It’s never too early to start planning your holiday budget. In fact, our family has learned that year-round holiday planning is the best way to keep our spending in check and our budget on track!
Armed with a box of crayons, a hair dryer, and a cheap canvas, my husband worked for weeks on a unique piece of artwork that would later become my Christmas gift. By heating the crayons, he was able to create a “rain” scene, with silhouettes of the two of us underneath a shielding umbrella. The gift cost less than $5.00, but it’s a present I will always treasure.
We were in the midst of a real-life storm at the time due to poor choices we had made during our newlywed years and a fledging marriage had resulted in us owning a home we couldn’t sell in another state and barely being able to make ends meet on a low income. It was a desert of a season, and we held onto any hope we could find. A natural gift giver, my husband found hope in finding some way, anyway, that he could still see me and our three young daughters open gifts at Christmas. During those lean years, we had to do Christmas “on a dime.” We did make it work, and we found joy and hope in the midst of desperation.
Are you there now? That Christmas taught my family and me about the importance of planning for the holidays. Are you like me and ready to plan for the holidays now? I’m here to tell you that planning before the holiday season rush is the best to celebrate the holidays without breaking the bank.
1. Limit gifts.
When we first became parents, we decided we would begin a tradition of giving our children just three gifts each. Little did we know that just one year later we would fall into financial hardship, and this tradition would help us celebrate Christmas without going overboard (or into debt).
While popular culture often depicts Christmas as a holiday with presents galore, there is no reason why we can’t limit how much we give to each other and our children. Regardless of why or how you decide to limit gifts, doing so will save you money.
2. Choose experiences.
Although I can fondly reminisce about the artwork my husband gifted me with all those Christmases ago, I can’t recall many gifts people have given me over the years. Gifts are often forgotten, but the memories formed around shared events can last a lifetime.
Instead of spending money you might not have on gifts this year, what about highlighting some of the free or affordable holiday events in your community and making a plan on attending as many as possible with your family? Towns and churches across the country offer free light shows, live nativities, Christmas musicals, and parades.
I promise that choosing to experience these together will be a longer-lasting gift than any presents you could buy in a department store.
3. Give selectively.
You don’t have to give to everyone. If you’re invited to work, church, or even family parties that require you to purchase a gift you can’t afford, politely decline the invitation. For years, our family could only afford to give to each other, and I can tell you it made for so much less stress during the holidays.
4. Shop year-round.
This suggestion is too late for this year, but it’s something you can begin employing the day after Christmas! Our family Christmas shops all year long. You can do this by picking up gifts when they go on clearance, or by simply adding one gift per month to your regular budget. This allows you much more financial breathing room during the holidays. Here’s a tip: July is one of the best months to purchase toys!
5. Set a realistic holiday budget.
Now, (not December 1!), is the time to set a realistic holiday budget. Our family has used free online budgeting tools for many years now. You can download holiday budgeting worksheets, and these budgeting tools can include everything from gas for travel, holiday décor, and charitable donations.