The bad news: this won’t be the year we get to do our debt-free scream (you Dave Ramsey fans know what I’m talking about). The good news is, we will continue our tradition of coming out of the holiday season debt free! By saving over several months and using some creative workarounds, there will be no financial hangover for us come January 1. Here’s how we’re doing it:
- Consider a gift exchange with immediate family. Once you and your siblings are all grown up and married with kids, the Christmas shopping list explodes exponentially. It’s hard to know where to draw the line: do we buy just for the kids? Do we still buy presents for our parents? Before your wallet explodes (and any hurt feelings happen), start a conversation with your family, even as early as September, and propose a gift exchange that works for you. You could decide to draw names for the adults and still buy for the kids, do a gift exchange among all family members, or still buy for everyone but set a price limit. Chances are good that there are others in your circle who want to simplify their giving and/or streamline their budgets, but are afraid to rock the boat when it comes to tradition. No matter what you decide, don’t forget that Nana is always entitled to spoil her grandkids with whatever she darn well wants to, no questions asked.
- Get creative with where you shop for kids’ gifts. Who knew? I picked up some great brand-new Melissa and Doug items for cheap at the Just Between Friends sale last month. They also had tons of books, videos and CDs that would have made great gifts under the tree. Looking for new toys and gear for your preschoolers and up? Try the Reno-Sparks Baby Swap group on Facebook. The kiddos outgrow stuff so fast, you can find really great deals on nearly new activity centers, easels, outdoor play items and lots more. I’m also continuing an approach I first tried last year for taming spending for my daughter: sticking to buying something she wants, something she needs, something to wear and something to read.
- Make a list and check it twice – and then one more time. A major budget buster for us in the past has been all the extra, forgotten and last-minute gifts we’ve purchased. Oh crap – teacher gifts for preschool. Dang! Just got a bottle of wine from the neighbors and don’t have anything on hand for them. And who can forget holiday tips for the hairstylist, dog groomer, house cleaning service – apparently, I can. Even extra spending for holiday potlucks, Christmas parties and cookie exchanges can add up. While we now plan ahead and pencil those in to our Christmas budget, I have also found it helpful to go back and look at my online banking and Google calendar, not only to get a clue into what I spent last year, but also to double check for anything I may have overlooked for this year.
- Make a plan with your partner and stick to it. Many times over the last few years, my husband and I have each agreed not to purchase anything for each other for Christmas (a heartfelt card is always expected, however). Sometimes it’s because we’ve already gotten some toys on Black Friday; other times, it’s because we had a big trip or other special occasion during the year. And it has yet to happen that both of us actually stick to the agreement. One of us will find something and just can’t resist buying it for the other…or, when we’ve actually agreed to exchange presents, we screw it up when one of us goes way over the set budget. This has made for some awkward Christmas mornings, not to mention the impact on our bank account. So on this one, do as I say, not as I’ve done – talk openly with your partner about your expectations and budget, and then stick to the plan!
Here’s to happier giving and receiving this holiday season!