The temperature is beginning to drop, the snow is looming, and I have begun to hear Christmas carols playing on the radio. It must be that time of year again. A time of love and merriment, giving and receiving, and a time to forget the stresses of life and worries that go along with it. Like the snow looming on the horizon, so is the month of January when the bills come due and the headaches begin. The absolute joy of the holidays start to fade and the stress slowly creeps in because we have spent, spent, spent. I am almost positive you are just waiting for my Scrooge-like “Bah Humbug!” to pop out and kill the Christmas spirit that lives in all of us. Of course you can look at it like that, but I say spend as much as you want, give until you can give no more, but plan for it! Christmas is very emotional, tied to memories of days gone by and the joy of opening glistening packages under the twinkling lights of the beautifully decorated tree. It should resemble this. However, like grocery shopping on an empty stomach, we tend to go overboard without realizing what we have done. If we approach Christmas shopping with a plan, then no matter what January brings, at least it will not be stress from the choices we made the previous month.
I know you’re probably sick of me saying “Have a plan”, but I will continue to say it over and over again until I turn blue in the face, keel over and pass out. When I wake up, I’ll continue to say it again and again. Planning is imperative for anything we do in life, but most importantly in our financial lives. If we fail to plan financially, we will only accomplish depleting our resources rapidly until they are extremely low or completely exhausted. All I recommend is to have a plan in place, and try your best to stick to it. Most people do not Christmas shop in January, so the problem is until you shop, you cannot possibly know what you are going to buy. Prices may change, a new and better item may come out, and you may have someone new to buy for throughout the year. I understand this amount is not exact, but having some money set aside going into the holidays reduces your chances of racking up the credit card bill three times over in one shopping trip.
The trick is not needing to know what you are buying in January, but to have an idea of what you would like to budget to spend eleven months down the road. So, setting aside a manageable portion of your weekly or monthly income into a savings account, a cash account or even a coffee can will allow you to cushion the blow down the road. Be realistic in what you save by the amount you have spent in previous years. If you spent $1500 the year before, you know you will need to commit to $29 in savings a week. If $29 a week seems like a lot to save, then maybe you are spending too much on gifts. If $29 is manageable, then you are right on track. By breaking down the amount you spend, you can actually plan for the future and see the positive impact on your pocketbook. Setting a plan in place will get you to your goal with minimal stress and maximum joy in gift giving.
The trap we all fall into is having larger gift giving eyes than what our pocketbooks can handle. This mentality will quickly topple our financial well-being. According to a recent Consumer Reports poll, it that 6% of adults were still dealing with last year’s holiday shopping debt. Translated, that means roughly 13.5 million Americans are still paying for gifts they bought last year. Planning will prevent you from having to deal with the stress and worry of how to pay for last year’s holiday shopping spree. In addition, planning will create a tremendously more joyous January with bills being paid, as well as prevent stress levels from going through the roof. It is alright to spend and bring joy to those you love, just think before you break the bank.