Holiday season is here. The sale signs are up and the Black Friday ads are flying. First things first though, don’t forget about Thanksgiving. Take a second while you are eating your turkey dinner to give thanks to those people and opportunities that have helped to get you where you are. Enjoy the time off work and spend it with those you care about most. Take that extra time to relax, but don’t nap on your finances! The holiday season always seems to be a time when we not only put on our stretchy pants, but we tend to stretch our budget too. What can you do to keep control of your money this season?
Sometimes I sound like a broken record, but start with a plan! Let’s look at it like a goal setting exercise. Be specific, realistic, and measurable. Be specific who you are planning to gift to, what you would like to get for them, and how much you are going to spend. Being specific can control your tendency to impulse buy when you are surrounded by the Holiday “deals” stores set out, ultimately keeping us within budget.
Be realistic about your budget and how many people we are looking to give gifts to. We’d all love to buy the most amazing gift for our loved ones, but at the same time, we need to also keep a roof over our heads and food on the table. Let’s say you are planning to spend $50 per gift, $500 can be gone before you know it. Those cousins that you only see this time of year may have to be happy with a family picture or some baked goods! Don’t let holiday gifting keep you from meeting your personal financial goals for the year.
Measure your progress along the way. Take inventory of what you have already purchased, how much it cost, and how much of your budget is left. Remember when your parents taught you to balance a checkbook? Same concept here. Do not wait until you have bought all your gifts to consult your original budget. Take advantage of tools like Mint.com that will allow you to create budget items like shopping and will track your purchases against that budget. You can always do it the old school way with a paper and calculator too, no one is stopping you. If half way through your list of people you’ve already spent your allotted budget, you may have to make some returns or prioritize your remaining list.
Avoid the Black Friday sale environment at all costs. Majority of the items in a black Friday sale are something you don’t even want or need, but you will buy it because it seems like a good deal in that environment. Keep yourself away from the psychological warfare stores use to prey on your wallet. On top of those random items you buy, you are more likely to eat out at a restaurant you hadn’t planned to before as well while you are out shopping.
Consider something other than the normal store-bought gift. Maybe that loved one would appreciate a new experience that you do together rather than a new shirt. Try finally doing that cooking class together you always talk about! As cousin Eddie would say, that’s a gift that keeps on giving the whole year. Charitable gifts are also a good option. A gift to the local humane society on behalf of your dog loving family member could mean the world to them. It can also be a good gift for yourself come tax time, helping to reduce those “gifts” to the government.
This season doesn’t have to break your bank. Be specific with your list, realistic with your budget, and track your progress along the way. Seems simple right!? At the end of the day, remember to reflect on this year’s accomplishments, spend some quality time with family and friends, and enjoy some time away from work. Happy Holidays!