Is it time to start saving for the holidays?

by Terry Fletcher


Along with good cheer, the holidays bring so many expenses — Christmas parties, Hanukkah celebrations, travel, decorations, and groceries. Without a holiday budget, this can get out of hand because all that is on top of holiday gifts, of course! No wonder many Americans sink further into debt during the holidays and now is the time to start thinking about how to start saving for it. ​

This year set a holiday budget and savings goal and get started saving for Christmas as early as possible. By setting a holiday budget and paying upfront, you avoid that post-holiday credit card hangover. The earlier you start, the bigger the nest egg. And by avoiding holiday debt, these can strategies work with your long-term goal of building your savings.

I like to start in March for the coming season, but even a couple of months out, you can do it.

These seven savings strategies (say that five times fast) can help you save for the holidays and avoid holiday debt.

1. Re-examine your budget and expenses

While we tend to think that the price of anything only goes up, that isn’t always true. If you shop around for services that you pay for you will see that sometimes they go down and save a few dollars in the process. Online shopping is great for comparison shopping. When the kids are down at night, here is your time to get your lists, your tablet, and phone out and start searching.

Also, put yourself on a budget. At least give yourself a reasonable figure to stay close to. It will force you to decide, “Do I really need that?” Actually, who am I kidding? “Does my daughter really need that?”

Along the lines of the budget, set a firm budget with the family. I actually put a $50 budget for each family this year who lives out of state. No, not each person, each family. I did not ask, I let them know, this is what we are all doing.

I got some great responses back, as “Well now I have to get creative with that small of a budget”. It just makes for a less stressful family dynamic when everyone has the same budget. No one should feel like they were shortchanged. (don’t forget to account for postage and mail early).

2. Give up something

Giving up one of your little luxuries to buy a gift for someone else is a noble gesture. Set aside what you would spend on your daily latte or Friday night pizza or something that you’re much better off without anyway, like cigarettes. This strategy may be best left for the last few months before the holidays because you may not want to give up your little indulgence forever (unless it’s smoking!).

The most practical way to recoup this cash is to calculate how much you spend on this item, and then deposit that amount into your holiday fund in advance, preferably on a weekly basis.

3. Coupons! (And those gift cards you forgot you had)

People don’t think I use coupons or store credits or even gift cards to get discounts from merchants, but why not? It does not matter what income bracket you are in. If you can save even 10 cents here and there that is a savings that goes back into your pocket not out.

Everything is so marked up, even restaurants, if you find a buy-one-get-one-free, or a free drink with purchase, or percentage off coupons at your favorite store- check expiration dates and save them for your shopping day. Also, make sure they are usable for online purchases. You’d be surprised how many stores now offer that.

Also, ask for a discount. The merchant can always say no, but ask anyway, and ask for specials. I find so much hidden savings by just asking.

For those of you that shop on Black Friday? Consider Cyber Monday. I find that the discounts are even better on some items and so many merchants (hi Amazon Prime) offer free shipping!

4. Count YOUR pennies!

Empty your pockets or purse daily into a change jar. Use collected change to start your holiday fund. If you use a change counting machine, you’ll pay a commission. Instead, let the kids roll it and pay them the commission. It will keep them busy and give them extra spending money for the holidays (something they might ask for anyway!).

To increase savings, don’t hand over a penny when the total ends in $.01. Take the $.99 and add it to your jar. If you make cash withdraws on a regular basis–every payday or each weekend–add any leftover cash at withdrawal time to your change collection.

5. Make extra money during the holiday season

In my book, more money coming is a better solution than less money going out, so I’m adding some ways to make money during the holiday season. We can be so busy during than the holidays though that it can be tough to make more money, but everyone is busy, so there are more people willing to pay for your services.

Holiday seasonal call center jobs from home could bring in some significant income, or charging to assist with putting up Christmas lights, or charging to help back for people who just can’t find the time. Use your social media to let people know what you offer.

6. Eat at home more during the holiday months

Nothing can make for an expensive month more than eating out when it is not necessary. (Refer to our Bunlife blog last month on easy weekday recipes that make for great leftovers during the week at a bargain.)

It will save you so much money, in the long run, to help pay for the holidays. A treat for the kids would be to take an evening later in the season for homemade hot chocolate in a thermos (where is my thermos?) and drive around looking at holiday lights.

Did you know you can buy those Starbucks-like to go cups with lids 12 for $1 at the Dollar Store?

Yeah. And a pack of marshmallows is $0.99 for a whole bag.

7. Set up a holiday savings account

You may be a bit late for this, but a good idea to keep in the vault for next year. Have part of your paycheck direct deposited into separate savings account solely to save for the holidays. Or, if you don’t get regular paychecks, set up an automatic transfer to the savings account. If you are a born spender, take extra precautions to keep yourself from breaking into your piggy bank prematurely.

Don’t get an ATM card with your savings account attached. A trip to the bank will slow any impulse withdraws. Or, consider joining a “Christmas Club.” Some banks still offer these old-fashioned accounts in which an automatic deposit accumulates over the year, and the bank cuts you a check in November.

I’ve been doing this since I was 15. Now my daughter does it, and she is like, “I have money for Christmas gifts!” and doesn’t have to worry about setting aside part of her paycheck.

Citizens Bank still offers this service at a minimal rate because they require a person to make it least a $10.00 deposit per week from their salary or other deposits in order to be active in the club. The majority of businesses that still offer this option require a person to wait for December 1 or later in order to access their money or they wind up paying a penalty. Credit Unions across the country still offer this service in order to maintain business. Check in with your bank to see if they offer this service.

 

Happy start of the Holidays to ALL! Our blog is only going to get more fun as we move into the season.