Making holidays bright – and affordable


By Nathaniel Sillin



Already dreading what you’ll spend this holiday season? It doesn’t have to be that way.

Gifts aren’t the only budget-busting culprit during the holidays. The weeks between Thanksgiving and New Year’s are also a peak time for spending on groceries, travel, events, entertainment, energy, clothes and meals out.

Financial advisors recommend you use no more than 1.5 percent of your annual income on holiday spending (http://www.practicalmoneyskills.com/holiday), so consider the following suggestions to keep it under control:

Start with a list and make a budget. Begin your planning by listing every possible holiday expense you’ll face – and don’t stop at gifts. Consult the Practical Money Skills for Life comprehensive holiday budget planner (http://www.practicalmoneyskills.com/yourholidaybudget) to help organize your information and track your spending.

Be open about money trouble. If you are facing financial difficulties during the holiday season, don’t spend to hide the problem. Don’t be ashamed to make adjustments and tell friends and family members that you’d like to temporarily downsize your spending until conditions improve. They might actually appreciate a spending reprieve, too.

Build a bargain-hunting strike force. Let friends and family know you’re looking for particular toys, gifts, foods or decorating items and volunteer to do the same for them. Save and share coupons. Encourage your group to find resources, check prices and share requests and ideas via social media. Results can come back in a matter of minutes.

Evaluate all transportation costs. Do you really need to run out of one or two items at a time? Designate certain days of the week for particular items, keep an eye out for free delivery and see if friends and family might want to share errands. Those with large vehicles or trucks can help move, deliver and even install appliances or electronics if they have the skills to do so. Smart transportation choices extend to car pools or public transportation for events and entertainment.

Leverage your creativity. If there’s something you make or do really well that people love, consider making such accomplishments into gifts. From specialty food items your friends enjoy, to clothing or art, anything done well can be a gift. Don’t rule out lessons or skilled labor as potential holiday gifts, particularly for relatives who can’t afford such services at this time. Smart shopping for ingredients or supplies can make such creative gifts a real money saver.

Build a year-round gift stash. If there are gifts or foodstuffs you can buy on sale and keep for a while, you’ll have a ready source of thank-you gifts for hosts, teachers or co-workers year-round. Set aside a similar area for cards, gift tags and wrapping paper. Also keep in mind that many retailers put holiday-themed items on sale before the holidays are finished. If you think you’ll need these items next year, grab your coupons, take advantage and put those items aside for future gift giving.

Late saving for gifts? Do it anyway. If you don’t have a holiday fund set up, don’t let that keep you from starting one. Every little bit helps. Take 5-10 percent of your next paycheck and set it aside, doing it each week throughout the holidays. If you keep it up, your holiday fund can eventually become an emergency fund to be used for other savings goals, including retirement.

Take notes for next holiday season. Create a paper or digital file where you can collect ideas for next year. Check print and online resources like Consumer Reports for items that can be bought at specific times of the year at a discount so you are able to hide them for the holidays – but remember where you hid them.

Bottom line: Keeping holidays affordable isn’t a challenge when you’re willing to do a little planning, idea-sharing and record-keeping. Make it an activity you can do year-round.

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Nathaniel Sillin directs Visa’s financial education programs. To follow Practical Money Skills on Twitter: www.twitter.com/PracticalMoney.

By Nathaniel Sillin

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