Marcia's Blog

How to have a (financially) happy holiday season

For many of us, the holiday season is one of the busiest times of the year. It can also be financially draining if you’re not careful. The costs of gifts, travel and entertaining can easily overwhelm your budget if you don’t plan properly.

Whether you plan to buy a house in 2014, or you simply want to end 2014 in better financial shape than you are in today, follow these steps to put a smart holiday spending plan in action. 

Start today.

If you want a surefire way to spend more money than you intended, wait until the last minute. When you’re scrambling to find last-minute holiday gifts you often end up paying more because you run out of time and need to buy something quick.  It’s better to think now about all of the things you’ll need to pay for over the next two months and create a plan to do so.

Make a list and a budget.

Before you buy that first gift, make a list of everyone you would like to give a present to, as well as how much you intend to spend. As you go through the process, you may find that you can’t afford to buy gifts for everyone. Look for less expensive things you can do to celebrate, such as getting together with girlfriends and having a potluck holiday celebration rather than exchanging presents. Other ways you can cut down on the number of gifts you have to buy is to play Secret Santa and have everyone in a group buy a gift for one person rather than buying gifts for everyone, or making a pact with other family members to only buy gifts for the children.

Look for discounts.

Money saved is money earned. When you start your holiday shopping early, you have time to compare prices and you can take advantage of coupons and sales. Look to Web sites such as http://www.retailmenot.com/ and http://www.coupons.com/ to find the best deals so you never end up paying full price.

Think beyond gifts.

Some of the best things about the holidays are free. You can spend time with loved ones, enjoy the holiday lights and decorations at the mall, and slow down and recharge for the year ahead. Try not to get so wrapped up into the commercialism of the season because that’s when you get into trouble by spending too much.

Stick with cash.

Ever notice how department stores often want you to use a credit card to make purchases? The reason is because people tend to spend more money on credit cards than they do with cash. I’ve seen so many people mess up their finances during the holiday season and end up paying off holiday debt in the spring and the summer. To make sure you don’t overspend, withdraw the amount in cash that you plan to spend, and when it’s gone, you’re done.

Everybody wants to experience joy and peace during the holidays. By creating a holiday spending plan, you’ll be taking steps to carry that joy and peace into 2014 and beyond.