It’s the end of January 2015 and you walk in the door at the end of your day and begin to open the mail. You freeze when you notice that the post-holiday credit card statement has arrived. Uh-oh…time to face reality from the “retail therapy” that took place before the holidays.
While I’m certainly a fan of a little retail therapy now and then, I will also say that if you’re willing to take some time to plan in advance to save money and keep from overspending that you can successfully avoid the post-holiday financial hangover!
Similar to everyday money management, designing a financial plan for holiday spending ahead of time that aligns with what matters to you allows 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 financial plan for the holidays:
Step #1: Decide on your “big” holiday occasions – There are so many opportunities to do things during the holidays that sometimes it can make your head spin. Deciding in advance what your “big” occasions will be (i.e. Chanukah, Christmas, New Year’s Eve, specific parties, etc.), and where you’ll enjoy investing your money the most will help you properly allocate most of your free cash flow to those occasions. And if possible, make sure to allocate a small portion of your holiday financial plan for the “unknown” events as well (i.e. 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 culture where we are constantly being bombarded to buy everything, whether it’s through a TV or radio commercial, an email, or perhaps even good old-fashioned “snail mail”. 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 my experience, 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 (a bit like pot-luck style). 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, in past years I’ve chosen to make a donation on behalf of my Uncle to remember my Aunt who passed away in 2008.
Step #3: Conscious gift giving – You’ve heard how Santa makes a list and checks it twice, so I encourage you to do the exact same thing! Put together a list of people that you’d like to buy presents for, including your kids’ teachers and the mailman, if appropriate. 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. 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 decided 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 gets to have 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!
These 3 simple steps can honestly be done relatively quickly, 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 get a monthly amount and begin to save in advance so you’ll have the money on hand to pay for everything next December!
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!