DeSERANNO News

Vol. 2, Issue 7December 2010

FINANCIAL ARTICLES

Keeping to a Holiday Budget

You have been down this road before. Every year you promise that you will exercise restraint during the holiday season. But then you get caught up in the spirit, and all your good intentions go out the window. And when the bills come, you feel like saying, “Bah, humbug!” But with a little planning and self-control, this year really can be different.

The first rule of controlling spending is to remember that the holidays are not a competitive event. You don’t have to outdo your neighbors, your siblings, your in-laws. There is no relationship between the depth of your love and the cost of your gift. There are endless books and TV specials that make the point that the true meaning of the holidays is the love, not the loot. Remember that when you are tempted to overspend.

The next rule is to start early, because the holidays start early. Write down the main areas in which you expect to spend, and then draw up a budget for each. As much as possible, pay with cash (or its equivalent) rather than credit. But remember: Keeping to a budget doesn’t mean you have to be a Scrooge. Here are some tips for saving money during the season of giving.

Decorations

Before you throw out those lights that don’t seem to work this year, check to see if you are just missing a fuse or a bulb. If you have to replace lights, consider buying the LED version – you will save money on electricity. Go for the tasteful approach; you don’t need to light up your house like an airport runway. And check out the end-of-season sales – which start earlier every year – for something to add to your look next year.

If you want your house to smell wonderful inside, you can bake. Cinnamon rolls or cookies or other treats make a house smell warm and cozy. And as a bonus, you can give some of your baking away to friends and family, which will also save you money on gifts.

Entertaining

The point of holiday entertaining is to get together with people you love, and that can be accomplished with any kind of menu. Prepare food that you are comfortable making, and that will allow you to spend time with your guests instead of in the kitchen. And don’t be afraid to change the traditions a little. Instead of hosting a sit-down dinner for the neighbors, for example, suggest a potluck at your home. Or see if there is interest in going caroling and then coming back for hot chocolate, mulled wine and cookies.

Most people ask if they can bring something when they are invited to a holiday get-together. If you are asked, say yes. For example, let someone else bring the wine or the dessert. Not only will you save money, but you also may get to try something new and delicious.

Cards and Mailing

Many people seem to have given up on holiday cards. But if you still enjoy the tradition, give it a contemporary twist. Send email cards. You can go through an online card site, or you can write your own holiday letter. But instead of printing it out, send it as an email and attach some photos. Even if not everyone on your list uses email, or if you don’t have everyone’s email address, you probably will end up having to write out and mail a lot fewer cards. And as a bonus, you can send them right up to the last minute without being late. (Note: Cull your holiday card list. Get rid of the people you have not heard from in years, or those who only send you a card after they have received yours.)

If you have to mail gifts, mail early to avoid paying higher prices for faster delivery. See if you can take advantage of special delivery deals from online retailers. And think lightweight when picking out gifts to mail.

Gifts

This is where most people blow their holiday budget, so this is where the most discipline is needed. Make a list, and stick to it. Shop around – online and in stores -- for the best deal on the things on your list. Check for coupons or sales. Pass on some of your ideas to relatives and friends when they ask you what they should give the people on your list. And if the children (or adults) in your life hand seem to have way too many requests and expectations, it might be time to explain to them the real meaning of the season.

Consider giving something homemade. Baked goods are always welcome, especially for people who are too busy to bake or have trouble getting around. Pick a photo and put it in a lovely frame. Give “coupons” to be redeemed at a later date – offer to cook dinner for your aunt or help your brother-in-law clean his garage or baby-sit for your neighbor.

Finally, if you don’t know what to buy for someone, make a contribution in their name to a charity you know they will support. (That part is important – remember that the gift is for them, so don’t pick your favorite cause unless it is also theirs.) The charity probably will send some sort of acknowledgement, which you can tuck into a card or a small gift. And as a bonus, you can take a tax deduction for your donation.

© Photographer: Batman2000 | Agency: Dreamstime.com