With the arrival of the autumn equinox, it is a good time for many to start thinking ahead to budgeting for the holiday gift-giving season. The holidays are about more than gifts, though – social events, unexpected guests dropping by, more travel plans and decorations for your home all add up to put pressure on your budget.
Rather than wait until late November to start your holiday planning, make a point to plan and put some money aside for it with the beginning of the new season. I’m not talking about giving in to the Pavlovian pressures of early-season marketing, where pumpkins and hallowe’en outfits start lining the shelves of retailers from Starbucks to Home Depot – I’m actually talking about the opposite. By doing your own planning, ahead of time, you’ll be more immune to sales and marketing tactics that get you to cave in at the last minute and buy more than you need, or even what you don’t really need.
Ways (and Reasons) To Start Organizing Your Holiday Planning in September
Make a list – and a rudimentary budget – of everything you think you’ll need to purchase and/or plan for through the holiday season. Include items you don’t have to pay for with money, but with time. Having guests over? Need to fix a toilet? Need to buy an extra chair or two? Who do you need and/or want to purchase gifts for? The earlier you start on lists like this, the more control you’ll have over what you ultimately spend. If you know three months in advance that you can’t afford a last-minute skiing trip with your brother or sister, or if you know you wouldn’t want to miss that for the end of the world, you’ll be in a better place for preparing financially for it. Similarly, the more things you put on your list, the more you might realize how much you don’t want to spend so much money, and you’ll have more time to plan more frugal choices.
Dig out last year’s holiday notes, receipts and budgets. How much did you spend? What worked and didn’t work? What food restrictions does everyone have? What do you need to do differently this year? This will help with the planning process mentioned above. As a corollary to this point, throughout the holidays make sure you keep special track of any holiday purchases and unusual or unexpected expenses that came up as a result. If you haven’t ever done this, it can be a real wake-up call. You might be spending a lot more than you think. You also might think you need to spend a lot more than you really do.
Keep your holiday notes and receipts in a separate “holidays” folder. Ultimately they need to be part of your overall budget, of course, but there is a point to be made for considering them altogether: Hallowe’en, Thanksgiving, Christmas/Hanukkah, New Year’s. The entire autumn season is one holiday after another. The kids move away for school, the kids move back for the holidays. It can make sense to note all special expenses and keep them together. You can include other tips and tricks for keeping the holidays running smoothly in this folder, too.
Figure out what should be done in advance. Do you need flight tickets that are best bought in advance for travel deals? Do you need to research catering options, or figure out who is going to be where, with what plans, over the holidays? Some things just can’t be done well at the last minute. Other things can easily be done well ahead of time – like stocking up your liquor cabinet, and making lists of potential gifts. You can also buy things off-season now before the major holiday prices start kicking in. There can be a lot of items that might sell off in end-of-summer sales that can be used for Christmas gifts and decorations.
Plan ahead, but don’t plan too much. After all, we don’t really want to be thinking about the holidays already. The point is to reduce stress and excess holiday spending, not to get stuck in it longer than we have to be.
Do you have any other tips or suggestions to share regarding what you should start planning early for, and how?
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