The holiday season is a joyous time filled with loved ones and laughter, but let’s face it; it’s also a time when your finances take a major hit and that’s not very jolly.
Each year, holiday expenses are increasing and many people are spending money they don’t have, adding to their already overwhelming debt. Just last year, consumers increased their debt during the holidays by more than $1,000, according to a recent MagnifyMoney study. That’s a 5% percent increase from 2016.
Financial expert, Dave Ramsey, points out “You know Christmas is in December every year, so there’s no reason to act like it suddenly snuck up on you.” You have plenty of time each year to prepare your finances and get ready for the happy season without putting a strain on your finances.
And here’s how to do it:
Plan your holiday spending around your current financial obligations—not the other way around
Your current financial obligations aren’t going to come to a sudden halt because of the holiday season. You’ll still have your regular expenses, such as paying monthly bills, contributing to retirement funds, etc. So, instead of planning your financial obligations around your holiday expenses and putting your financial situation in jeopardy, plan your holiday expenses around your current finances. In other words, take into account all of your current expenses and only put aside the amount of money for holiday spending that you can afford. You don’t want to spend money you don’t have and dip into your budget for other monetary obligations.
Create a holiday budget and stick to it
A great way to ensure you won’t be putting your finances in a bind during the holiday season is by doing an expense audit and creating a specific holiday budget. Make a list of all of your holiday expenses as well as all of your other financial obligations. Then decide how much money you can spare for holiday spending—an amount that won’t damage your personal finances in the process.
Start a side hustle to earn extra cash
For many people, the holidays are so costly because they spend money on the holiday they want rather than the holiday they can afford. Thankfully, if you want a bigger budget for your holiday spending, there are ways you can increase your cash flow so you don’t have to put your financial situation in jeopardy.
One way to do this is by starting a side hustle. Depending on your availability, this can be as time-consuming as you want it to be. You can make your own side hustle by selling homemade crafts, babysitting, tutoring, house cleaning, etc. Or you could take on a temporary second job. During the holidays plenty of seasonal jobs are available that would allow you to pick up a few shifts here and there to earn some extra cash. If you wanted to work enough, you could even set aside your side hustle money to pay for all of your holiday expenses so you didn’t have to use a penny of your regular salary.
There’s no shame in using coupons and finding the best deals for the items you want. Who doesn’t like to save money? Most stores usually have a variety of holiday deals to choose from. You can also shop used items that are still in great shape for a discounted price. Also note, certain stores wrack up the prices of their items around the holiday season so it might be a good idea to plan ahead and buy the more expensive gifts (especially technological items) sooner rather than later, in case the price goes up closer to Christmas time.
Consider doing secret Santa gift exchanges
If you’re someone who does gift exchanges with most of your friends and family, it can get expensive. Instead of buying a present for every individual, suggest a secret Santa gift exchange. This way, everyone will still receive a gift and they’ll save money in the process. You can also set a spending limit for these exchanges, so you have an estimate of how much it will cost and you can work this into your holiday budget.
Protect your packages
Every year, more and more people are taking advantage of online shoppers by stealing packages from their porches, earning the nickname “porch pirates.” You don’t want to take your time planning and budgeting your money for the holidays just to have your purchases stolen. If you’re an online shopper, get the tracking number for all purchases and check on the package daily. You can also require a signature when receiving packages so if you’re not home, the package can’t be delivered to your home. This may be more time consuming but it will keep your spent money and your packages safe.
Start saving now
Like Ramsey said, you know when the holiday season is each year so you don’t have to be scrambling mid-December to get your finances in order for your festivities. Take the time to properly plan and to prepare your budget for the additional expenses. It’s never too early to begin saving money.
If you’re someone who really likes to plan ahead, you could set aside a small amount of money each month leading up to the holidays. When the holidays roll around, you’ll have a chunk of money already saved.
Whatever your saving method may be, you still have time to prepare your finances for the holiday season, so don’t be discouraged and start planning instead.
McCall Robison is currently a Content Marketing Strategist for BestCompany.com. She writes for a variety of sites and personally manages three blogs for her company. Her work has been featured on Forbes, Yahoo Finance, and Business Insider. You can find McCall on Twitter @mccall_robison on the off chance that she’s not too busy hanging out with her cat.