Halloween is over and the holidays are right around the corner. If you’ve got kids like we do, it’s an always an exciting time of the year. It’s also a dangerous 12 weeks for your bank account, especially if you’re just getting on track to begin with.
As you already know, this time of the year is filled with financial landmines. There are holiday gatherings, work events, and – of course – gift giving. Everywhere we turn, we’re bombarded with pressure to spend! Pressure from friends. Pressure from family. And even pressure from ourselves.
Sometimes, when the pressure gets to be too much, we cave. We toss our budgets out the window and vow to get back on track once January rolls around. Unfortunately, that attitude buries us under mountains of bills that can take months to correct.
But you can’t be a total Scrooge, right? You have some holiday “commitments” that need to be met. So, how can you deal with the holiday season without breaking the bank?
Fear not my frugal friends! Club Thrifty is here to help navigate the holiday spending minefield ahead. Hold on, buckle up, and check out these tips for surviving the holidays in the black.
Start a Budget… and Stick to It
Yep. The budget is back. Even the constant pressure of the holidays can’t contend with the power of utilizing a monthly budget. This simple tool can help you put presents under the tree while keeping money in your wallet.
Now, don’t just throw a number out there and plan your spending around that. Create a category for “holiday spending” on your monthly zero-sum budget and plan for it like everything else. Need extra money for your Thanksgiving meal? Write it in the budget. Saving money for gift giving? Stick it in the budget. Every expense you have should be accounted for in your budget! And don’t forget: Your budget should balance to the penny. Then, promise yourself you’ll stick to the plan!
Track Your Spending
I’d love to say that the holidays are just like every other time during the year, but we all know they’re not. You’r almost certainly spending more than usual, which makes tracking your spending more important now than at almost any time of year.
With all the events and gift giving, it’s easy to spend more than we intend. But, by keeping a close eye on what you’ve spent, you won’t lose track of where you are on your budget. Better yet, compare your expenses to your budget a few times a month. You might even want to check-in a couple of times per week. That way, you can see exactly where you stand before and after you’ve done your spending. Using free tools like this one can be a great way to stay on track and survive the holidays with some cash still in your wallet.
Save the Cash
Thinking about putting your gifts on credit and paying them off later? If you remember nothing else, remember this: Don’t do it. Seriously, don’t. Don’t do it, don’t do it, don’t do it, don’t do it… just DON’T. Only make purchases you have planned for in your budget AND that you have the cash to buy. Charging gifts can lead to overspending and serious money problems down the road.
So, how do you buy what you need without going into debt? Easy. Save up the cash. Although it may be too late this year, try starting a “holiday savings fund” next year. Throughout the year, save a few extra bucks each month in an account specifically marked for holiday gift giving. That way, the money will be there when you need it.
If you still choose to use a card for the cash back or points benefits, pay it off every time you make a purchase. Seriously, go shopping; then, come home and pay it off. This helps keep your spending in check, keeps you out of debt, and ensures that you aren’t spending more than you realized.
Limit Gift Giving
Look, I love generosity. I think it’s admirable. But, if you want to get ahead, you can’t give what you don’t have… and if you do, you’re setting yourself up for a world of financial pain.
If you don’t have the cash, consider giving fewer gifts this year. Cut down on both the number of gifts you give and the amount you spend, even when it comes to your children. They probably won’t even notice, and I promise that they’ll love the season all the same. Stop giving to other adults – including your friends, siblings, and parents if needed. Tell them that money is tight this year. They’ll understand, and if they don’t – well – it’s not their money… or their debt!
If this hurts, that’s good! Use that pain as motivation to get on track and do a better job of saving for next year.
Learn to Say “No”
When trying to get your money straight, one of the most important things you can do is learn to say “no.” During the holidays, people invent all kinds of creative ways to spend both their money and yours! You’re expected to purchase loads of gifts, attend expensive events, and shell out big bucks in the name of having “holiday spirit.” Many of these expectations are placed on us by friends and family, a opening the door to strained personal relationships if we somehow muster the courage to decline.
Sure, saying “no” this time of year can be exceptionally difficult, but you’ve gotta do it. Many of these worries are inventions in our own mind. Most people are too wrapped up in their own needs and schedules to even care. And again, if they do, it isn’t their money to spend… or their mess to clean up.
If it isn’t in your budget, you must learn to say “no” so you can get ahead – even during the holidays. “No, I can’t participate in this gift exchange.” “No, I can’t use credit to buy gifts I can’t afford.” “No, I can’t buy a new dress for this event.” Remember, most people are in debt up to their ears so why should they care about yours? Learn to say “no” so you’re not one of them any more.
Surviving the Holidays in the Black
How you handle the holiday season can prepare your finances for a whole year’s worth of success. By sticking to your budget and staying ahead of the game, you’ll start the new year with the positive bank balance most people only wish they had. While others are recovering from their holiday hangover, you’ll be primed to destroy your and continue moving toward a financially fit and happy life.
Yes, staying disciplined during the holidays isn’t always easy, but surviving the holidays in the black can give you the head start you need to crush it next year. You can do it! Just remember what you’re working toward, and don’t give in to the pressure of the holidays.
What are you doing to stay on budget this holiday season? Let us know in the comments!