In January and February If you usually find yourself facing a stack of bills from holiday shopping, resolve this year to not let your spending get out of control. The holiday season is a time to share, enjoy family and friends, and to give more of ourselves. By planning ahead, you can be creative and thoughtful, yet stay within your budget.
Plan your holiday budget based on what you can realistically afford. Take a look at your finances. Have you saved for holiday expenses? Or will the gifts need to be purchased from regular monthly disposable income? Do you plan to pay cash? Or use credit?
Make a list of the friends, family and others you would like to remember with a gift. Place a dollar amount by the name of each person on your gift list. Be certain you also allow for other holiday expenses such as decorating, entertaining, gift-wrapping and postage.
Overspending is easy. Advertising increases during the holiday season and stores offer expanded inventories. Because so often holiday shopping is impulsive, be sure you shop with your list and consider paying in cash. If time permits, separate "shopping" trips from "spending" trips. Use shopping trips to get ideas, make a list of alternatives, check prices and comparison shop.
If you plan to do your holiday shopping with a credit card, consider using only one credit card and keeping a running tally of your expenditures. Many people carry multiple credit cards, so it's easy to lose track of holiday credit card purchases.
Avoid buy now and pay later offers, designed to encourage you to spend money you don't have. These plans usually charge high interest from the date of purchase if you can't pay the bill in full by the end of the no-interest period, or if you are just one day late with a payment.
Online shopping might help your holiday season be less stressful. Make sure you understand refund policies and don't forget to include shipping charges in your budget.
Creative ways to give during the holidays can save you money. Try giving the gift of service. Offer to babysit, run errands, shovel snow, iron, tutor or do housekeeping.
Teach your children the value of giving. Have them donate used toys and clothing to charity. You might also be able to take a tax deduction.
Start now to control spending for the holidays. With advance planning your chances of not overspending improves greatly, and you might be better able to control the temptation to spend too much as an expression of love.
Spending more than you planned can add stress to the holiday season and after. Try to remember that thoughtfulness can be far more important than price.
For ideas on ways you can celebrate on a budget, secure seasonal employment, sign up for local volunteer opportunities and more. Visit our website at www.washington.umd.edu click on Family and Consumer Sciences then Nutrition and Food Safety for "10 Tips for a Stress-Free Holiday Season." You could also visit the following blog for suggestions on your holiday spending www.consumerfinance.gov/blog/plan-your-spending-to-avoid-holiday-debt.
Lynn Little is a family and consumer sciences educator with University of Maryland Extension in Washington County.