This guest post is brought to you by Amy from My Income Journey. Amy is a finance blogger and work-from-home mom who mentors others on how to achieve financial independence from home. Visit her site at www.myincomejourney.com to learn how you can reach your financial goals without sacrificing your life at home.
The holidays are a magical time of the year! Being together with family and friends, shopping, eating, and celebrating together is the best! However, it is not usually the best time for your finances. You don’t want to be stressed out about money during this special time of year. Below are some tips for helping you stay on a budget and still fully celebrate and enjoy this wonderful time!
1. Set a Gift Budget – take a good hard look at your finances and logically decide how much you are able to spend on each person. Whether the amount is $20 or $200, you need to have a set amount that you’re willing to stick to. This will keep you under control and make you think hard about each item you buy. It will also keep you from having buyer’s remorse in January when you see your credit card bill. Write down exactly how much you’ll be spending on each person you’re giving a gift to.
2. Track Your Spending – now that you know exactly how much you can spend per person, you need to have a method to keep track of your spending. I have two ways I’d like to recommend. The first is how I track my spending. I have a special notebook where each child has a page, I have a page for my husband, a page for extended family, and a page for friends/neighbors. At the top of each page I write down how much I’m going to be spending on that person. I carry this notebook with me for all my shopping! Each time I buy someone a gift, I write down what I bought them, where I bought it, how much it cost, and then subtract that amount from the running tally at the top of the page. Even if I just buy a little stocking stuff for $1, I write it down. This helps me in more ways than just my budget. I can see at a glance exactly how many presents I’ve bought for each person (so one kid doesn’t get 4 presents and the other kid 9), how much I’ve spent on each person, where I bought each item in case I need to return something, and I don’t forget to buy someone a gift if they’re on my list. If I order a gift online then I write down the date I bought it and when it’s expected to arrive. This way I don’t have random Amazon packages showing up without me knowing if I’m missing anything.
A second way to track your spending is the envelope method. It’s similar to the method above but instead of writing and ongoing total for each person, you have a separate envelope for them. You start by deciding how much you will spend on each person and then withdraw the money from the bank and put the money in that person’s envelope. If you plan on spending $100, then when the $100 runs out you are done shopping for that person. That’s it! The reason I don’t follow this method is because I do a lot of shopping online (can’t pay with cash) and I prefer to earn reward points on my credit cards. Otherwise this is a great method because it keeps you on budget without being tempted to spend extra. If you don’t have the cash in the envelope then you can’t spend it!
3. Inexpensive or Free Gifts – If you don’t have any extra money, don’t go into debt to buy someone a gift. Family members, friends, neighbors, teachers, and all the people that you care about also care about you and don’t want to be a burden. There’s no need to feel pressure to spend money that you don’t have. There are other options. Some inexpensive ideas include: personal handwritten cards, homemade cookies or treats, a family cookbook, create a scavenger hunt, get a box of props from a thrift store and have it be a ‘movie making’ box, offer cleaning or gardening services, wrap up items that represent an activity you can do together (snowman kit, hiking with geocaching clues, family dance night, etc.). Time can be more valuable than money and creating memories can be the best gift for any age!
4. Start Traditions – there’s more to Christmas than opening gifts, more to Thanksgiving than food, and amazing memories can be made without spending a dime. Some of the things my kids look forward to during the holidays are going caroling at a retirement center near our home, driving around and looking at Christmas lights, and having a sleepover as a family near the Christmas tree on Christmas night.
5. Earn Extra Money – If there’s something you really want to buy for someone but know you can’t afford it, then you have to earn extra money in order to pay for it. There are many ways to do this, but here are a few ideas to get you started: sell items around the house on craigslist or local Facebook groups, sign up with Swagbucks and earn money online, sell your plasma, sell old electronics or gift cards through BuyBackWorld, babysit or pet sit, have a garage sale, join a temp agency and work a few odd jobs when you have time.
Remember, this time of year should be joyful and spent with the people you care about. Keeping your spending and finances under control will allow you peace, security, and the ability to enjoy the things that matter most!