The holiday season is upon us, and for many, that can mean feeling stressed and financially strained.
Nearly three-quarters of Americans admit that they fail to budget appropriately for the holidays. According to Forbes magazine, the average consumer racks up more than $1,000 in new debt each year.
From decorations to presents, everything has a price tag. Planning for these expenses will allow you to stay on track with your budget, enjoy the holidays and start the new year off on the right financial footing.
Saving money during the holidays can be tricky, but we’ve put together these five tips to help you do just that.
1. Consider Lightening the Financial Load of Holiday Traditions.
The holiday season is a time of goodwill, and naturally, you want to support organizations that serve others in times of need. But what if you simply don’t have the extra cash to donate? Ever heard the phrase, “Time is money?” Consider donating your time and volunteering instead. Not everyone can write a large check, but you could give the use of your time and skills by serving at the charity. Serving together as a family can be far more satisfying and memorable than merely making a cash donation.
Holiday Dinners and Parties
Everyone loves getting together around the table for a great holiday meal or attending a fabulous holiday party. Far less enjoyable is the cost of purchasing all the refreshments, liquor and desserts. For the past several years, our family has opted for a potluck dinner. A few weeks before Christmas I send out an email reminding each family to choose a category (appetizers, sides, desserts). The teenagers and kids are in charge of coming up with entertainment. Not only has embracing potluck saved us money, but it has also allowed us all to spend more time together and less time in the kitchen. As an added culinary bonus, everyone brings their 5-star recipes and basks in the glory of rave reviews by appreciative diners.
Holidays traditions make beautiful memories that last far longer than most Christmas gifts. Your favorite holiday recollection probably includes friends and family sharing in a simple activity like watching Christmas movies or baking cookies. These rituals are meaningful and magical, and they don’t have to be expensive. Here are a few holiday traditions that promise great fun and won’t break the bank.
Introduce your kids to the fun of Charlie Brown’s Christmas or National Lampoon’s Vacation. Hand out bags of homemade popcorn and put out various toppings so everyone can enjoy their custom blend.
Christmas Lights Tour
It wouldn’t be Christmas without the twinkling lights adorning many homes during the holiday season. Check the internet, and you’ll find that your area like ours, publishes a list of the best-decorated properties in the area. On Christmas Eve, our family packs into the car with travel mugs of hot chocolate and bags of Christmas cookies to enjoy the decorations. Sometimes we head out right after the Christmas Eve service, and other years we’ve gone in our pajamas. Listening to the delighted “oohs and ahs” from the back seat is one of my favorite moments of the holiday season.
Attend a Community Event
Most communities offer a tree lighting open to the public. Join in the countdown to the tree illumination and enjoy the holiday music. Many churches and choirs offer holiday sing-a-longs or musical performances. Check out a holiday production at a local community theater. Nighttime parades featuring lighted displays have become popular in recent years. Some organizations even offer breakfast with Santa and cookie decorating parties.
2. Stay on Top of Your Spending.
It can be hard to keep track of how much you are spending during the busy holiday season. You can spend wisely by reviewing your account statements online and by using your bank’s app to monitor your accounts. Today’s banks offer free, fast and secure 24-hour, worldwide banking services that allow you to transfer funds, pay bills and make payments.
If you are planning to use a credit card to buy holiday items, it can be a great time to get cash-back rewards on items you already plan to purchase. As long as you stick to your spending plan, you may be able to stretch your budget a bit with additional perks or rewards for holiday shopping.
Some cards even offer a cash-back bonus when you sign up and spend a certain amount within 90 days of opening the account. Make sure the card has a $0 annual fee and that your rewards don’t expire and are not limited. Look for other perks too.
3. Always Comparison Shop.
Holiday sales are everywhere, and while some are some legitimate bargains, many are regular prices wrapped up in glittery holiday wrapping. Retailers depend on the festive atmosphere and clever marketing campaigns with buzzwords like "holiday offer" and "Christmas special," to convince you to open your wallet.
Before you purchase any item “on sale,” always comparison shop. Price comparison apps allow you to scan barcodes and check surrounding stores for better deals. Many shoppers now purchase gifts exclusively online, where it is easier to comparison shop. Always check for online discount codes and free shipping.
Remember that no matter how great the discount, you never save money by spending it. Keep your budget in mind and stick to it.
4. Don't Forget to Ask Whether There Is a Military/Veteran Discount Available.
Businesses aren't obligated to offer military/veteran discounts, but many do for two reasons. First, it allows them to show appreciation for your service to the country. Second, business owners know that discounts are good for business. Offering savings to veterans and service members earns them loyal, returning customers.
5. Remember What Matters.
What do you genuinely want to celebrate this holiday season? Is it a family tradition, or basking in the company of your family and friends? From year to year, your budget may vary based on your situation. Be honest with yourself about your financial condition and what you can responsibly spend. Take a break from the fast-paced world we live in and slow down, relax and connect with those you love. Remember what makes the holiday season special.
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