If you haven’t noticed holiday items in the stores yet, you probably haven’t gone shopping lately (hopefully you’ve been saving your pennies instead!). Retailers are expecting holiday sales to increase by 3.7 percent this year, and are doing everything they can to entice consumers to make that happen. They’re on their game to sell, sell, sell; are you on your game to save and spend wisely? If you haven’t started yet, now is the time to create a plan for holiday saving and spending.
How much can you afford to spend?
Do you have a holiday fund in which you’ve saved over the last year? Try to stick with that amount – if you find that you can’t, you know that you should plan to save more for next year. If you haven’t saved anything (or enough) yet, it’s time to start! Make sure to base your holiday budget on the amount you can actually afford, rather than how much you think you need to spend. Find tips on how to save here.
Make a list
Include ALL extra holiday expenses – not just gifts! The cost of wrapping paper, postage for holiday cards, and food for holiday potlucks may seem small but can add up over the course of the holiday season. Eliminate surprises and plan ahead for the big and small budget busters – seeing it all on paper (yes – you need to write or print it out) can help you prioritize and think creatively on how to find the funds for all of the must-do’s, and maybe even some extras. Making a list can also help you avoid impulse purchases – if you stick to it.
Create a strategy
And how, exactly, will you stick to your list? Know before you go! Prepare for holiday spending by comparison shopping, using coupons, taking advantage of sales (only for the items on your list!), and keeping a copy of your budget and your list with you when shopping.
Keep track of your spending
Chances are good that even with the most thorough preparation, unanticipated holiday expenses will pop up. Add those to your list, and save it for next year to have an even more complete list of holiday expenses. Keeping receipts for ALL of your purchases can also help you keep track, as well as enable you (or gift recipients) to make easy returns.
Besides helping you to save and spend wisely, creating a holiday spending plan can help you avoid overspending and taking on costly loans or credit card debt that could take years to pay off (know before you owe!) Holiday deals aren’t really deals if you find yourself paying the purchase price with credit, then added interest charges month after month. Unless you have created a plan to pay off debt quickly, avoid using credit – save instead. Many retailers offer layaway plans that can help avoid the need for charging gifts – these could be a valid addition to your holiday spending plan, but make sure you are aware of all conditions and fees before you commit.
Are you ready? The holiday season will be in full swing before you know it – take the time to make your preparations now! Set a goal. Make a plan. Save automatically – for the holidays!
Laura Roler works for Military Saves, managed by the nonprofit Consumer Federation of America (CFA), which seeks to motivate, encourage, and support servicemembers and military families to save money, reduce debt, and build wealth. Learn more at militarysaves.org.