Usually as soon as it starts to get cold here in Charlotte, people start counting down the weeks and months until Christmas. And when Halloween passes, we get "treated" to the Christmas decorations, advertisements, and that panicked feeling where we realize that in about 6 weeks our budget will be called upon to purchase gifts, christmas cards, and probably a feast here or there.
Last January I spoke with quite a few friends (and some strangers) who mentioned something along the lines of, "Yeah, I need to take it easy on spending this month - still paying Christmas off." As I've reflected throughout the year, and as we feel the impact of many of those around us in debt (including ourselves and our nation as a whole!), this seems to be a small way to stop the cycle and try things a different way. Here are some tips for getting ready for Christmas financially:
1.) Save throughout the year for Christmas. This one is #1 on the list for a reason - Christmas should not sneak up on us each year - it's right there in the calendar every December. Figure out how much you normally spend for Christmas, determine if that's too much or not (and revise downward if it is), divide by twelve, and there you go - that's how much you should set aside each month of the year for Christmas. Lump it in with your other savings or ask your bank to let you start a "Christmas Fund" or savings account that you only use for Christmas money.
2.) Try to think about Christmas (and birthdays) throughout the year as you walk through day-to-day life - did someone mention they would really love "this", or could really use "that"? Write these down in a place where you keep information about the people in your life. If you don't have a place to write, text or e-mail it to yourself before you forget so it's recorded somewhere! When we're not sure what to get someone and we're up against a deadline, we usually rush the process and usually make an expensive purchase of something we only hope they like. It's almost like spending more money is our apology to them for not being more creative or paying attention to what they might need or want. Thinking ahead here also enables us to shop around for the item and make sure we're getting a good price. And even better, when your friend or loved one knows that you listened to what they said back in March, that's another gift all in itself.
3.) Remember that Christmas is about more than what we get crammed into our ears and eyes all of November and December. Tell the guilt monster to take a break this holiday season, and get creative. Don't have much of a budget? Look around online or consult friends for good, less expensive gift suggestions. This may take some effort on your part, but it can help bring your spending down and the time spent on a meaningful gift won't be lost on the person receiving your gift!
4.) At a loss about what to get someone, or just want to try something different? Make a donation to a charity in their name, and get creative by giving in a way or to a place that would really mean something to them. Maybe there's a place they volunteer or serve that you know they love - a gift to that place in their name would surely mean much to them, not to mention the ultimate receivers of the gift. Now we're getting a little closer to what Christmas is all about!
If you like the advice given above, but feel like it's too late to put in place until next year, "don't buy it". Don't try to spend your way out of guilt or stress, because two wrongs don't make a right. There's still plenty of time to get creative, manage expectations, or re-evaluate your shopping list this Christmas. If you can stay out of debt this Christmas, you can start saving in January and be ready for Christmas 2011 (see #1, above), and that's good, because it's only 13 months away.
Happens every year.