With Halloween over, retail land has official declared it to be the Christmas season. While I hold fast to the “no decorations until after Thanksgiving,” now really is the time to think ahead in order to keep your holiday budget under control. Unless you are sitting on piles of cash, the expenses will start adding up before you know it.
- Spread out your decorations expenses starting this week. Inevitability, I will need to replace several strands of outdoor lights, or invest in a new extension cord. So, rather than face $100 or more in extra expenses right after Thanksgiving, I will be buying a string of lights each week. I’ll also watch the sales and gradually pick up any other decorations supplies that I know I will need. This will also save time and frustration during decorating time, as I won’t have to stop and run to the hardware store.
- Ditto on the stocking stuffers. The more you spread these expenses out over the next two months, the less impact it will have on your budget later.
- Start guiding your kid’s expectations. If your child is clamoring for something that is either out of your budget or you won’t let into the house, you can slowly and subtly help reframe their expectations. Additionally, start making lists of things you know they want/need so that you are prepared for when a relative asks. I usually suck at this, and am always like, “Ummm…..no clue,” so I am starting this today.
- Plan now for all of those expenses we often forget about. Wrapping paper, the Christmas tree, holiday meals, teacher gifts, gas for travel, holiday outfits. These are the things that sneak up on you, and when you are head-scratching about where all your money went, these little extras are usually what nickeled and dimed your budget away.
- Stock up on non-perishables and frozen food during November. Most major grocery chains have their best mega sales this month on food and pantry staples, and when you take the time to clip a few coupons, you can take the pressure off of December.
- Make a list this week of gift ideas for everyone you plan to buy for, as well as a per-person money limit. When you have specific ideas as well as guideline for spending, you can take advantage of a sudden sale, clearance, or other opportunity.
- Understand that Black Friday is not the end-all, be-all. I do not shop on Black Friday at all, because no amount of money is worth watching people battle like gladiators over stupid stuff. Not to mention the hours wasted standing in line or sitting in horrific traffic. I think the smarter strategy is to be vigilant throughout these two months and spread expenses out.
- Check for deals or coupons before you walk into a store. I do this everywhere. A quick Google search on my smartphone while I am still in the parking lot takes about 20 seconds, and can save big time. Likewise, download the apps for the stores you shop at the most. Target, for example, will have one toy at 50% off every day between now and Christmas and you can find it in the Cartwheel app. Michaels’ app has great, unadvertised coupons, and Walmart’s savings catcher give you the difference if there is a lower, advertised price.
While I’m no fan of the way retailers starting cramming Christmas at us even before Halloween, I also know that most of us probably don’t like financial stress either. Start now, plan ahead, and use an extended time frame to keep your holiday budget under control.