Why is it that at the end of the year, generally referred to as “The Holidays,” all our financial principles and standards seem to fly right out the window? Many of us spend 10 months of the year saving and investing dutifully, carefully evaluating any purchases, eschewing credit card debt, and monitoring our budgets. Then when November rolls around, suddenly all our good habits go right out the window!
Suddenly spending becomes a completely expected and justifiable occupation. All free time is consumed with spending money–BUYING decorations, BUYING gifts, BUYING special foods and drinks, BUYING cards and knick-knacks, BUYING travel, and BUYING any number of other things that you would hardly even glance twice at, much less spend your hard earned cash on, during any other month of the year.
Sure, most of us need, want, or have to spend more money than usual during November and December. And that’s OK to some extent–especially if you plan for it and can afford it. You might need to travel to see family and friends. You may want to send out Christmas cards, purchase gifts, or dole out bonuses to any number of people in your life. You may even be roped into spending events you’d rather avoid–like one too many Secret Santas or Christmas Ornament Exchanges at work, school, or church.
But much of our spending at this time of year is wasteful and can easily be avoided. Do you really need a professional photographer to take your Christmas card photo? Must you buy a gift for all 11 of your closest co-workers? Will your guests truly appreciate (or even notice) that $16 pecan pie–in addition to the four other pies you already bought for Thanksgiving dinner? Does your 2 yr old really need a dozen gifts? Must you buy yet another cocktail dress for this year’s Christmas party? Are you even looking at any of the prices during your two month long spending frenzy???
I’m not going to give the same old “set a gift budget and stick to it” advice. I find it difficult if not impossible to project what kind of things I might need to buy during this time of year. But here are a few ideas that might help you out:
- Actually look at the price tag before you buy each and every thing for the rest of the year, whether you’re in the grocery store or a department store. Often there are substitutable items that cost half as much a few feet away. Choose them.
- Avoid items marketed for the season (this includes anything that depicts bells, snow, Santa, reindeer, turkeys, pumpkins, angels, etc). You may be tempted by the glittery holiday candles at Nordstrom which are running $20-$40. But you can get regular red and green candles from Target for $5 each instead. And will your display suffer? I think not.
- Don’t overspend on food. Have you ever been to a Thanksgiving or Christmas party that didn’t have at least as much food leftover as was eaten? Well, how about buying half as much in the first place? Also, if you’re willing to make substitutions (eat duck instead of Turkey, for instance) you can really save a bundle.
- Buy fewer gifts. Sure it’s fun to see kids tear into a pile of gifts every year. But all that does is raise the bar for the number you have to buy next year. And guess what they end up looking forward to each year? Not seeing their extended amily or even getting out of school, and especially not remembering the reason for the season–it’s gifts. You’re wasting money and spoiling your kids in one swift motion.
- Buy cheaper gifts. Here’s a secret: the gift wrapping is usually more important than the gift. Buy cheaper gifts and just wrap them up beautifully, especially when making purchases for kids and when buying things that no one will know the cost of. People will probably will abandon the gifts within a month anyway. Buy cheap!
- Make compromises with family and friends. If you have a large family why not openly set limits on who buys gifts for whom or how many can be purchased? I bet everyone at work would appreciate being relieved of the usual gift exchange; suggest it! Explain to your kids that you’re giving smaller gifts this year so that you can afford to make bigger contributions to their college funds. Why not take the kids shopping for a family in need rather than for each other?
There are lots of ways to save money this season, and so many opportunities to do so. Look at this as the easiest time of year to save! And please leave a comment and share some of your Holiday savings tips.
More from Meg at The World of Wealth