Sunday, September 27, 2015

The "Holidays" are coming... Are you worried?

Sometimes I feel like there are all of these "extra things" that are costing me money.  This past month included back-to-school shopping (I teach in a high school), and an out-of-town visitor.  Next month I have a friend getting married out of state, and then we find ourselves full-blast into the Holiday spending extravaganza.  Our lives are all different, but there is one common thread here.  We all experience "extra things" that cost us money on a regular basis.  In fact, I bet if you stopped to do a little calculation, you will find that it is literally a monthly expense.  That being the case, you should have a category for it in your budget (we will talk budgets soon).

Well that might be fine and dandy, but I just got out of credit card debt.  I know that I don't have this "extra" category in my budget.  I will create it, but it doesn't currently exist.  The "extra things" are still coming, right now, in the form of the holiday season, and I am determined that they are not going to cause me to go backwards on my progress.  We will discuss budgets, other people's vacations, etc. in another post, but today let's talk about the holidays.  They are coming up, and I, for one, am not going to let them get me! So, how am I going to do it?

1.  Take care of the future.  Start that "budget category" for the "extra things."
2.  Menu planning.  My household size is 2, and we spend on average $60/week on groceries.  This is already a great number, and we already plan our menus, but that being said.  I am going to make a point to throw in more of our "cheap but healthy"  meals so as to get that number down by $20/week through the end of October.  I know that this will be difficult to do in November and December, so I am going to offset some of those costs now.  If I start this week, a $20/week savings  creates $100 over the next 5 weeks that can be applied to my "extra" category.
3.  Thanksgiving... This holiday is expensive in a sneaky way.  We don't buy gifts for each other, so we don't consider it far enough in advance, but if you are hosting, suddenly, it costs a small fortune!  Well, I plan to have a feast without spending a fortune.  The secret?  Don't make 20 dishes.  Have a gathering, either at your home or someone else's.   Create a sign-up list.  Maybe the host is in charge of the Turkey, stuffing, and mashed potatoes.  They also make their home look  nice an inviting (don't spend money on it).  At that point, the host is done cooking.  Hosts are notorious for telling people they don't need to bring anything.  Not this year!  All guests should be in charge of bringing a side, or dessert item.  They should sign up in advance so there are no surprises.  All guests should bring a few small to-go containers.  At the end of the party, each guest should take-away at the very least, lunch for the next day.  If you happen to have a huge "Thanksgiving budget" carry on!  If not, try out my strategy.  Thanksgiving parties are fun, and don't have to cost you a ton!
4.  Holiday Gifts...  Have this conversation now!  In my household, we are buying ONE gift for each other, and stuffing a stocking for each other.  We have a maximum we are allowed to spend.  Granted, we are a household of 2 adults.  Those of you with children will inform me that this will absolutely NOT FLY at your house.  If you have children, have your kids draw names for gift giving for each other.  Parents, set a dollar amount per child.  This is not to exceed what you actually have.  Under no circumstances are we to use our credit cards for this. Include your kids in this gift conversation.  Take the opportunity to teach them about financial responsibility.  That is the most important gift that you can give them!  You have to teach them (by your example) what it means to be financial responsible through the holidays.
5.  Get an "extra job" for the holiday season.  Now is the time to apply.  I have done this before.  Holiday help doesn't make a ton of money, but you can use that as your holiday budget.  I probably made an extra $500-700 last time I worked a holiday retail job.  I used that for two things.  Holiday spending, and future vacation money.  That way, I didn't have to use my regular paycheck for those things.
6.  Opt out of all of those holiday gift exchanges.  No one thinks you "don't like them" because you didn't do the office holiday gift exchange.  Just opt out.  Save the money.
7.  Don't obligate yourself to "guilt gifts."  You know what this means.  We all buy those last minute gifts for people because "they might be buying us something."  I want you to advertise to other people the following "Do not buy me a gift."  Tell them.  Taking the obligation away from them will also alleviate you of that same obligation.  You are to tell them that you are scaling way back on your gift-giving, and that you would like them to give you the gift of their company, but that's it.  No present.

Those are just a few of the things that I have done, and will do to help myself avoid a "Holiday Disaster."  I'd love to hear any strategies that have worked for you or your family over the years!

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