Yup, I said it. Christmas. Or Hanukkah. Or Winter Break. Whatever you celebrate or call it, the winter holiday season is expensive. And it is now just three months away, depending on when your expenses start. Mine seem to start in November. I know most of you are still enjoying the last days of summer, but it is not to early to start planning.
I’ve written about holiday expenses before, and I’ll probably write about them again, because they can cause such a mess in a family’s money plans. Even worst, the holiday financial hangover often extends well into the new year, with credit card bills and other late expenses carrying over to mess up your best New Year’s intentions.
The first key to surviving the Christmas cash crunch is knowing all the things on which you’ll be spending. Your list will be different, but here’s a list for you to start brainstorming:
- baking ingredients
- holiday cards and postage
- special outfits
- tape, gift wrap and ribbon
- Christmas tree and decorations
- teacher gifts
- other household decorations
- tickets to entertainment, such as The Nutcracker
- family photos
- dry cleaning for special clothes
- hostess gifts
- gifts for friends
- charitable donations, including purchases such as Angel Tree presents
- turkey, ham, roast beef for the main meals
- extra electricity for those lights
- family gifts
- plane tickets or gas for travel
- hotel rooms for travel
- food for travel
- tips for people who provide you with service throughout the year
- entertaining food and drink
- pet boarding or care, if you travel
Wow. I’m feeling a little worried just looking at this list. However, the next key is to tackle these costs head on. Write down your estimate of costs, and then figure out how to whittle them down. Where to trim is a very personal decision: some of us would rather give up gifts than cut our Christmas card list, while others will gladly pass up the family photos to afford to entertain others.
Once you’ve got your list, look at your resources. In smart years, I’ve started saving for Christmas in January. This year, not so much. In fact, not at all. But starting now is much better than looking at all these expenses in November and wondering how you are going to magically squeeze hundreds of dollars out of your budget in just one month.
It is hard to be merry when you’re worried about money. Planning can’t make the money magically appear, but it can help you to have a much better handle on the situation. And that always brings peace.