By Margaret Makarewicz, Contributing blogger
The holiday season brings great joy to many people, but it can certainly create a great deal of chaos within our finances (and our minds). No matter how you work it – the holiday season is one of the most expensive, stressful seasons of the year.
Luckily, planning ahead and utilizing a few simple strategies can help you stick to a budget this holiday season.
Maintaining a budget throughout the holiday season doesn’t mean you have to skimp on gifts or make a ton of sacrifices. Sticking to a budget during the holidays involves a bit of planning and preparation, sure, but ultimately, it allows you the freedom to shop without guilt. Making just a few adjustments to your spending strategy this season will help you start the year feeling confident, in control, and much less frazzled.
Try these 5 strategies to stick to a budget during the holidays and rid yourself of the guilt and dread that shopping so often brings.
1. Determine how much you can spend.
The first step to sticking with a budget during the holidays is to actually create a budget. Take a good hard look at your finances and decide how much you can afford to spend this year.
Determine what’s leftover between your income and fixed expenses, any other unrelated purchases you’ll be making, and how much you plan to use from your savings.
Creating a holiday budget may feel overwhelming at first, but once it’s established it can provide you with the freedom to spend without guilt by knowing exactly where the money is coming from.
2. Make a shopping list.
Next comes a fun part: creating a shopping list. Sticking to a budget during the holidays is nearly impossible when you are constantly being bombarded with unexpected items that you need to purchase.
Make a list of what you are going to purchase for each person, as well as any holiday décor or supplies you will need throughout the season. The key to success when sticking to a budget during the holidays is to plan for every single expense.
Many people find themselves doing well with their shopping until they suddenly realize that they forgot about wrapping paper, stocking stuffers, holiday cards, or any other seemingly small items they need for the season. Those minor expenses may not seem like much at the time, but can really wreak havoc on a budget once they add up.
3. Use the 24 hour rule.
No matter how carefully you’ve planned out your budget, it’s normal to still feel overwhelmed once you actually begin shopping. Temptations and ideas are everywhere you look during the holiday season.
It’s inevitable that you will stumble upon a few tempting items while shopping that you originally did not plan to purchase. In these cases, following the 24 hour rule is key to success. Rather than making a surprise purchase on the whim, walk away for 24 hours.
Stepping away from the item will allow your mind time to process the desire and decide whether or not it is a good choice. You may feel overwhelmed in the moment, conflicted between the desire to splurge while also knowing it is not always a good choice.
Walking away for 24 hours can also help you unwind and relieve the stress that is so often associated with holiday shopping. Taking some time for yourself periodically is essential for maintaining sanity and mental health throughout the season.
Take your mind off your budget and shopping by reading a good book, walking the dog, hitting up a coffee shop, or practicing some yoga. This break will give your mind a much-needed reset and help you hit the stores again with clarity and purpose later on.
More than likely, after a full day away, you will find this item significantly less tempting to purchase. However, if you ultimately decide that it is something you want and need, adjust your budget to accommodate this extra expense.
4. Keep track of everything you spend.
Planning to stick to a budget during the holidays means that you’ll need to put in a little extra work to ensure you are successful when shopping. In order to stick to a budget, you’ll need to regularly keep track of how much you are spending.
Knowing in your head how much you can spend is a great first step when creating a holiday budget, but actually keeping track of every purchase will help ensure your success. It’s so easy to put something on a credit card and forget about it until later.
Record every purchase you make, no matter how minuscule it may seem. Keep track of how much is leftover in your budget after making big purchases, and readjust whenever necessary.
Sticking to a budget during the holiday season doesn’t mean that once it’s set it can never change. Rather, creating a budget provides you with the freedom to adjust and reconfigure whenever necessary.
5. Get creative.
There’s no doubt about it: the holiday season is expensive. Although many people enjoy purchasing gifts for others, they often find themselves overwhelmed or regretful once they realize just how much was spent.
Stores are notorious for increasing their prices as the holiday season approaches, since they know that shoppers will need to make their purchases before the season is over.
Rather than over-spending because you are forced to, get creative with your purchases this holiday season. Stock up on coupons you receive in the mail, do a bit of research between various brands, and utilize some of your skills to create heartfelt gifts on your own.
You might just surprise yourself with what you are able to come up with.
Budgeting for the holidays is often associated with restriction or dread – but it doesn’t have to be. Sticking to a budget this holiday season will help you feel confident and in control, especially when things get busy.
Between the social events, family gatherings and holiday traditions this time of year, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed. Taking the time to make a budget will help reduce some of the chaos and stress so often associated with this time of year.
All it takes is a few simple budgeting strategies to conquer the holidays with excitement and confidence, leaving more time and energy for the activities you love the most.