By Jon Lal
Some people like to plan ahead and start their holiday shopping early, while others would prefer to wait until Halloween is over. Either way, there are a few things you can do right now that will help you feel prepared going into the holiday season to spend money on gifts, entertaining and travel. It’s easy to wait until late November or even December to begin thinking about the holidays, but if you don’t have a set budget or money put aside, you might be at risk of overspending and racking up a large credit card balance. Take on some of these strategies and you won’t find yourself with a holiday spending hangover:
Assess your finances.
It’s a good idea to take a big picture look at your finances every few months, so if you haven’t done so in a while, now is the perfect time. See where your money is going, how your spending habits may have changed recently and how much you owe in loans or on your credit cards. Once you have an idea of your financial health, create a place to keep your holiday spending money. If you don’t already have a savings account specifically for the holidays, commonly known to some as a “Christmas Club,” create one. It’s much easier to leave money untouched if it isn’t easily accessible.
Cut costs and save more.
If you just created an account and don’t have any money saved yet, don’t panic. You just took a long look at your finances; did you see where you can cut costs, at least temporarily? Maybe you’ve signed up for one too many monthly memberships over the last year – those can add up. Some movie and music subscription services have an option to “pause” your membership, so you can take a few months off without losing your settings and preferences.
For those expenses you can’t eliminate, see if there are options to scale back. Start using coupons at the grocery store, which are easy to find on coupon and deals websites. Look into the service providers you have been with for years, like car insurance. Are you getting the best deal, or are there cheaper alternatives? Use a comparison website to make sure you’re getting the best rate possible.
Another way to add some extra padding to your new holiday savings account is to sell your stuff. You’re probably going to get a few new gifts in the coming months, so why not make room? Go through your things and gather the gently used items that you just don’t need. If you haven’t worn something in 12 months, will you really wear it again? Did your kids grow so quickly that they only wore things once or twice? You can get money for good condition furniture, clothes and other odds and ends at consignment shops and garage sales. Then, deposit your earnings into your holiday account.
Set a budget.
It’s great to go into the holiday season with extra spending money, but that doesn’t mean you’re not at risk to overspend. If you can, look at who you need to buy for and what you spent in the last few years to determine an approximate budget. This will help you keep your spending in check.
When you lay out your predicted expenses, go beyond the gifts – don’t forget what you need to spend on entertaining, travel and donations.
Last but certainly not least, this is the time to figure out your holiday travel. Don’t wait until the last minute and end up paying a pretty penny for higher fares. CheapAir.com analyzed a year’s worth of data to find out the best time to book airfare, and found that you should purchase your ticket an average of 7 weeks in advance. This is only a guideline, and can vary depending on many factors, but they did advise against buying your airfare too early or too late.
An exception might be when you are planning to travel during a busy time like Thanksgiving – it’s safer then to buy plane tickets even earlier. If you haven’t booked yet and you need to fly somewhere for the holidays, now is the time!