It’s hard to think about Christmas shopping during the “off season,” but you really should.
The average household spends $800 on Christmas shopping each year, and if you’re not ready for that expense, it can easily plunge you into debt. Put that $800 on a credit card at 19 percent interest, and it could take you more than 5 years to pay for it.
There are ways to have a less expensive Christmas. But you have to start thinking about it now.
5 Ways to Have a less Expensive Christmas
Analyze what you spent last year. Look back at how much you spent last Christmas. Include all gifts, food, baking, stocking stuffers, tips you gave, photos, Christmas cards, and travel. Make sure to include teacher and hostess gifts, Secret Santa gifts, and any clothing or home decor you purchased for the season. This is where having a Christmas cheat sheet can really help.
Were you able to afford everything last year? Or do you need to find ways to spend less? Did you focus on finding deals and shopping the sales, or did you pay full price? Did you shop locally or online? Did you make gifts or buy them? What would you do differently this Christmas? What would you do the same?
The simple act of analyzing what you spent last year may be just what you need to help focus your attention on sticking to a budget this year.
Make a plan for this year. Once you have an idea of what you spent last year and how you spent it, you’ll need to make a plan for this year. Set a budget that includes each and every holiday-related expense. Make a schedule of what you are going to do when, such as making arrangements to have a family photo taken for the annual Christmas card by October. How many gifts will you give? What gifts will you buy or make this year? Where will you shop for them or when will you make them? How will you pay for them? Write it all down so that you can remember your plan. Making a plan means you are planning to save money.
Start saving now. Once you have those budget numbers in hand, it’s time to figure out where that money is going to come from. You could take your budget total and divide it by the number of weeks until Thanksgiving to determine how much you’ll need to save each and every week to meet your budgeted amount. By setting your deadline for saving as Thanksgiving, you’ll still have time to shop before the holidays. You could also look at ways to bring in extra money, such as by taking online surveys, using Swagbucks, or selling things you no longer need at a garage sale or elsewhere. Throw all your spare change in a jar when you get home, and it will add up to some extra cash for the holidays. Pick up an odd job here and there like babysitting to bring in some extra cash.
Get busy crafting. Winter is the perfect time to work on homemade gift items for family and friends. Look for gift idea inspiration on Pinterest. Work on your sewing, knitting and crafting projects when it’s too cold to do anything else. You’ll finish your gifts long before you have to worry about the crush of the busy holiday season. Watch for end-of-season clearance sales at your favorite fabric and craft stores and use coupons to save on your supplies. If you’re planning on making food gifts, use the time you have now to find your recipes and make your shopping lists. Then watch for sales on the supplies you’ll need that won’t expire until long after the holidays.
Shop all year round. One of the best ways to have a less expensive Christmas is to shop year round for gifts. This allows you to find the best prices possible, and allows you to shop with far less pressure. The flurry of “BUY! BUY! BUY!” is intense during the holiday season, but doesn’t create much pressure in, say, March. By shopping year-round, you’re also able to spread out the expense through the entire year instead of spending a huge amount in one big shopping spree. Keep track of what you’ve bought (and spent) with a notebook or on your smartphone.
Stop being a part of the “overspending on the holidays” crowd and remember the real reason for the season. You’ll have a less expensive Christmas and enjoy it more.