Financial Pathways: Keeping Christmas spending under wraps (column)
Now that the Thanksgiving is over and we have eaten all the leftovers, it is officially the holiday season. The race is on to decorate our homes, shop for gifts, send Christmas cards, buy party clothes, go to parties, visit family and possibly throw our own party. Then, of course, there is cooking for and creating a “magical” Christmas Day at home for children or family. Phew! I am worn out already just thinking about it.
Not only do we have to watch our time so that we get everything done, but it is important to monitor our spending. There is nothing worse than a January hangover — this is when the credit card bills come in and you do not remember spending that much or how you spent it. Below are some tips that will prevent you from taking part of 2017 to pay off long forgotten expenses:
1) Determine how much extra money you have to spend on Christmas this year. Also consider what you can charge but completely pay off in January. If married, spouses should come up with a budget together. The budget should include not only the cost of gifts, but any new decorations for your home, party clothes, food and alcoholic beverages.
2) Make a list of people for whom you “must” get gifts and then in a separate column add the ones for whom “it would be nice” to buy gifts. Decide what you can spend per person on the “must” gifts and write it down by their name. Then see what you have left over for the second group. You may find that you have to cross some people off that list. It is also important that spouses agree on an amount to spend on each other and stick to it.
3) Remember that it is the thought that counts, and a gift does not have to be expensive to be appreciated. A gift of homemade food from your kitchen or something made by you is a lovely gift, Maybe everyone loves your fudge or you make a special soup. Or maybe you make homemade candles. Or you could give a personalized coupon book that contains offers to shovel their walkway and two hours of handyman time. Just use your imagination. I cannot make peanut brittle but I have a friend that makes the best I have ever had and sells it during the holidays. For several years I have put in an order and given it as gifts in Christmas tins. It makes a wonderful gift for $10. Friends love it and are thrilled when they get it.
4) Consider drawing names for gifts among the adults in your family. This could preclude a lot of unnecessary spending. Instead of shopping for and buying numerous gifts, you only have to buy one. My sister-in-law bravely suggested it this year, and everyone agreed and frankly was relieved. Most people will not want to be the first to suggest it because they are afraid family members will think they do not love them enough or that the instigator is cheap! Of course neither is true; it is about being financially smart and creating less stress. You will also have just as much fun if not more at family gatherings without the focus being on the giving of gifts, and your family will thank you. Do not be afraid to suggest it to your family if the number of gifts has gotten out of hand.
5) If you are really strapped for cash this holiday season, sit down with your older children and set their expectations. It is better to do it now rather than disappoint them on Christmas Day. Instead of pricey gifts, you might consider in addition to smaller gifts for them giving them the gift of sharing their Christmas with someone needy. As a family take gently used toys, old coats or new toiletries to a shelter or serve food to the homeless at a community event for them. This could become a family tradition regardless of your personal financial circumstances. Learning gratitude for what they have as well as the joy of having a charitable heart will resonate with them for the rest of their lives.
Planning your expenses and having a budget will give you control over your spending. As a result, you will have a more joyous holiday season.
Nancy Gardner is a Certified Financial Planner. She and her husband Bill and dog Daisy split their time between Summit County and Montgomery, Texas. Email her questions at firstname.lastname@example.org
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