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Budgeting for the Holidays
The holidays are upon us. For most people, that means a battle to control spending so that you are not dealing with a post-holiday financial disaster. Experts say there are several things you can do to make the season merry for less money.
First, decide how much you have to spend. Be realistic, but don’t be a Scrooge. If you set a budget that you can’t possibly keep to, chances are you quickly will give up and overspend. But if your budget is reasonable, you are more likely to stick to it.
Next, make a list of your projected expenses. Gifts are probably high on that list, but don’t forget about entertaining, decorating, cards, etc. Estimate how much you expect to spend in each category. Then check regularly to make sure you are still on budget.
Most likely there will be a gap between your budget and your projected expenses. But there are some ways you can cut costs without cutting the fun.
Be a smart shopper. Take advantage of Black Friday, Cyber Monday and other sales. Use online coupon codes to cut your costs further. Then consider whether everyone on your list needs a store-bought gift. Could you knit a scarf or put together a recipe book or photo album? Are there people who would rather have a gift of your time rather than a material gift? If you have a big family or circle of friends, consider drawing names so that everyone buys a nice gift for one other person instead of something inexpensive for everyone.
If you are hosting, make it a potluck in which you provide the main dish and your guests bring sides and desserts. Alternatively, consider brunch or appetizers instead of a full dinner. If you are serving alcohol, choose a few kinds of beer, wine and liquor rather than stocking all the possible options. You also can provide mixers and let your guests bring their own liquor.
Make use of natural decorations, such as pine boughs and pine cones. As your old holiday lights burn out, replace them with energy-saving LED lights. Consider handmade decorations, especially if you have children. Letting them design and create their own decorations can make the holidays even more special for everyone.
Wrapping paper can be ridiculously expensive. Look for sales, and check the dollar stores. Consider alternatives to wrapping paper, such as kraft paper or bags you decorate yourself. Use sprigs of pine and yarn or raffia instead of bows.
Cards and Invitations
Sending holiday cards and invitations by mail may have made sense when stamps cost a couple of cents each. But this year, stamps are 49 cents each, and that does not even include the cost of the cards themselves. Instead, go digital. You can send a digital card or, if you are so inclined, create a newsy holiday letter complete with photos and then send it via email. Save the paper cards for your elderly relatives who don’t have email.
It’s too late for this year, but it really can help you reduce your holiday spending if you start early. Stock up on decorations and wrapping supplies at the post-holiday sales, and be on the lookout for gift ideas all year long. Of course, you need to store your early-bird goodies somewhere you will remember come next holiday season.