I pride myself on being an excellent gift giver, so the holidays are really my time to shine. Maybe my Leo sun is the reason I love finding the right gifts for my friends and family members, but there’s nothing better than hearing, “Wait, this is perfect! How did you think of this?!”
Budgets and high prices rarely stand in my way when I find the one thing that’s just so them (or when that “one thing” is actually two or three things). Unfortunately, that means I tend to overextend myself — financially and emotionally — on my quest to find the ideal present for everyone.
But I’m not the only one who spends a lot toward the end of the year. A recent survey on holiday spending found that in 2018, the average consumer planned to spend nearly $650 on gifts for friends, family, and coworkers for the holidays. No matter if that number feels comfortable or overwhelming for your budget, it’s worth following a few small-but-mighty ways to make sure you’re maintaining your financial health throughout the holiday season.
First Things First: Figure Out Why You’re Spending The Way You Are
Spending habits can be hard to change. If you’ve always bought a gift for a friend in the past, it’s easy to get caught in a pattern of buying something for them every year, but experts suggest it may be helpful to take a step back and figure out why you’re compelled to buy them anything at all.
“Many of us don’t see our family and friends as often as we’d like (hello, life) and to make up for lost time, we give with tangible things like gifts,” says Lindsay Bryan-Podvin, a licensed master social worker and a financial therapist who helps people understand the psychology behind spending.
So when you’re planning holiday gifts, take time to evaluate who you’re buying for and why they’re on your list. Is it, as Bryan-Podvin suggests, about how you feel giving them a gift? (Um, guilty.) Or is it out of a sense of obligation?
As certified financial planner Liz Frazier says, “You are not Santa. Buy for the people you want to buy for, not because you feel obligated.”
Make Your Budget Your Best Friend
Building a budget can be fairly simple, but you have to be realistic about it — which means setting aside some time to plan it out earlier than December 1. Luckily, having that plan in place could help you avoid some common money mistakes.
According to money coach Emma Leigh Geiser, most money issues can be simplified into two main categories: underestimating and overspending. Many people try to set a budget using “mental math,” says Geiser, but they tend to underestimate how much things will actually add up. Then reality kicks in and they’re hit with sticker shock, and that’s when overspending happens.
To keep your money in a good place, set up your holiday spending plan before you start shopping. Between purchases, you can check in with your budget to make sure you’re staying on a productive track.
Think Outside The Gift-Giving Box
Personally, I make it a point to donate a portion of my holiday spending budget to a local organization that ensures children in their care network have gifts to open on Christmas morning. It’s an important line item in my budget, and I encourage everyone to do something similar around the holidays if you can.
But, as Bryan-Podvin points out, “Nonprofits need funding year-round, not just during the holiday rush.” Consider spacing your contributions out throughout the other 11 months of the year to make budgeting easier.
Plan Your Holiday Travel Sooner Than Later
For those of us who live far from family, going home for the holidays is often a lot more involved than simply dashing through the snow in a one-horse open sleigh — and it’s usually more costly.
Luckily, there are plenty of tools that can help you find a solid deal on flights, like apps that show you if the most affordable time to book your trip is today, or maybe a couple of weeks from now. You can easily filter by number of stops, airline, and time of day to make sure you’re finding an option that suits your budget and your schedule.
That in mind, sometimes holiday deals book up too quickly for you to actually take advantage of them. If that’s the case, fear not! There are other budget-friendly ways to cash in on some quality time with your loved ones. “See if there is an off-season time you can visit, say for a relative’s big birthday or anniversary,” Bryan-Podvin suggests. “It allows you quality time with less competing demands and often results in cheaper travel. To double-up on this idea, send a holiday card with your tentative travel dates or flight receipt to the person you’ll be visiting. It’s the gift that keeps on giving!”
Try This Tip For Navigating Post-Holiday Sales
Who doesn’t love a sale? Sales are great — if you actually need whatever you’re buying. “Just because something is on sale doesn’t mean you have to buy it,” Frazier says. After all, buying something (even if it’s on sale) is still spending money.
When it comes to spending any money you received over the holidays, Frazier suggests writing down a list of the things you want and need, then shopping the sales with a keen eye on those items only — a strategy that can help you overcome a common pitfall of impulse shopping.
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