By Cindy Morus
Are the bills from last year's holidays still around to greet you as this year's festivities roll around? Or maybe you're just happy they were paid off over the summer. Do you remember promising yourself it wouldn't be that way this year?
Try making your New Year's resolutions in November and avoid the holiday spending blues in January. By having a firm spending plan for how -- and how much -- you'll spend for the season; your first greetings of the new year are less likely to be from the credit card companies. And you might find the holidays are more relaxed, meaningful, and enjoyable as a result.
No single holiday spending plan is right for everyone. That decision is driven more by your values and customs, than your income. Start by thinking about what's important to you and your family at this time of year.
Looking back on holidays, time together is often the thing we cherish most. Yet we often let it trickle away rushing from store to store, trying to find the perfect gifts (which probably won't be remembered a year later), burdened by the knowledge that we'll be paying off this few short weeks for months to come.
So ask yourself how important the size of those gifts really is to you, your friends, and family. Your loved ones would never want to place you in financial jeopardy, but that's often what happens at this time of year. If you think you may be spending too much during the holidays, try this rule of thumb: If you spent more than one percent of your after-tax income on holiday gifts, you may be spending too much. For example, if your annual after-tax income is $36,000, your spending would be $360.
If that figure took you by surprise, here are a few resolutions to help you get your holiday spending in line:
Get real. The holidays are the season of unrealistic expectations. Don't expect them to do too much and mean too many things. And don't try to pack so much in that you're running from place to place, with no time to enjoy what is supposed to be a happy time. It's OK to turn down a few party invitations, delegate some tasks to other family members or spend a little less time shopping this year if it means you’ll have more time to enjoy the things you choose to do.
Plan to avoid using credit. People spend about 30 percent more using credit cards than cash. This year, create a spending plan listing all the people you need to buy for and how much you will spend for each one. Also be sure to make a list of other expenses including decorations, cards, postage, hostess gifts, gifts for teachers and other helpful people, travel and extra food. Total it all up and ask yourself if that's what you really want to spend this year. If not, set a spending cap and plan now to trim those expenses -- before you start spending.
Change the way you give. Are you exchanging gifts with the neighbors, your golfing pals, or the couple you have dinner with each month? You might want to consider giving that up. Talk with them ahead of time and tell them you want to simplify. You may be doing them a favor, as well as yourself.
Look at family giving, too. Are you buying gifts for a large group of family members? Instead, try encouraging a family gift drawing. Others may be interested in making changes, too.
Scale down. Go for value instead of price with a gift that has special meaning, like a framed picture for grandparents or a small charitable donation to a favorite cause.
Get the kids involved. One thing I did with my children when they were very young was a field trip to the toy store. They could go through the store and list anything they wanted -- but only three things could stay on the list at one time. This taught them to make choices and decide what was really important to them. Since Christmas was still weeks away, they also learned "delayed gratification." Then we'd go to lunch together and make a day of it.
Another thing we did was to take $20 each and go grocery shopping for a less fortunate family. We'd use coupons and check over the sales ads. We'd try to get an entire holiday dinner for $20. It was always a challenge and they came up with some creative ideas for making sure "their" family had as much as possible.
Keep in mind, in years to come, your children are more likely to remember the time you spent with them at the holidays than the presents you gave them.
Start early. With this year's spending now firmly under control, it's not too soon to start thinking about next year. A few easy steps throughout the year can make next November and December a lot less harried.
1. Set aside a fixed amount for gifts each month. Decide how much you want to spend on holiday gifts next year and divide it into monthly amounts.
2. Keep a shopping list throughout the year with a list of items that might make good gifts. As the months go by, watch for sales and stash your gifts for later. (Just be sure you remember where you put them.) And make sure you keep track of your holiday spending throughout the year.
Spending less money and more thought on the holidays can redefine "Happy Holidays. Wishing you and your family all the best this Holiday season!
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