Happy 2019! I hope everyone had a great holiday season. My holidays were filled with family, traditions, and most importantly… collard greens. But now that January has rolled around, some of you may be opening up credit card statements with dread wondering how you spend so much when your heart was set on having a simple Christmas. However, the best time for planning for the Christmas season is right now. Here are a few ideas to help you save money so that the season of giving doesn’t completely tap your pockets.
- Start a Christmas savings account. Like yesterday.
Spoiler alert: Christmas is happening on December 25, 2019. Same as the last 542 years. However, how often are our budgets caught off guard as if we didn’t know that Christmas was coming? That’s why you need a Christmas sinking fund, where you save a little bit each month until the holidays. As I’ve mentioned before, you can set up an online savings account to put some separation between funds earmarked for Christmas and the rest of your spending.
Look at what you spent this past Christmas. Include all presents, the tree, decorations, and extra food you purchased for Christmas dinner. Ask yourself: do I want to spend the same amount next Christmas? Do I need to increase my budget to account for a new in-law or baby due this year? Or do I need to cut it back because everybody is grown and can buy their own gift? Take that number and divide by 12. For example, if you want to spend $500 for Christmas, you need to set aside $42 per month. Next, set up an automatic deduction to your newly created savings account. When December rolls around, you’ll be ready to shop with the freedom of knowing how much you can spend without incurring debt.
Now for some, you might not be able to carve out $42 per month for the Christmas fund. You need to make some choices. Are their people you should cut from your list? (See next point) Was this year’s Christmas too extravagant and you really should scale it back this year? Are there other things that you can cut from your budget so that you can set aside money for Christmas? Jesus does not want you to go into debt for his birthday.
- Make a list of everyone you’d like to give a gift to. Then edit.
You love everyone. You enjoy seeing the eyes light up as your friend/family member/hairstylist opens up your thoughtfully chosen gift. But if there are tears — and not the joyfully kind — come January, you need to rethink how many gifts you’re handing out.
As you reflect on 2018’s Nice List, really reflect on who received a gift and why. Was there a sense of obligation or guilt in your purchases? Were there a lot of acquaintances on your list? If so, you may need to weed out your list so that you focus on encouraging the people that provide you the most meaning in your life.
- Propose alternative gift giving
Some of us have very large families. For example, my husband’s father is one of seven and the first time I went to his extended family’s Christmas party I was amazed as every family got every other family a gift. For someone who didn’t grow up with extended family gatherings, I appreciated the love and communion they shared. The following year the family began a new tradition of playing White Elephant which has given us the same level of fun and holiday togetherness at a lower price point.
For the uninitiated, White Elephant, also known as Yankee Swap, is a gift giving game where participants give bring a wrapped, unisex gift. Sometimes the gift can be a re-gift – something you received as a gift but don’t want or need. There’s usually a spending limit for the gift. You add up the gifts and everyone participating draws a number.
Let’s say there are 15 gifts. Whoever has number 1 selects from the pile, opens their gift, then sits down (moral of the story: you don’t want to get “1”). “2” then can steal “1’s” gift or select from the pile. If “3” decides to steal “1’s” gift, “1” must go back to the pile and select another gift. And so on until “15.” There are many variations: some groups put a limit on how many times a gift could be stolen or how many times a person can be stolen from. Others allow participants to go to the pile first, open the gift and then decide whether to steal someone else’s gift. Whatever you decide you’re house rules to be, it’s a great way to save money by getting only one gift instead of 15.
Another alternative gift giving solution is Secret Santa. You put all the family members names in a hat and pick one that you’ll buy a gift for. Like White Elephant, most families have a spending limit to keep things economical. Some families include wish list items. A perfect time to do this is Thanksgiving when most of the family is gather together. Otherwise, you can use an online tool to organize it; Google “Secret Santa generator” for ideas.
What other suggestions do you have for saving money for the holiday season? Leave a comment below.