Brace Yourselves the Holidays are Coming - picture of mom and daughter with pumpkin in colorful fall leaves

Brace Yourselves, the Holidays are Coming

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It’s been a fun summer here in the Club Thrifty household. Although we have gone on a few trips to places like Canada, Las Vegas, and the West Coast, we have spent the majority of our summer days working, playing in the yard, and lounging at the neighborhood pool. This summer’s holidays have also been fairly frugal, as well. On Memorial Day weekend, for example, we stayed home and cooked out. Then, on the 4th of July, we participated in our neighborhood’s “Bike Parade” and saw some free fireworks at my uncle’s house.

But all that frugal goodness is about to go out the window as soon as Fall hits. Why? Because the holidays are coming. Brace yourselves!

How the Holidays Ruin Frugality

This realization hit me the other day when my daughter asked what she should be for Halloween. Oh, and when she started a running Christmas list to keep in her bedroom. {In case anyone is wondering, my daughters want about $1,000 worth of Shopkins for Christmas. Is anyone else suffering through the Shopkins craze right now?} It’s not that we buy them that much, or that they really ask for that much, either. But the thought of expensive holidays hanging over my head has been mostly forgotten about until now. Here’s how I see the next few months panning out:

  • Halloween – I’ll probably make some cheap costumes or buy some off Craigslist for less than $20. But in addition, I’ll have to purchase candy for the hundreds of monsters and princesses that come to my door. Estimated total cost: $60
  • Thanksgiving – Although Thanksgiving is almost always on the cheaper side, I still end up spending a little money on food and travel for our family get-together. Estimated total cost: $50
  • Christmas – Dear Lord, this one hits hard. Not only do we buy the kids some modest gifts, but we also purchase gifts for most of the kids in our family. Meanwhile, we almost always travel out-of-state to see another part of our family for the holidays. Even though we save where we can, it all adds up! Bah – humbug. Estimated total cost: $1,000
  • Valentine’s Day – Greg and I don’t buy for each other on Valentine’s Day, but the kids do need cards and favors to hand out at school. Sometimes their school has a party too, which typically means sending cookies, brownies, or small toys.  Estimated total cost: $30

And keep in mind, all of this is in addition to birthdays, our end-of-year charitable giving, and any other splurges we hoped to make. Simply put, it gets to be a lot.

How to Deal with Holiday Spending Burnout

Even though all of these expenses seem to pile on at the end of the year, I don’t really sweat it. The fact that the holidays make frugality difficult is a known fact, and that makes it easy to plan ahead. Here are some steps you can take to get through the holidays with your frugal mindset intact:

Budget, budget, budget.

The fact that you know these holidays are coming means you can budget and plan accordingly. It’s not like when your furnace dies or your car breaks down on the side of the road! If you use a zero-sum budget or any other type of budget, it makes sense to budget for each holiday as it approaches. And if you’re not sure how much you need to spend, estimate and shoot high.

Start saving now.

For big holidays like Christmas, I typically save all year. That is usually the best way to prepare yourself for an event you know will cost several hundred dollars. As for me, I’ve been saving $100 per month for Christmas in a targeted savings account since April. Once November and December get closer, I’ll cash those funds out and use them to start stocking up on basic gifts for the kids in my family.

Set limits…and stick to them!

Setting limits is essential if you want to keep your holiday spending under control. We typically budget around $150 per kid for Christmas, plus $20 each for nieces, nephews, and other family members. With a large family, that adds up quick…but it would add up a lot faster if we didn’t set limits for each individual gift. The bottom line: Setting boundaries and sticking to them will help keep your holiday budget under control.

In order to rule the holidays (as opposed to letting them rule you), the most important thing you can do is plan ahead. And feel free to ignore any holidays you don’t find important. Just because everyone at work is bringing home a stuffed teddy holding a balloon on Valentine’s Day doesn’t mean you have to do the same.

Are you saving for the holidays already? How do you prepare your finances for holiday spending?

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29 Comments

  1. Ha ha ha… Lucky for me, I need worry about only one of those holidays; Christmas. Thankfully, the whole crazy Halloween thing hasn’t really hit us in Aus but there are signs we wont be able to avoid it for much longer. The other two aren’t even on my radar.

    But, it’s pretty clear someone could have planned these holidays better. You know, spread them out over the whole year not have them all bunched up together for maximum stress-y-ness.

    As always, plan ahead and spread the pain!

    1. I don’t know which would be worse – having the holidays all together like they are or spread out so we have to hear about it all year!

  2. I can’t believe it’s time to start thinking about Christmas but it’s reality. This will be the first time in about 15 years that we are staying home. We are not popular for that decision but since we have a fall and spring trip planned to see family, it made sense. I’m hoping that will mean small gifts, probably gift cards for everyone in the extended family. I hate shopping for gifts so that works better for my stress level.

    1. I hear ya. I give money to some relatives because I think that is what they would enjoy the most! Giving cash makes it easy to stay on budget, too!

  3. Shoot, this is a timely reminder. I need to get all the stuff now! Luckily for us though, there is sort of an unspoken agreement that most of the family is good with no gifts (or maybe I made that up). Either way, it saves us a little bit of cash.

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  5. Planning ahead is key. Great reminder. My husband and I get invited to a costume party every year. And every year I say I’m going to buy Halloween costumes after Halloween, then I never do. Last year, I finally did for about 5 bucks. Now we actually have costumes…and I don’t have to listen to him get razzed all night for always wearing the same not-really-a-costume flannel shirt and cowboy hat.

  6. Lucky we don’t do gifts..for anybody anymore, not even for us. If l see something that l think someone would like, l just get it for them then rather than waiting for a holiday etc.. Halloween has started to catch on here, so l am curious as to what will happen, if people will come to the gate. I won’t answer though :-)..

    1. Ha!

      We live in a neighborhood with tons of kids so I pretty much have to do the Halloween thing. It would be pretty rude for me to take my kids out for free candy but not leave any for other kids!

  7. Just a few days ago I asked my wife if she was looking forward to the cooler weather and upcoming holiday season. Her response was “yes, but it’s going to be expensive” to which I replied “it doesn’t have to be!”

    Christmas is obviously the big hitter, but the others add up too. I just hope my wife doesn’t go overboard now that we are essentially debt free.

  8. Except for the Christmas costs, it seems like your holiday spending isn’t too bad. We have been pretty bad about creating the traditions for our son, but we’re starting to make a more concerted effort for that. Hopefully we can find a good balance between fun and frugal!

  9. I’ve not heard of Shopkins and me thinks that’s a good thing. 😉 Your costs are about the same as ours and we do very similarly by budgeting for all major holidays throughout the year. We generally use whatever card we’re earning rewards on at the moment and use the cash to pay it off a few weeks later. The grandparents get the kiddos quite a bit so we usually end up putting 75%+ of what we budget for the kids in their 529 accounts.

  10. Cue Ominous Music! Baby Crackin’ is currently obsessed with the Holidays. He talks about it every.single.day. And you’re making it too real now by writing about it =) I’m NOT ready!

  11. Nope! The holidays are one area I get off super easy! Yay! No kids and my family doesn’t have any kind of tradition or gift exchange or anything. I do love me some Thanksgiving food though and I either attend an orphan t-giving or I just buy myself some whole foods fixin’s and watch movies all day after doing a Turkey trot in the morning.

  12. I just learned about Shopkins the other day! A coworker told me her daughter has HUNDREDS!
    I just started to think about Christmas and make my strategy….it will come along faster than we know 🙂

  13. Since we’re not living near my sister this year (we’re on leave in another state for the year) and our housing situation is too small to fit 3 more adults, we decided to have my family meet someplace that none of us live. Turns out booking for Christmas housing rentals started in early July. I barely got something affordable booked, and now would be completely unable to. So, I guess we’ve already spent 1K on Christmas to book a vacation house (less expensive than 2-3 hotel rooms for the same amount of time for the 7 of us).

  14. Now that our family’s youngest member is 20, we’ve pretty much been saying we’d rather have experiences than gifts, so that saves some money. We still splurge a little to do something fun, but it feels so much less stressful than the usual holiday spending. Obviously that is a bit harder with kids though.

  15. I include holiday spending in my yearly budget, so I’m ready for it when it hits. My gift list has grown over the past few years though so it is more important than ever to set a budget for each individual and stick with it!

  16. I haven’t even thought about the holidays yet. We do need to start saving as we have a lot of traveling to do over the holidays. AH!

  17. It so sad that it starts so early but yes, I have already found myself reaching for Halloween decor. Last year I didn’t spend much and this year I want to keep to a budget as well. We’re traveling for Christmas so that it REALLY going to empty our account for travel costs and extra family Christmas gifts. Bah Humbug! LOL

  18. I shop through the year for immediate family and the nieces and nephews. So we’re pretty much done. Our budget is much lower than yours. We still have fun. The big crunch is baking. I start stocking up on basics (chocolate, nuts) in the fall out of our regular grocery budget, so the hit is negligible. This year we’re able to visit family, save on postage, pay for plane fare. So looking forward to it.

  19. I was just thinking this morning how quickly the holidays would be here! I honestly love that time of the year but it can get very spendy. We budget so we can focus on having fun versus stressing over the cost. Thanksgiving and Christmas are probably our two big expenses. Thanksgiving is actually one of my favorite holidays, and I used to host a big gathering at my home. We traveled the past couple of years, which wasn’t cheaper but much more relaxing. 🙂 And I think your last tip – setting limits and sticking to them is key. I see a lot of people budget and ignore their limits. What’s the point?

  20. It’s even worse for me…..I’ve got my birthday at the end of December (Vonnie loves birthdays, and has a ferocious thirst to celebrate them), my son’s birthday in January (did I mention how my wife feels about birthdays?). By the time I rest my head on the pillow Valentine’s eve, I’m emotionally, physically, and financially exhausted.

    1. I love gift giving myself and have a system. Our sunroom is lined with bookshelves and over the course of the year I collect items for each person and put them in their own shoe boxes. When Christmas comes they are set to go, and because they were purchased over time the big hit never comes. Perhaps that would work for your wife. She could have just as much fun, maybe more, as she can anticipate your reactions longer, and get items as they are on sale, which would ease your exhaustion.

  21. YNAB changed our lives. Budgeting $10 a month for Halloween or a little more for Christmas makes it so much easier to handle the big spending! I still don’t know how we did it before.

  22. I’m excited for the fall, but this is a great reminder that the upcoming holidays come with a price. We are usually caught up with holiday expenses from October to February (there are a ton of birthdays in January). Luckily, I started saving up for the most expensive holiday, Christmas, last month so I should be good in this area and I just need to work on the other holidays.

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