For most people, the holiday season is an exciting time to enjoy the company of family and friends. People travel, go shopping, decorate their homes, exchange gifts, and host dinner parties. Whatever your tradition is, one thing is sure—it involves spending money. While celebrating the holidays is a wonderful custom, it’s crucial to ensure your finances stay on track through the holiday season. Since the holidays can wreak havoc on your bank account, you must have a financial plan in place beforehand.
1. Start planning a year in advance
One of the most important actions you can take toward financial planning for the holiday season is to plan a year in advance. By thinking about your financial plan for the holiday season long before the actual holidays, you’ll be doing yourself a tremendous favor. Think about your finances and review all your accounts to assess how much you can afford to spend. Instead of evaluating your progress toward your financial goals at the end of the year, try planning a full year in advance; if it’s helpful, you can use the prior year’s holiday expenses as a guide.
Holiday spending can be a significant expense, and, as with all significant expenses, planning and saving are the keys to success. If you spent €1,200 during the holidays last year, then you’ll know you need to save €100 each month throughout the year to meet your goals for the holiday season without having to draw on funds from elsewhere.
2. Set spending limits and stick to them
It’s not uncommon for people to spend hundreds, or even thousands, on holiday shopping and gifts. Before you spend a single euro this holiday season, draw up a budget and stick to it. Plan to set a spending limit on gifts for family members and friends, and be sure to select an amount you can comfortably fit into your budget. For example, you might choose to spend no more than €120 on gifts for family and keep gifts for friends to less than €30 each.
You can apply this same principle to any spending you do this holiday season, such as travel, decorations, and hosting parties. By working within your spending limits, you can enjoy the holiday season while keeping your financial goals on track.
3. Avoid debt at all costs
One of the dangerous traps of holiday spending that can shatter your financial plan is unnecessarily taking debt. Holiday debt can cripple your finances and leave a hole in your wallet that could take you months or years to recover. In the UK and Romania, around 15 percent of people go into debt for Christmas. If you take out a loan or run up your credit card balance to cover non-emergency expenses this holiday season, you’ll pay dearly for it in the new year.
Credit card interest is notoriously high, and you can easily get caught up in all the shopping and spending when it’s so easy to buy things with the swipe of a card. Besides planning, saving, and budgeting, another option to avoid getting into debt during the holiday season is to use cash for any purchases you make or redeem credit card rewards points.
4. Write it down
Whatever you decide to do, make sure to write it down. From your goals to your budget and expenses—writing everything down will simplify your accounting and keep you focused. Write down a complete checklist of all the items you’d like to buy, including spending limits for each. Taking the time to compile a written list of your plans and the associated financials will help ensure you get everything you need without overspending.
5. Save whenever possible
Sometimes, even if you’ve planned, budgeted, set limits, and written everything down, you find that you just can’t get what you need without overspending. In cases such as these, it’s time to consider how to reduce or eliminate certain expenses.
Fortunately, though the holidays are expensive, they’re also an excellent opportunity to take advantage of sales. Be sure to shop around and avoid impulse buys to make sure you’re getting the best deal possible. Another way to save money is by using coupons. It might seem old-fashioned, but coupons and discount codes are still a great way to save money. By using coupons, you can save on certain products, which can go a long way in helping you keep your holiday spending under control.
When sales and coupons still aren’t enough, you can reduce your expenses drastically by cost-sharing. Instead of giving a gift as an individual, speak to family and friends about pooling your money together as a group to buy someone a gift. For meals and parties, a potluck is an excellent way to relieve the financial burden of hosting.
6. Prioritize and redefine
The holidays are usually a time to embrace and enjoy tradition. Still, if you’re concerned about your financial plan this holiday season, it might be time to prioritize your goals and redefine holiday expectations. Instead of spending money on gifts and decorations, focus on spending time with loved ones and friends. Even if you don’t buy anything, you can still give a great gift.
It’s okay to break with some of the pricier customs to keep your financial health intact. So, why not redefine how you celebrate the holiday? You might achieve this by giving a gift you made by hand or a card with a heartfelt, handwritten message. Other options include an experience like a picnic or bringing your loved one breakfast in bed. For decorations, try repurposing everyday household items or DIY decor and ornaments.
Financial planning for the holiday season doesn’t have to be complicated, and you should treat it the same way you’d treat other finances. Planning well in advance, writing down a list, creating a budget with spending limits, being a thrifty shopper, and thinking outside the box can help you steer clear of overspending. You can—and should—enjoy the holiday season, and you can do so without compromising your financial well-being or the quality time you enjoy with family and friends.