By Alex Temblador
The holiday season is here, which means parents everywhere are making plans for family Christmas gatherings, running to the store for Hanukkah gifts, and hoping that after December, they won’t be broke. Though the holiday season is underway, it’s never too late to implement some financial tips and advice into your holiday routine to help you and your family save a few (or a lot) of money this holiday season and fully prepare you for the one next year.
- Christmas Club accounts.
Most people don’t know what Christmas Club accounts are and if they do, they don’t usually utilize them, which is a pity because they are a lifesaver for financially surviving the holidays.
Christmas Club accounts are a short-term savings account that can be found at most local banks or credit unions. Throughout the year, account holders are able to deposit money daily, weekly, or monthly (whichever you choose) and are unable to access that money until November when the money is then transferred to an accessible checking or savings account.
Even if you just put $20 per month in the Christmas Club account, that means you would have $240 to spend at Christmas, a nice cushion for the holidays. Let me put it in better perspective for you: I make less than $30,000 a year and I was able to put aside $400 in my Christmas Club, more than enough to buy all of the presents I need to buy this season.
Though you couldn’t use it for this holiday season, it’s something that you should consider for next year. It’s never too early to save.
- Make a Budget.
Most people don’t like budgeting, but if you’re going to budget one time a year, this is the time to do it! You don’t want January to come around and realize you don’t have enough money to pay the mortgage or rent.
Here is a simple way to budget for this season. Determine how much you will make this month and subtract it from the total amount of your bills (don’t forget to include estimates for groceries and gas). The remaining amount will be how much you have left over to spend during the holidays. Simple, right?
- Determine how much you’ll spend on each person
After you budget out your holiday spending money, determine how much you plan to spend on each person this holiday season. $50 per person? $70 for each kid and $50 on your spouse? Determining exactly how much you will spend on each person in your family or friends circle will remind you not to go over your limit for each person.
On another note, if after budgeting you notice that you don’t have as much money as you thought you would have to spend on gifts this season, consider cutting down the number of people on your holiday gift list or substituting costly gifts with something else. For instance, just because you have a friend that you usually exchange gifts with every year, doesn’t mean that you are obligated to give them a present this year. If they are a very close friend of yours, they will understand if you are unable to spend money on a gift for them because you are prioritizing your children’s gifts over theirs. Or consider substituting a costly gift for something that’s cheap. Gift them with a $3 bottle of wine from Trader Joe’s, a scarf you knitted, or a homemade pie, all of which are less than $10. Treat them to a matinee movie, cook them dinner, get creative!
- Use Cash
Using cash to buy your gifts is an amazing way to curb the unconscious need to spend more. Pull out your holiday cash and separate it into separate envelopes. Each envelope will contain the amount of cash that you can spend on each person during the holiday season. When the cash runs out—you’re done!
- Be willing to say no.
The holiday season is the season for giving…within your means. Some people are bombarded with three or four Secret Santa gift exchange propositions such as from their work, church, with their friends, etc. Be willing to say no to things during the holiday season that you can’t afford. If you can’t afford to participate in every Secret Santa going on in your life, it’s okay to say no. Family is a priority during the holiday season and more importantly, after the holiday season when you need to be able to financially support them.
- Coupons and sales!
Almost every store in the world has sales during the holiday season. You can absolutely buy everything on your holiday list during a sale, it just takes a little bit of your time to find those sales. Sign up for mall’s newsletter or the weekly ads from your favorite stores to find out which stores are having sales and when you need to go.
Better yet, head to the sale rack for many of your gifts. Granted this is not always possible, as your child might want that brand new Frozen toy, however, if you plan on buying clothes, shoes, appliances, and household items, there is a high chance that you can find those items on sale.
Don’t forget to use your smartphone and apps to help you save during the season. The Shop Savvy App (available on Android and in the Itunes store) can send you notification of local sales and allows you to price match the item to others stores in the area by scanning bar codes.
Last but not least, look for coupons and promo codes before buying anything! Be sure to do a quick search on your phone before heading to the checkout. Just input in Google, Bing, or whatever search engine that you use: “[Store name] coupon.”
If shopping online, look for promo codes which are essentially discounts and coupons that you can use when buying purchases online. Search: “[Store name] promo code.”
Retailmenot is a great site for coupons!
- It may be worth waiting to buy that very large and expensive gift.
Though you may want to surprise your spouse with a large home appliance on Christmas morning or a new video game for your kids, sometimes it is worth waiting after the holiday season to purchase these items.
After the New Year, many stores will put certain items on sale so as to welcome newer models in February and March. Check out the chart below to find out the best time to buy certain items and how you can save quite a bit more after the holiday season. If you still want to do something special for your loved one, consider wrapping a homemade coupon in a present that reads, “Good for 1 video game purchase in January.”
- Enjoy the holidays with alternatives.
The holiday season isn’t just about gift giving, it’s also about holiday activities and traditions, many of which can be pricey. So consider alternatives. Here are some examples of free or low cost holiday season activities:
- Send your holiday cards by e-mail or through Facebook and save on postage, printing costs, and cards. (free)
- Have a friend or family member take your holiday photos at home rather than spend money on a professional photographer. (free)
- Instead of buying hot chocolate at a holiday event, bring your own in a fun mug.
- Meet Santa at a free event. Look for Santa at free events at churches, community centers (i.e. Boys & Girls Club), and sometimes the mall.
- Encourage your children decorate the home for Hanukkah with homemade Stars of David or menorah. drawings.
- Borrow holiday books and movies from a local library. (free)
- Have the family hop in the car and go check out amazing light displays in your city—for free.
- Have your children make ornaments or string popcorn or Kix cereal together to decorate the tree. This tends to be more special and fun for kids anyways.
- Don’t buy a Christmas holiday CD or album on iTunes—use Pandora for free!
- Make a snowman in the front yard. (free)
- Go caroling. (free)
- Most major cities and even small towns have free holiday events such as parades, tree lightings, concerts, festivals, and plays. Google or check your local newspaper.
- Holiday baking can be fairly cheap: buy pre-cut generic brand cookies rather than making from scratch chocolate chip cookies from Nestle. On the other hand, making your own pies can be sometimes cheaper than buying a pie from certain grocery stores.
If you and your extended family decide to get together during the holiday season, encourage a potluck. With each person bringing one dish, you can effectively save a lot of money. If you really want to save, volunteer to make homemade mashed potatoes as they are one of the cheapest dishes at about $0.23 per serving.
- Secret Santa
Secret Santa can be a viable option for parents to save money. This is a great way for parents to save money on buying gifts for their brothers, sisters, and parents or within their own circle of friends. Rather than buying a gift for both of your brothers, your sister, and your mother and father, or for every single friend that you have, suggest doing a Secret Santa. By doing this, you can just spend money on one gift rather than on five!
- Pick up extra hours.
Though no one likes to work more hours during the week, it is a great option to financially survive the holidays. Overtime pay can be worth it if you’re adding a bit more spending money to your holiday budget. If you are unable to work extra hours at your full-time job, many stores hire additional help during the holiday season.
- Teach children that this is a time for giving, not getting.
As a parent, you might want to give your child what they ask for so as to make their holiday special, however, it is not always possible to do so. Sometimes to financially survive and be able to feed your children or keep a roof over their head, you will be unable to buy that very expensive toy that they’ve been begging from you all year. The holiday season is a good time to help them understand that there are financial limits within your household. It’s also a great time, if not the best time, to teach your children about what the holiday season is about: giving.
Take this season to show them what giving is all about by volunteering at a soup kitchen, donating to Toys for Tots, sponsoring a foster child’s Christmas, having your kids make Christmas cards for troops stationed overseas, caroling at a retirement home, or putting a few coins in those red Salvation Army buckets.
The post A Parent’s Guide to Financially Surviving the Holidays appeared first on The Next Family.