Visions of sugarplums might be the last thing on your mind right now, but before you know it, you’ll be making your list (and checking it twice) and wondering how the heck you’re going to pay for all those Christmas gifts.
We all know THAT person—the one who brags about having finished Christmas shopping by the Fourth of July. While you don’t necessarily need to go quite that far, there are a few things that can be learned from overachieving Kris Kringles. By spreading out your planning and purchasing, you can definitely save money, and your sanity.
Pay yourself a Christmas allowance
Here’s an uncomfortable assignment: Pull up your December credit card statements and determine how much you really spent on Christmas purchases last year. Now, take that total and divide it by the number of months you have left until Christmas: That’s your Christmas Allowance.
Spreading out Christmas costs over the course of several months is a foolproof trick. You’re less likely to feel the pain of small amounts being taken out over the course of time than the huge lump sum required all at once in December. Skipping a few coffees here and there is much less difficult than, say, not being able to make rent. By setting aside money now, you’ll also avoid the temptation to just put things on credit and deal with it (and all that not-so-nice interest) later.
Here’s how to do it: Every month (or, better yet, every week—it’ll seem like even less money), set aside your Christmas Allowance into a special savings account, into an envelope under your mattress, or in whatever place works for you. Come December, you’ll have your Christmas budget ready to go.
Prioritize with Christmas Goals
It’s time to pull up your Simple account! Now here’s what you need to do: Make a list of your anticipated Christmas expenses. Think gifts for your spouse, hostess gifts, a new Christmas party dress, and Christmas dinner. Once you’ve listed these costs, create Goals for each expense.
With these visual reminders, you’ll now have the opportunity to start contributing to each Goal. This will help you think twice when it comes to other spending decisions: Do you really need a new pair of shoes, or can that money be put toward the Christmas turkey?
This approach will also help you prioritize your Christmas expenses. Gifts for the kids is a Goal that probably deserves more attention than something more frivolous, but maybe you’ll realize that you’d rather contribute money to your vacation Goal than to your new Christmas dress fund. That’s A-OK; it just means that this December, you’ll reuse last year’s dress (tip: Nobody will know the difference), and you can say goodbye to a Goal that wasn’t really all that important after all.
Start shopping today
OK, maybe you don’t need to run off to the store immediately, but you should realize that Christmas shopping doesn’t need to take place in December. Make a habit of buying at least one Christmas gift per month to help spread the cost over the entire year.
Two major perks will come from this technique. One, you’ll avoid overspending on last-minute items that nobody actually wants but that you buy because you feel you can’t show up empty-handed. Two, your gifts will actually be good.
Think about it: You’re out shopping with a friend and they’re oohing and aahing over, say, a plush-looking blanket. The next day, you go back and pick it up. Not only is that friend taken care of, AND you didn’t pay ridiculous marked-up Christmas prices, but that friend is going to be totally surprised and grateful in half a year. The opportunities are endless: What if you picked up some cool, exotic Christmas gifts while you’re on your summer vacation? Or why not take advantage of an epic early fall sale at your mom’s favorite shop?
Cut your decoration bill
Unfortunately, you’ve probably missed out on the post-Christmas décor blowout sales. But there are still plenty of deals to be had on Christmas accessories, particularly if you’re willing to go secondhand.
Keep your eyes peeled on the classifieds and don’t hesitate to check out garage sales; spring cleaning and moving houses often result in people wanting to get rid of their Christmas stuff. You can score some major deals this way.
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