Thanksgiving is over, the tree is up and twinkling with lights, your stockings are hung, and you have visions of a peaceful, relaxing holiday with your family. Singing Christmas carols, baking cookies, curling up under a warm blanket and drinking a hot cup of cocoa, maybe going on a sleigh ride or attending a party or two. But, unfortunately, the holiday season often takes on a much more frantic and stressful tone.
Your calendar fills up with so many engagements they begin to feel more like chores than festivities. And your holiday shopping list grows and grows and grows. You begin to wonder if you will be able to make your mortgage payment come January.
There’s no denying that “the most wonderful time of the year” can also be the most expensive and the busiest. And this combination often makes it hard to stay organized and in budget. I’m hoping that I can help, even if it’s just a little, by sharing some strategies that I have been using for the past several years.
Plan ahead. I realize this may not help you this year, but now is the perfect time to start planning for next year since the numbers will be fresh in your mind. Track your holiday spending over the season, and divide that total number by 11. Then add it to your monthly budget for following year. By saving a little every month, you won’t feel so broke come next December. Better yet, make your savings automatic. Put it directly into a savings account so you won’t be tempted to spend it.
Decide your budget. Know your limits and stick to them. Be honest with yourself about how much you can responsibly spend. Designate a specific dollar amount to each item/person on your list, and stick to it.
Make a comprehensive list. Lists are your best friend this time of year. Do not begin holiday shopping without a clear idea of who you need to buy gifts for and what your budget is for each person on your list. Personally, I have used an Excel spreadsheet for many years to keep track of my spending. You can download a template here for your own personal use. I find it is particularly helpful for planning and budgeting for future years.
Don’t forget about your other expenses. Christmas gifts are usually not the only expenses you will have during the holiday season. Don’t forget about things like holiday cards, wrapping paper, birthdays during the month of December, decorations, or possibly party expenses. I have included a worksheet in the above download for these expenses as well.
Save those coupons. I don’t know about you, but I tend to get a lot of awesome coupons around November and December. It’s almost as if the stores know we’re going to be holiday shopping. And as tempting as it is sometimes to save those coupons for my own personal use, now I use them for gifts. Every time I get a new coupon in the mail, I think, “Who can I use this for?”
Think charitably. Instead of a family gift exchange, pool your resources and give to a charity instead. This could mean going through your home and giving items you already own to those in need. Not only do you save money and clean out your house, but you are helping others in the process. And isn’t that a huge part of the spirit of the season.
Know when to say no. Don’t make commitments that you cannot afford. Know what your critical holiday shopping obligations are, and then decide if you can join in the work gift exchange, a friendly Secret Santa, or an expensive holiday party. Besides, sometimes having a few less commitments will actually give you a little time to relax and enjoy the holiday season with your family as you intended.
Ultimately, my goal is always to have a fun, stress-free holiday season. And staying organized helps me to do just that. What are some ways you keep this season low stress?