It’s easy to go overboard during the holidays; parties, travel, decorations, and gifts can all put a sizable dent in your budget if you’re not careful. The good news is you can stay ahead of your holiday expenses with these handy money management tips:
Make a List of Holiday Expenses
Just like Santa Claus, you should be making a list and checking it twice to plan out your expenses in advance of the holidays. According to Consumer finance expert Kevin Gallegos, your expense list should include each gift recipient as well as the costs for:
- cards and postage
- entertainment, including food and drink
- special garments
- child care
- related travel expenses
“And don’t forget to account for year-end tips for mail carriers, babysitters, housecleaners, hairdressers and other service providers,” he says.
Create a Budget
Once you have your holiday expenses mapped out, it’s time to crunch the numbers. “The number one way to manage and control your money is to create and use a holiday budget,” Gallegos says. “Keep it simple. Use one of the many free apps or online budgeting software programs, a spreadsheet or pencil and paper.”
Pay Yourself First
“The first person you should be putting on your payroll is yourself,” says Christopher McGill, president and CEO of East River Bank in Philadelphia. “The easiest way to save is to set a designated amount of money from every pay period aside for savings and investment. A good goal to shoot for is 6%. Do this before you pay any other bills, and make it a priority.”
Spread Your Expenses
“Gift-wise, retailers typically start offering deep discounts much earlier than Black Friday, so have your gift list ready to pounce on deals whenever they’re advertised,” advises Coupon Sherpa’s Kendall Perez. “And if you’re hosting holiday dinners you can stock up on pantry staples like potatoes, onions and canned goods when they go on sale. That way you won’t be scrambling for the last few morsels of inventory or fighting the crowds for coveted menu items.”
Divvy Up Unexpected Income
If you’re one of the lucky ones, perhaps you have extra cash coming your way around the holidays. McGill offers a strategy on how to handle mini-windfalls. “While that 50-inch flat screen might seem like a good idea now, you should stick to the Rule of Thirds: Take one-third and invest it or put it directly into your savings, take another third and put it towards a past debt, then take the final third and treat yourself.”
Keep Your Credit Card in Check
You may be tempted to use your credit cards around the holidays — after all, the perks and points can beneficial — but you have to stay committed to paying off the balance as soon as you receive the bill.
“Don’t buy more than you can pay off in full every month. Period,” Gallegos advises. “That may result in a leaner, more frugal holiday, but less credit card debt — and a clearer conscience — in the New Year.”
Credit coach Jeanne Kelly also chimes in with an important holiday credit card tip. “My biggest tip for people during the holidays is to be careful not to fall for the discount for opening a new credit card at the cashier,” she says. “Some people know they want to purchase a house in the New Year, but the new account hitting the credit report and the new inquiry can dip the credit score and cost them a lot on an interest rate for a new home loan.”
Stretch Your Holiday Budget
Gallegos provides a few tips to make the most of your holiday spending money.
- Join a cash-back club. You can receive cash back on your online purchases by joining groups like the Cash Direct Club, Swagbucks, or Rakuten.
- Plan shopping trips. Map out which stores to visit in what order, and what to shop for at each.
- Shop with cash or a debit card. Studies have found that people spend 15-20% more on purchases paid with a credit card.
- Check credit card statements for rewards points. Then visit the rewards web site to convert rewards into gifts, cash or gift cards.
- Consider group gifts. Coaches, managers and sometimes, family members, can be ideal recipients.
According to Perez, “Using discount gift cards as currency is a sneaky way to save and deepen your discounts when you shop the sales.”
Fortify Your Smartphone
“Your smartphone can be incredibly helpful in keeping you on budget during the holidays,” Perez says. “Gift-list apps such as Santa’s Bag keep desired items and budgets at your fingertips,price-comparison apps such as RedLaser and ShopSavvy will ensure you get the best deal in town, and coupon apps like Coupon Sherpa will help you knock down the price of gifts.”
Avoid Shipping Fees
Shipping fees are the most annoying part of online shopping. But there’s no need to pay the post office when free shipping opportunities abound. “Most retailers will offer free shipping during the holiday season, with the highest concentration of stores waving all minimum order requirements on Saturday, December 14th, which is the date of this year’s Free Shipping Day,” Perez says. She also suggests checking deal sites and signing up for e-newsletters so you’ll know when your favorite store is waiving delivery fees.
Photo Credit: kevin dooley