Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Budgeting for Christmas and the Holiday Season

It is pretty early yet but we are approaching the holiday season so it is time to start thinking about how to not let it ruin our finances. I am going to come out and say I don’t think this one is really that hard. Seriously it is checkers, not chess.

Total Expenditures:
I am not going to tell you how much or how little to spend. Provided that you are not going into debt and are continuing your other financial plans (bills, investments, savings, and such) on schedule then spend as much as you want to.

Events and Gatherings
Most people with normal lives have jobs, family, friends, a couple clubs or associations and who knows what else. This means a slew of parties and activities and such. Many of these things are cheap but some cost money, potentially a lot of it. Being choosy about what you really want to be involved in is a darn good start. Do you really need to go to the annual hockey game and bar night with 3 guys you barely liked back when you worked with them a decade ago? If you do in fact like the guys but don’t want the expense suggest a cheaper activity, possibly at an alternate time. You might just find they could cut out the expensive evening also.

Gifts:
This is where I could say something about the spirit of Christmas and family and all that but I am not going to. Gifts are a big one that gets a lot of people. I think that in general it is a lot easier to be reasonable in a family where other people are reasonable. Both Wifey and I are part of solidly reasonable families. We don’t buy gifts for random uncles and cousins or anything but with both of our families and some close friends the list gets long in a hurry even when we are pretty strict about it. Here are some strategies I have found work to keep everybody happy and costs in line.

With pretty much everybody we exchange gifts with there is an (approximate) agreed upon value. Often it is unspoken and other times it is spoken. In my family over the last few years we have had kids born and people get married and various income changes. We have had discussions about how these various events affect gift giving.  At times when things are particularly tight for an individual we have found that giving people a heads up that for whatever reason gift giving is going to be a bit lighter than normal works really well. Here is a hint, they know it already and don’t care. I don’t know anybody who wants somebody close to them to hurt their self financially to give gifts. The emphasis is on making sure nobody gets unpleasantly surprised, has an awkward moment or hurt feelings.

Budgeting for Gifts:
You certainly want to plan for this one and might want to save a bit of money out of every paycheck for a couple months if money is tight. I and then we did this for a long time. In the last couple years our income has gone up and our expenses have gone down which gives us more disposable income. That coupled with our relatively modest gift giving means we don’t need to save up this year.

My advice is that you (or you and your spouse) figure the total amount you have to spend on gifts, give it a 10% haircut and then decide how to divide it up figuring about how much you want to spend on each person. My experience has been that if you plan to spend 25 bucks a person some gifts will be 21 and others 28 so it sort of averages out and with the 10% set aside you have a small cushion. We have used both cards and cash for gift shopping but typically use cards. If you don’t have the discipline to do that then take an envelope of cash to the store.

Tipping: I hear about this on the TV every year and to be honest I don’t get it at all. Is this some sort of an east coast thing? Is it a big city thing? The list of people they talk about tipping and the amounts are staggering to me. I know folks typically make more money over there (on paper at least as it is largely eaten up by much higher cost of everything) but it seems nuts to me. My folks used to give our paperboy a card with a few bucks if he had done a good job and I think MIL gives a bigger than normal type to her hair dresser around the holidays but both of those are for one person and are a small amount (20 or less I think). Maybe the news is totally out of reality but it seems like some folks are sending giant wads of cash to all kinds of people. Maybe it is a cultural difference but it seems ridiculous to me. We don’t tip anybody just because of Christmas.

Giving:  Times are really hard for a lot of folks right now so consider that in your financial planning. If you can afford it and want to then good for you, if not that is fine also. We do gift giving for a few kids via those tree things. In general we are cheap and I am heartless (Wifey has a big heart but is also cheap so that keeps it reasonable) but little kids shouldn’t have a bad Christmas because their parents are having a hard time or just plain suck at life.  If memory serves me correctly we have also done some food bank donations in the past. Both are causes we will continue to support in the future.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Ways to cut down the Christmas budget - give gifts only to the children, and for the adults, treat them to a favorite homemade snack food or dessert. Last thing a lot of us need is something else to put on the shelf and dust occasionally. And yes, its the thought that counts.

I used to give my family gift cards to restaurants, but as they get older, they don't like going out to eat very often - they are appalled at the high prices as is.

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