The holidays have become synonymous with shopping season, and even the most frugal people will be tempted by end-of-aisle decor and seasonal treats. Holiday shopping is fun, and it is rewarding because everything is purchased for pure enjoyment. Holiday decor makes people smile, as does giving gifts. And the food? Well, New Year's resolutions are usually about weight loss for a reason. All these enjoyable holiday experiences have one thing in common. They cost money. Last year, the average American went into debt by over $1,000 because of the holidays, but this debt can be avoided by sticking to a holiday budget.
Set a Limit
The first thing you need to do when creating a budget is to set a limit. Budgets should not be based on what you want to buy during the holidays but rather how much disposable income you have available. How you handle your finances is your personal choice, but it is never wise to plan to go into debt for optional holiday activities. Your holiday spending limit should be modest. If you are disappointed in your limit this year, think of it as a temporary situation. You can always work a holiday savings plan into next year's budget.
Make a List
Make a list of all the things you are likely to spend money on during the holiday. Make sure to include items like postage, holiday cards, and gift-wrapping material. Include food and drinks for family and friends. Don't leave anything off the list because you will pare it down later.
Once you've made a list with all potential holiday expenditures, rank your items in order of importance. Maybe your home decor isn't as important as you'd once thought, and you care more about impressing your gift recipients with fancy bows. Maybe some gifts could be replaced with thoughtful cards, which would save money on gifts and postage. The budget is meant to provide for the things you feel are most important for the holidays, so be honest with yourself. It is ultimately about getting the most from the holidays without going into more debt.
Many holiday purchases are made impulsively but sticking to a budget doesn't mean there won't be any surprises. Add a couple surprise gifts to your budget, so you can get that last-minute gift for your co-worker or last-minute guest. Having a contingency plan for surprise expenses will keep you from stressing from too tight of budget.
When the holidays are over, many people are surprised at how much money they spent. If credit cards are used, it is easy to overspend because your bank account balance remains the same. That is why a reliable method of tracking spending is recommended to keep holiday shoppers accountable for their purchases. Keep receipts or use an app like Santa's Bag to set a budget and track expenses.
There are many sales available during the month of December. Last year, Amazon did a 12 Days of Deals sale, and most businesses offer deals to keep you buying until the new year. You don't have to spend your entire budget during the holidays, or you can expand the items on your budget by saving money.
Plan for Next Year
If you have enough leftover, plan for next year by taking advantage of end-of-year sales. If you are cash-poor at the end of the year, start your budget for next year early. Either way, the 2020 holiday season will be even better with proper financial planning and smart-buying habits.
End 2019 in the Black
It is a tragedy that the positive aspects of the holidays are met with so many people ending the year in the red. You don't have to go into debt to have a great and full holiday. Setting a budget and sticking to it will result in all or most of your holiday needs being met without the negative financial outcomes that can last well into the next year.