The holidays are a wonderful time of year, from the music to the outfits to the food. The one thing that isn’t wonderful, though, is our collective money spending. It’s pretty predictable, year after year: We completely forget to save for Christmas and then, a month before December, we freak out because we aren’t really sure how we will afford all the extravagance of the holidays. From the gifts for family and friends to the hostess gifts for all those parties you plan to attend to Christmas cards for your distant relatives and ex-coworkers, it can all add up. Thankfully, there IS a way to budget for the holidays without going broke (or going crazy!).
Thanks to these 20 tips (especially #1 and DEFINITELY #20), you can go into the holidays resting assured that you won’t go broke for once. Although some of these tips might serve you better if you haven’t done all of your shopping yet this year there’s a lot we can all learn about budgeting for the holidays… and not going broke while still enjoying the Christmas season.
1. Download a personal finance app.
If you are planning to not spend a fortune this holiday season but still don’t have a dependable personal finance app that you rely on to track your spending, then get on it! I’m personally a huge fan of You Need A Budget (YNAB), which has four simple rules and a software system that allows you to track your spending and save for those big goals you have down the road.
2. Look at what you spent last Christmas.
A great way to figure out what you might be spending on Christmas presents and holiday stuff this year is to go through and see what you had spent last year. It might be scary but make sure you go through your credit card bills and banks statements from November and December. Also, don’t forget to calculate if you bought some presents earlier in the year! It all needs to be added up to give you a good sense of the coming year.
3. Include buying things like wrapping paper and shipping presents.
Did you forget to add in all the extras that come with the holiday season and gifting, such as wrapping paper, labels, shipping, etc? Don’t worry, it happens to all of us. I almost never think about the fact that I need to buy new wrapping paper basically every year and yet somehow it always adds to my overall costs. The same goes for shipping presents to any family members and friends that you will not be seeing this year.
4. Consider if you want to send out holiday cards.
Holiday cards are super adorable and great to receive, but they have to go into your overall holiday budget too. A pack of cards can cost you and don’t forget about the stamps, either. I ended up spending something like $20 on stamps this year and another $20 on cards… So although it seems like small costs, it all adds up. Put it in your budget if this is something you want to commit to!
5. Count everyone you got presents for.
Part of budgeting for Christmas includes everyone that you bought presents for. After you’ve added up all of the costs you actually incurred, you’ll want to also write down everyone that received presents from you this year. From your immediate family to your distant cousins and your college besties, everyone has to go on the list even if they got something small… Like a Christmas card. This is part of the evaluation process, so trust me on this.
6. Evaluate if your list is the same this year or if you can cut some people (or add others).
Every year, you probably keep buying presents for all of the same people that you have always bought presents for. But since this year you are doing a deep inventory, this is the perfect time to evaluate where that list you made in #5 actually still makes sense. Is there anyone that you’re actually not that close to that you can cut? Or are there people you need to add? Think hard about this and make sure that you remove anyone off your list that you’re just not that close to anymore because, let’s face it, you can’t afford to keep adding people all the time. And guilt over not sending a present this year isn’t really a good reason to send a present.
7. Be realistic about the people you really WANT to gift.
This is where you have to be really, really harsh. Think about the people who truly bring you joy and the people that you love, see all the time, who are there for you and who you would be there for any time of day. Are there any people that don’t fit this description that are still on your Christmas shopping list? Think about why they are there. Is it more a sense of obligation or guilt, rather than the true spirit of gift-giving? Those are the people that you should be removing, guilt-free. Honestly, they will probably feel the same about you and be more than happy to no longer have to send you something just because they feel obligated to.
8. Think about whether you want to give personalized, DIY gifts.
There might be some people on your list who you don’t really love giving gifts to but you don’t yet want to remove them off of your list completely, amirite? These people might be the perfect candidates to receive homemade, DIY gifts from you. Although DIY gifts can sometimes not be that much cheaper than something else, other times they can be a great way to cut costs and also give people you appreciate something a bit more personalized. For instance, one year I made a huge batch of salsa verde and gave that to all of my friends. Another year, I did a homemade spice mix and did the same. And let me tell you, those gifts were SERIOUSLY appreciated.
9. Go through your closet for items you can sell.
This isn’t technically a way to cut costs during the busy holiday season but it IS a good way to “find” extra money that you can then funnel into your holiday budget. Everyone has at least a few items in their closet that they no longer wear or don’t see themselves wearing. Well, no time like the present to clear out your closet and give it all away!
10. The same goes for your electronics, unused/unopened makeup, etc.
Just as there are things in your closet that you could sell, I bet there are other things around the house that you could get rid of too. Sure, some items are best donated (which is a great thing to do during the holidays, too) but other items can definitely be sold. For instance, my husband has an old phone that is still in great working order but he hasn’t sold yet… Now is the time. The same goes for my 2-year-old Kindle that I haven’t touched in 1.5 years.
11. Look at your budget and add in money for travel.
Remember when I told you to look at how much money you spent on Christmas presents last year? Well, you also want to look at how much money you spent on travel. This is easily done if you usually fly somewhere else for the holidays but should also be done if you do a lot of driving between different relatives’ homes around the holidays. Filling up the car’s gas tank can add up, too, so this needs to be thought about and factored in.
12. Don’t forget to also add in what you might spend on going to parties.
Sure, going to family parties for the holidays is a given when it comes to traveling but I bet that you will be going to other parties, too. From your work party to your coworker’s shindig to your bestie’s annual Christmas Eve party, there is always more that you are doing this year. Factor in the travel costs between all of those parties as well as how much you are spending on hostess gifts. Remember: Those bottles of wine and plates of cookies you bring to every party don’t pay for themselves!
13. Come up with a realistic budget.
Here’s where sh*t gets real: You need to take a look at ALL of your holiday expenses from last year and figure out what you can and should spend this year. Are there places you can cut, like with DIY gifts and by bringing cookies to parties instead of your usual pricey bottle of wine? Look at how much you owe, too, and figure out what makes sense for your family. There is never a good reason to go into debt and that especially includes the holidays. You shouldn’t spend money you don’t have, so keep that in mind as you cross people off of your Christmas gift list. They would NEVER ask you to go into debt for them, trust me.
14. Recognize that it’s okay to spend less and save more.
Here’s the thing that is going to take some real work and might actually be one of the hardest things about budgeting for the holidays: You need to be OKAY with spending less money. Often, we do things simply because that is the way we have always done them. We keep giving that gift to our college roommate just because we have been doing it for years even though realistically you never talk to this person outside of the yearly holiday exchange. Do you really need to be doing that? I bet you can come up with several more examples of this, too. But it takes time to adjust to your financial reality and treat your finances with care and thought, so get started on this now. It might take you a few years to really get to where you want to be but it’s well worth the effort.
15. Don’t feel that you need to please absolutely everyone.
Here’s the biggie about spending LESS for the holidays: You don’t need to get everyone an expensive gift and it doesn’t need to cost the same gift as whatever they get you. Sure, that might seem more “fair” but if you are measuring your relationship to a person by how much they are giving you and you are giving them, then this isn’t a healthy relationship. Instead, work on learning to let go of pleasing everyone and focus on pleasing yourself (and your wallet). If there are people that you have to not give a present to this year or that you won’t be spending as much money on, that’s okay. But you need to learn that it’s okay and that’s a process.
16. Be cool with re-gifting.
Here’s a dirty little secret that nobody ever wants to admit: Everyone re-gifts. I’ve never met a person who hasn’t done this or who hasn’t at least considered it and then opted out because they were “ashamed.” But what exactly are you ashamed of? Like, how many times did a friend come to your house and say, “hey, I want to see that thing I gave you for Christmas three years ago.” NEVER. Sometimes, the gifts we get seem great in theory but we never end up using them. And sometimes, abuelita gets us something that is just… so wrong. Well, those unused gifts might be perfect for someone else, so don’t be afraid to save them and re-gift them later. It doesn’t make you a cheapskate. It makes you thoughtful because you knew that someone else in your life would actually LOVE this thing that would otherwise be collecting dust at your house. Do it!
17. Plan ahead by the person.
One of the best ways I have found to “save money” every holiday season is that I plan ahead the people that I want to give gifts to and I keep them in mind when traveling or going to interesting stores. You might not be able to do this one in 2018, but you can certainly keep it in mind for the future. Here’s how it works: Once you have your Christmas gift list ready, every time that you travel or go somewhere interesting, remember the people on your list and keep an eye out for them. I’ve gotten at least 1/4 of my presents this way for years now. Not only does it cut costs in December but it also makes me a little bit less stressed because I know that at least a portion of my gifts are already taken care of.
18. It’s okay to shop sales.
Just as there is no shame in re-gifting, there is also no shame in buying your loved ones things that you find on sale. As long as the gift you are getting is heartfelt and chosen with care, there is no reason why you can’t also save a little bit of money. This is another reason why planning ahead (#17) is a great idea since you can take advantage of things like Prime Day when doing your holiday shopping early. And yes, that’s a true story. I bought one of my best friends a gift this year during Amazon’s Prime Day in JULY!
19. Add in a little extra for self-care money.
I know it might be a stretch to stretch your holiday budget even further by spending money on yourself but trust me when I say that this is a definite necessity. I know that this time of year is super busy and stressful, which is precisely why you need to dedicate a small portion of your budget on some extra self-care. For instance, go get some pretty perfect-for-the-holiday nails. Or buy yourself a facemask for some self-care at home. Or go get a blow-out for a particularly great party. Whatever it is, don’t forget YOU during this time of year.
20. Create your holiday budget for next year, RIGHT NOW.
And here’s the biggie and my best piece of advice for you: Create your holiday budget, right now, for NEXT year. After you have done all of this work to get your holiday budget under control for this year, don’t forget that next year is just around the corner. The best thing that I learned through my personal finance app, YNAB, is that part of budgeting is calculating your yearly expenses well before they happen. Here’s how to do it: If you are planning to spend $1200 on Christmas travel, gifts, cards, etc., every year, then you need to start saving that money in January, NOT start freaking out about it after Halloween. So once you know and have set your budget (whatever that number is), divide it by 12 (months of the year) and that way you know exactly how much to put towards holiday stuff every month next year. This is a genius way to make sure you will have money to do all of the things you want to do next Christmas AND it will make your holiday season super stress-free. All it takes is saving $100 a month (or so?) and you will be able to rock Christmas 2019 like no other.
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