. I promise you that the memories you make together will be what brings everyone joy in years to come. And like Scrooge, you will honor the spirit of the holidays in your heart and keep it all year.