Christmas in November

We almost, almost watched a Christmas movie this weekend. Matt started to turn it on for the kids. “NOOOOOOO”, I pleaded. “Christmas is still 55 days away. I can’t do it.” Now, I love Christmas so much and I am usually the first one diving in. Our tree is up the day after Thanksgiving (Nov. 25th for my SA friends) and I just love the whole season. However, the season has come a month early this year. The stores are so desperately hoping that the Christmas season is going to save them that they just decided to go ahead and start early. But it just feels like we are skipping ahead and missing the now. I love anticipation and looking forward to things, but if you start the party too early… it starts feeling really long by the time you get there.

However, while I may be boycotting Christmas movies in October or even early November, I have already budgeted for Christmas and have even started buying presents. It may be too early to start celebrating, but it is never too early to make a plan and to save money. If you haven’t yet done it, I would like to encourage you to sit down and make a budget for yourself for Christmas. I do a simple spreadsheet in a program like Excel. I make a list of everyone that I am going to buy presents for in the first column. Then in the second column I set a budget for each person’s present. I note present ideas in the third column and then in the fourth column I track how much I actually spend.

Excel has a great feature that if you highlight the column of your spending and then go to the tool bar at the top and click on the Sigma letter (looks like a funny shaped E) it will add everything together in the column for you. It will put the sum of your numbers in the next box in the column. This lets you know exactly what you are looking at as your total spending for Christmas.

After you have worked out a feasible budget for Christmas presents, it is important to also make a budget for Christmas travel and entertaining. If you are going to be traveling to family over Christmas, you will want to make a detailed budget for your trip which should include food, lodging, gas, air fare, snacks, entertainment while there, etc. However, what many people fail to budget for when planning for Christmas is the cost of having family come to you. While it is much cheaper than traveling, it can actually eat up your budget so quickly when you don’t plan for it. Just in the cost of extra food, you will be spending quite a bit more than usual. There are also family activities and extra gas. It is difficult to gage how much to budget for the cost of hosting your family, but be generous. It is better to have money left over that you can put into savings, or take your wife out to dinner with because she survived her in-laws, or just finally have a year where you leave the holidays with no regrets and no debt.

Planning ahead will help you to not resent your company, and will help you to start the new year on great financial footing. So here are a few more tips for making your holiday a very happy and budget friendly time:
1) Don’t forget about the tree ~ if you buy a real Christmas tree each year, don’t forget to include that cost into your Christmas budget. If you have an artificial tree, try to think ahead to what you might need to purchase this year, like did you break the angel last year?
2) Remember the trimmings ~ When Matt and I first were married we realized that we had no Christmas ornaments. All the memories from our childhood were still at our parent’s house and we were starting a life together. So we decided to buy each other an ornament each year. We decorated the rest of our tree with inexpensive ribbon and balls. It wasn’t glamorous but that was perfect and just made the memory sweeter. When the kids came along we included them in the tradition. Our tree is now so full of precious memories that we only buy one for our family. If you are just starting out, this is a great idea for cutting down the cost. You don’t have to buy everything all at once. Just buy one Christmas decoration this year and one ornament. Let those decorations be meaningful to you and pretty soon you will have a Christmas full of meaningful memories rather than just the clutter of Christmas stuff…. But just remember to include it in the budget. Those ornaments can get pricey, even just for one.

3) Plan your Christmas meal ~ So much of the trimmings for Christmas and Thanksgiving are on sale right now. There are coupons in this week’s Sunday paper for all kinds of baking goods and supplies for Christmas cooking. If you plan ahead and start buying your Christmas meal a little each week, then it will not be such a huge blow at the end. Try to catch sales on items that you will need. You have 8 or so weeks to watch for discounts, and every dollar that you save on Christmas groceries is more that you will have to give to your friends and family.

4) Don’t forget the stocking stuffers ~ For a few years in the beginning of our marriage, I forgot to fill the stockings. In fact, I have only gotten good at it in the past couple of years. But one thing I have learned is that it can be just a stocking full of budget blowing stuff, or it can be meaningful. On years when I would forget, I would sometimes remember on Christmas Eve day and be out shopping just for the stocking! And you always spend more money when you are buying on a time crunch. In recent years I have started budgeting for the stocking fillers and then buying little things as I think of them or see them on sale in the stores. I keep all of the stocking fillers in the their own bag and then I know exactly what I have. I have been able to cut down the cost and make each person’s stocking more meaningful. Also, a great tip if your husband consistently forgets your stocking is to let him off the hook and find a friend whose husband is also “Christmas challenged” and fill each other’s stockings. It is no fun to fill your own stocking and it is also not fun to make your husband feel guilty on Christmas morning. This is a great solution to be a blessing to a friend and to actually be surprised yourself.

So, I hope these little tips helped, or at least were interesting. I know I will be writing more on this topic come December. But in the mean time, make a plan!! Christmas doesn’t have to kill your budget, but it is guaranteed to do just that if you don’t have a plan.
God bless~