It’s January 15th and you’ve just gotten home to grab your mail and walk in the door at the end of your day…when you notice that the dreaded post-holiday credit card statement has arrived. You really don’t want to open that statement. (C’mon, we’ve all had that happen to us, yes???)
Well I’m happy to say that it doesn’t need to be that way, if you’re willing to take some time to plan in advance to save money, keep from overspending, and avoid the post-holiday financial hangover!
Similar to everyday money management, designing a holiday financial plan ahead of time that aligns with what matters to you helps more money to stay in your pocket while creating experiences and connections with people you care about. Here’s how I encourage you to think through and design your own festive financial plan:
– Step #1: Decide on your “big” holiday occasions – There are so many opportunities to do things during the holidays, and sometimes it’s a challenge to do them all. Deciding in advance what your “big” occasions will be (i.e. Thanksgiving, Chanukah, Christmas, etc.), and where you’ll enjoy investing your money the most will help you properly allocate most of your money to those occasions in your financial plan. And if possible, make sure to allocate a small portion of your festive financial plan for the “unknown” events as well (you know, those opportunities to head out unexpectedly with friends for dinner and/or have cocktails with co-workers before or after the company party).
– Step #2: Focus on experiences vs. things – We live in a consumer culture where we are constantly being bombarded to buy everything, whether it’s with a TV or radio commercial, an email with something on sale (is it me or has the volume of those emails picked up significantly in recent weeks?!?), or a “flash sale” in a store. It’s unforgiving at times, quite honestly. So before you start to think about purchasing gifts (which we’ll talk about in Step #3 below), I’d encourage you to think about whether a gift is what you really want to give. From what I see and hear, people are craving connection and meaning in their lives, so ask yourself – are you in a place to provide either of those gifts to them? Some examples might include taking time to volunteer as a family at Thanksgiving at a soup kitchen and then coming home to a smaller meal later in the day, or perhaps scheduling a family event in December to get together with loved ones and asking everyone to bring their favorite dish to share with others (so that the party host doesn’t have to bear the entire expense of the event). Also, one of my favorite things to do is to make a donation to a charity on behalf of a loved one to a charity that has meaning for them. For example, my Uncle George is also my godfather and every year I make a small donation on his behalf in honor of his sister (my aunt and godmother) who passed away 5 years ago from Lupus. He doesn’t need gifts or things, but his face lights up every year when I give him the card that says I remembered to make the donation!
– Step #3: Conscious gift giving – You know how Santa makes a list and he checks it twice? I encourage you to do the exact same thing! Put together a list of people that you want to buy for, all the way down to your kids’ teachers and the mailman. Once you’re done with that list, review it to challenge whether or not you need to buy something or perhaps you can refer back to Step #2 and give them the gift of an experience instead. Also, ask yourself the question whether there are people on the list who might appreciate one less thing to shop for during the holidays. As an example, my best friend and I stopped giving gifts several years ago to focus on getting together for lunch instead and it’s one of the best gifts (less time shopping and more time together) we’ve ever given each other! For anyone who still remains on the list that needs a gift, take some time to decide on a target amount for each person so that when you get in the store you have some idea of how much you’d like to spend. And lastly, before you even head to the stores, hop online to search for promo codes or coupons at the stores you typically shop at – at this time of year there are always good promo codes and coupons online that can help you save money and keep more money in your pocket!
The few steps above can honestly be done relatively quickly in just under a few hours, yet it can save you hundreds if not thousands of dollars this holiday season. And a bonus tip for next year so that you can streamline your holiday spending even further if you’d like to: write down who you bought for, what you bought them, and how much you invested. Take this list and revisit it in January with two main purposes: 1) to see who you’d like to include for next year again (or perhaps who you no longer need to include); and 2) take the total amount that you spent, divide it by 12 months to get a monthly amount and begin to save monthly in advance so you’ll have the money on hand to pay for everything out of pocket!
And above all, remember to have fun when you’re thinking about planning your holiday experiences and gifts. In this day and age when everyone is so busy, take some time to stop and smell the roses. Life is short and it’s meant to be enjoyed…I’m wishing you and your loved ones a very happy holiday season!