Inflation plus the adjustment to retired life or a new low income might have you worried over holiday spending. With a little planning and some helpful money-saving tips, you can avoid debt and enjoy what makes the holidays special for you.
Create a Holiday Budget
Creating a holiday budget is the first (and probably most important) step in creating a holiday season free of overspending.
To create a holiday budget:
- Analyze spending from last year or previous years to help determine a baseline for how much you usually spend, and decide if you are able to stay in that ballpark or need to aim lower.
- Next, set a spending limit. To do this, jot down a list of spending categories. These may include:
From there, you can determine roughly how much money you’ll allot to each section and your overall spending limit.
- Gifts for friends, family, colleagues, neighbors, etc.
- Wrapping & packaging supplies
- Food for cooking and baking
- Holiday decorations
- Party supplies
- Holiday experiences and events
- Travel expenses
How to Stick to Your Holiday Budget
People easily slide into holiday debt because of impulse buys. Sometimes you need a separate plan in addition to your spending plan - a plan on how to avoid and minimize impulse buys.
Impulse buys are very common over the holidays. They aren’t always bad, and sometimes it just isn’t feasible to avoid them altogether. However, it is a good idea to minimize holiday impulse buying because it can get out of hand pretty quickly.
Here are some tips on how to minimize impulse buying and stick to your budget:
- Set a gift limit ahead of time. For many people, the largest holiday expense is gifts. To prevent an unanticipated credit card bill and unwanted holiday debt, determine a specific list of gifts (and spending limit per recipient) before you set foot in the store or start shopping online.
- Plan for it! If you know you are in the habit of impulse buying, you can actually build that into your holiday budget up front. Allow a certain amount of money for those things you might see at the store. That way you know you’re able to have some flexibility, which can minimize shopping anxiety and buyer’s remorse.
- Bring a list. Don’t go shopping without a list; this can help you focus and get what you need without too many (or any) distractions.
- Bring a buddy. It might help to shop with your spouse or a friend or family member for accountability.
- Celebrate little wins. Find ways to celebrate holiday shopping “wins.” You can define what a win would look like. An example might be: you went to three stores for gifts for the grandkids and came back under budget with everything on the list.
- Don’t forget about food. Impulse buying can include snacks, coffee, or fast food you purchase while you’re out shopping or traveling. Be sure to account for those kinds of items in your budget if that’s something you want to engage in, or just bring your own snacks and drinks if you can’t afford it.
- Plan your holiday menu. To avoid extra spending on holiday meals and baking ingredients, create a menu ahead of time and look for coupons and sales at the grocery store.
- Make a list for travel. When traveling, write a packing list before you go to avoid having to purchase items you forgot.
- Be aware of checked baggage limits. If you are flying out of town for the holidays and plan to do a gift exchange at your destination, it may be cheaper (and less stressful) to ship your gifts ahead of time due to checked baggage fees and limits. Compare rates before deciding how much luggage to bring and whether to ship gifts. Additionally, you may want to ship the gifts you receive back to your home so you don’t end up with unanticipated baggage expenses.
- Track spending. Use a free budgeting app to help keep your holiday spending on track. Many banks offer this and there are also some other free online options available.
Quick Tips for Holiday Saving
Here are some quick tips that can help you save money on your holiday purchases.
- Bring your own dish. When hosting holiday gatherings, ask people to bring a dish - you can spend a little less on cooking.
- Discounts & coupons. Shop discounted grocery stores and use coupons when buying holiday ingredients and foods.
- Only buy decor you know you’ll use each season (and include it in your budget if you know you’ll be purchasing new lights, lawn decor, etc).
- Find joy in the decor you have. You could decorate in a new way, use some items you haven’t used in a while, or even swap decor with a friend to switch things up.
- If you want new decor but don’t want to spend much, you could go thrift shopping or join a local ‘Buy Nothing’ group where neighbors share and swap items for free.
- Bring food on drives to avoid fast food or gas station splurges.
- With current gas prices it might actually be cheaper for you to fly. Do some calculations to figure out your best option.
- Try to avoid flying on peak days.
- Flying early can help mitigate risk of delays and can be cheaper.
- If your family members are in a state in life that makes it easier for them to travel, offer to host this year.
- If you’re traveling for leisure, without family obligations or a specific destination, consider choosing an off-season destination or somewhere close to home; you could even consider making some day trips to save money.
- Save on shipping. Are you ordering gifts online or shipping gifts to family and friends who live far away? Look for online stores with free shipping options or ship ahead of time at the post office so you can opt for cheaper standard shipping. When shopping online, always be aware of the overall price of the purchase; sometimes stores that offer free shipping may charge more for the items being shipped.
- Price compare. Price compare gifts at different stores and take advantage of stores’ holiday price matching policies.
- Make or bake. For some people on your list, you can bake or just make gifts. Even something as simple as a framed photo can be an affordable yet meaningful gift.
- Buying for kids? If you have lots of grandkids or other children to buy for, have a conversation with their parents about what they need and how many gifts are reasonable for you and for them. Chances are, parents (especially of younger children) are already stressed about the influx of toys that will be flooding their homes over the holidays. By having that conversation early on, you can avoid adding to their stress and your own (no one likes last-minute toy shopping!).
- Simplify big gift exchanges. If you have a long list of people to buy for, consider doing secret santa, white elephant, or a similar gift exchange with friend groups or family members. They’ll likely appreciate the savings too!
- Do a pre-holiday declutter. Not only does this help give you peace of mind before a hectic season, but you also may end up finding valuable items that you can gift to others (or items you can sell to make a little extra cash).
Another general tip for holiday budgeting: once you have a good idea of your realistic spending habits and goals, you can start setting aside money throughout the year in a holiday savings account. Happy holidays!
Do you have lots of items you’d like to declutter for the holidays? At Caring Transitions we can help with downsizing and assist you in selling higher-value items like antiques or furniture. Learn more about our services.