When we think of the holiday season, drinking an eggnog latte paired with a gingerbread scone while wrapping gifts gives us that warm and cozy feeling. But the holiday season can also feel financially stressful if you don't make a plan beforehand. We're here to give you some helpful tips to save more and spend less, so that your holidays—this year and beyond—are joyful and memorable.
Take a couple hours to create a game plan before the holiday season is in full swing. Consider the following: will you be spending time with family or friends, at their home or yours? Will there be a meal involved, and if so, what are your contributions? Will there be a gift exchange? Who are those people you really want to give a gift to this year? Your plan will allow you to be more calculated and spend only what you need.
Set a food and gift budget
Before you jump in, you’ll need to create a monthly budget. If you have not done this before, there are several personal finance apps that help you create a budget and manage your money.
Once your monthly budget is set, determine how much you’ll have left over after all the essentials are covered and you have allocated funds to your savings. Do this first before you buy anything. What extra money are you left with? That’s the amount that can go toward your food and gift budget.
Now it’s time to get granular. For your holiday food budget, it helps to know what days you’re cooking or contributing to a holiday meal and how many people will be there. List all ingredients you’ll need for each meal, even down to the spices and condiments. From there, you can go online to your preferred grocery store and determine the amount and cost of all items you’ll need. Don’t forget the pecan pie! Once your food budget is set, you will have a better idea of what you have left for your gifting budget.
Holiday gifting can be tricky. Create your gift list, specifying each person you plan to give to. Excel can be a great place to create this list. When figuring out what to gift each person, practice the joy of gifting vs. gifting out of expectation or obligation. You don’t need to purchase a gift for everyone on your gift list. Often, a handwritten letter, an act of service, or spending quality time is the perfect gift for family members and friends. Identify who those people are on your list.
Now for those you want to give a tangible gift to, here are some budget-friendly ideas. What can you re-gift? There’s likely something that’s collecting dust on your shelf that another person may find pretty cool, like a book, a fun kitchen appliance, or a quality candle you’ve never lit. You can also make homemade gifts. The internet is full of great ideas, including using fruits from your own or friends’ trees to make jam, creating a blend of savory herbs and sea salt, or putting together a dry soup mix in a mason jar. Who on your list would these options be great for? How much will these homemade gifts cost per person. Add that to your gifting budget.
Lastly, who on your list are you planning to purchase a gift for? Set your gift limits for each person. Find out when holiday shopping sales are happening from each place you want to shop from (we always recommend local, small businesses when possible) and make sure these purchases fit within your overall gifting budget.
Now, comes the simple, but not always easy task of sticking to your budget. Use your gift list spreadsheet to manage your purchases and to make sure they are in line with your budget. If you have a credit card where you can earn cash rewards, that’s a great way to get some cash back on your purchases. Make sure you pay your credit card off at the end of the month and adhere to your budget.
Start a Holiday savings account for next year
This is the single best tip to ensure you are absolutely stress-free when next year's holiday season rolls around. Successful saving starts on payday. Directly deposit a budgeted amount into a savings account; you can make your goal feel more concrete by naming your savings account. By putting in as little as $25 from every paycheck, you will save $600 by the next holiday season! Make sure this savings account is not the account directly tied to your checking account—out of sight, out of mind—not to mention this should be a secondary savings account, not your main emergency or savings account.
Like what your learned here? Join our live 5 Smart Ways to "Rein" in Your Holiday Spending webinar at noon on December 8, 2021. You can ask questions during the webinar and hear what others are doing to spread cheer this holiday season.