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Budgeting for the Holidays
The holidays are wonderful, filled with friends and family. However, they can leave you with a spending hangover. It is possible to stick to your budget, but it takes a little creativity and discipline.
First, determine what you have to spend. A budget of any kind starts here, and this is the discipline part of the process. Be realistic – don’t count on using your yet-unreceived year-end bonus, for example.
Next, make a list of how you would like to spend your money. Your list might include entertaining, including food, beverages and anything you need to buy to cook and serve; gifts, including the gifts themselves, wrapping supplies and mailing; decorating; and travel.
If you are like most people, the amount you would like to spend probably is greater than the amount you have to spend. That’s where the creativity comes in.
You can spend less, give fewer gifts, or both. First, look long and hard at your list. Are there people you exchange gifts with simply out of habit? Could you suggest that instead of exchanging gifts, you each make a charitable contribution, or drop the exchange altogether? Chances are they will welcome the suggestion; they probably have the same budget concerns you have.
Can you suggest to your extended family or group of friends that you draw names rather than everyone giving a gift to everyone? This would allow you all to buy nicer gifts and still save money. And you might find that everyone puts more thought into the gift when they only have to buy one.
Shop around, and spread out your spending. Start as early as you can, and look for sales. Consider Black Friday or its online equivalent, Cyber Monday. There are many websites that let you know what various stores have planned for these unofficial beginnings to the holiday shopping season. Layaway can help you stretch your payments over time without using your credit card – and paying high interest rates – to do so. Just make sure you understand the terms of any layaway plan you use.
Finally, make some gifts. If you are crafty, a handmade quilt out of old T-shirts or a knitted afghan can become a treasured keepsake. A photo book or collage revisits memories. Give “coupons” for baby sitting or making dinner or running errands.
Of course, that means you should start early. But whether you make or buy gifts, starting early helps you spread out your spending.
Instead of hosting large, sit-down meals, consider alternatives such as an open house with snacks and drinks, or cookies and hot chocolate after caroling.
If you plan to host a dinner, don’t be shy when guests ask what they can bring. Suggest that they bring wine, dessert or an appetizer, for example. Or simply set the dinner up as a kind of potluck, with you providing the main course and your guests providing the side dishes.
Make your own centerpieces, or mix and match dinnerware rather than buying new.
Again, make your own as much as possible. If you have kids or grandkids, let them cut out snowflakes or wrap the front door in colorful paper.
Go to the dollar store and stock up on tea lights for the table. Check out a resale shop for gently used decorations.
Unfortunately, travel at the holidays is often expensive. And winter weather can make it uncertain as well. As much as possible, be flexible; sometimes the difference in fares is significant if you go or return a day later or earlier.