Surviving the Holidays With Your Sanity Intact

The holiday season is a special time. With Charlie Brown on TV and carols on the radio, Image of cookies in the shape of a sleighand an ever-growing list of people to shop for, it’s easy to get carried away.  The pressure to over-shop and overspend when you’re rushing to buy everything on your list can be overwhelming. No worries, though; we’ve got you covered! Read on for fantastic pre-and post-holiday tips to ensure you’ll have a holly, jolly December without breaking the bank.

6 Pre-Holidays Tips

Revise your gift list

Gift giving is a treasured tradition, but chances are, lots of the people you exchange gifts with would be as relieved as you’d be to be taken off your list. Narrow down your gift list. Talk to coworkers and acquaintances about just exchanging cards this year, or make a deal to only exchange homemade or inexpensive gifts.

This way, you can focus on buying special gifts for those closest to you instead of generic gifts for everyone you’ve ever met and their cousins, too.

 Organize a Yankee Swap or Secret Santa

Still got a list that’s a mile long? Try one of these creative solutions! A Yankee Swap or a Secret Santa activity not only saves money and stress, it adds a bit of intrigue and playfulness to the holiday. These swaps are great for family gatherings, office parties and neighborhood get-togethers.  Everyone involved only needs to bring a single gift – and it’s always fun.

Set a reasonable price cap on gifts so no one ends up leaving with a candy cane while the person next to them hauls off a flat-screen TV.  You can check out online tips for organizing a fun and affordable Yankee Swap or Secret Santa.

Bake holiday treats

Another great way to reduce the financial weight of your gift list is to break out the baking supplies and start whipping up your own holiday treats instead of buying gifts.

It’s hard to know exactly what your friend will like as a gift, but no one turns down a tin of homemade holiday cookies! Use your favorite traditional recipes, or try something new and different.

 Make a budget and stick to it

This tip sounds a bit obvious.  After all, we all plan to stick to a budget, right?  But make this the year it really happens!

Don’t set yourself a ballpark budget.  Set an absolute limit to how much you will spend on the holidays this season.  This will encourage you to plan your spending rather than grabbing impulse items as you move through a store.  It will also encourage you to look for great deals, which brings us to our next tip.

 Make use of holiday deals….but don’t get distracted

It’s easy to become hypnotized by deals. Prices drop and we go wild, spending more than we originally intended because we don’t want to miss out on those “crazy, low holiday prices.”

Take a deep breath.  Make use of these deals wisely by buying items on your list at a discounted price.  But don’t be tantalized by the deals to the point that you buy things you don’t really need….or even want.

 Rethink giving

We know that the holidays are all about giving – but giving doesn’t need to mean spending money.  Instead of running to the mall again, think of other ways you can give that will help improve your community, make the world a better place, and truly brighten someone’s holiday.

It’s the perfect time of year to volunteer at local soup kitchens, homeless shelters and charity organizations. This kind of giving doesn’t cost a dime, but can be a memorable and significant experience for all involved.

To find local volunteer opportunities, click here.

Post-Holiday Tips

Use those gift cards

Gift cards are a typical holiday gift, but many people forget they have them, and they go unused.

Put all of your gift cards in your wallet and spend them creatively.  Maybe you don’t care for coffee on the go, but you can buy a package of ground coffee beans at Starbucks and use it at home.  Use that iTunes gift card to rent a movie instead of taking the family out.  Whatever it might be, use these gift cards and appreciate them for what they are – money in your wallet.

Invest in next year’s regifting effort

In addition to gift cards, you’ll probably find yourself with a bunch of gifts you don’t really want.  Some of these can be saved and re-gifted next year or used as birthday gifts throughout the year – scented candles, bottles of wine, bath products, etc.  Even if you don’t actually want it, you can find someone else who does!

Mother’s Day On A Budget

Along with the blooming flowers and blazing sunshine comes the plans for celebrating Mother’s Day. Our moms are always there for us, and now is when we show them how much we appreciate all they do.
However, between flowers, gifts, and dining out, Mother’s Day costs can quickly add up. How do you keep within a reasonable budget while still showing Mom how much she means to you?
Fortunately, it’s easy to save big while celebrating Mother’s Day in style. Here’s how:
1.) Frugal flowers
Nothing says “I love you” like a vibrantly colored bouquet, but those beautiful blossoms can cost a bundle. Save on Mom’s flowers by doing some of the work yourself. Don’t rely on the florist to provide the perfect base for the bouquet – bring your own basket from home or pick up a cheap but pretty vase at a craft or thrift store.
Also, consider shopping your local grocery store or sidewalk stand before visiting a florist. Significant savings – like a bouquet for as little as $10 – can be had by cutting out the middleman.
Lastly, if you are shopping at a florist, call first to find out when their flowers are delivered so you get the freshest of the bunch.
2.) Gift it right
Get creative! Mom would love something personally crafted by you, like a decorated framed photo of a shared memorable moment or a scrapbook of your best childhood memories.
If you’d rather purchase a gift, shop early so you don’t feel pressured into buying something you can’t afford. Also, carefully mine coupon sites like RetailMeNot, Coupons.com and Couponcabin to see if you can snag a deal.
3.) Dining out (or in) for less
Of course, celebrating Mom’s special day isn’t complete without sharing a wonderful meal. But restaurants can be expensive, so don’t make reservations just yet! Maybe Mom would enjoy a home-cooked meal more than an evening out. You can whip up her favorite dishes, set the table royally and enjoy a delicious dinner at home.
Or throw together a family barbecue. Get the grill going for a delectable dinner that’s fun to prepare and even more fun to eat!
If you’ve got your heart set on taking mom out to a restaurant, though, shop around for the best Mother’s Day deals. And, of course, check sites like Groupon or LivingSocial before making reservations.
4.) Plan ahead
It’s not too early to start thinking about next year’s Mother’s Day. Shop the post-Mother’s-Day sales for fantastic deals on greeting cards, wrapping paper, and gifts for Mom.
It’s worth the extra effort to save money on Mother’s Day expenses. After all, no one will be happier to see you saving money than dear sweet Mom!
Your Turn: How do you celebrate Mother’s Day on a budget? Share your best tips with us in the comments!

How Not To Bust Your Holiday Budget


The holiday shopping season is in full swing. The malls are packed with eager shoppers. Offers and promotions are coming from clothing stores, electronics retailers and other shopping sites. They’re probably flooding your inbox, and your physical mailbox is getting overloaded with catalogs from shops you haven’t bought anything from in years, if ever. 

If you’re wondering how you’re going to pay for this frenzy of shopping while keeping your checking account in the black, you’re not alone. According a T. Rowe Price survey, more than half of parents will aim to get everything on their kids’ wish lists this year, spending an average of $422 per child. 

Many of these parents will be paying for these gifts for months, or even years, afterward. But what’s a busted budget next to holiday cheer, right? 

Of course, before approaching any large-cost event, it’s smart to create a budget. Unfortunately, 58% of the parents surveyed admitted that they thought they had created a budget, but didn’t stick to it. Nearly two-thirds admit they spend more than they can afford. The Sym’s clothing-store chain was famous for its tagline: An educated consumer is our best customer. Take a page out of their book and become an educated shopper this holiday season. It will empower you to make informed decisions about your spending before you hit the shops.
 

Short-term effects

Tipping your budget just a bit every once in a while isn’t a disaster. You can plan to spend less the next month or pay off your debt with an expected surplus of funds. But the spending hangover some parents can face from their holiday shopping is too large to be easily forgotten.

Over half the parents surveyed will pay for their holiday gifts with credit cards. Just 61% of them plan to pay off their spending within three months, and 16% say they will pay it off over the course of six months or more. That’s half a year spent catching up on holiday spending!

Think carefully this shopping season before you drop another item into your cart. Is this gift really worth trimming your budget for the next three – or six – months?

Long-lasting effects

Even more alarming than paying off holiday debt for half a year is the one-quarter of the parents who have taken extreme measures to fund their purchases: 11% have used money from their retirement accounts, 14% have taken funds out of their emergency savings and 11% have taken out a payday loan.

While their kids may be delighted with their loot, parents can be paying for it for longer than they think.

Taking $500 out of a 401(k) at age 35 translates into giving up $6,000 that was earmarked for retirement. Parents are forking out additional taxes and penalties to gain access to the money, and are also losing the opportunity for that money to grow.

Your kids may be thrilled that you’re thinking of the here and now, but you’ll pay the price for living in the moment sometime in the future. Make sure each purchase is justified and worth paying off over the long term.

Life Lessons

There’s nothing quite as exciting as unwrapping a present. There’s the thrill of the unknown, of guessing what lies under the colorful wrapping paper, and the delighted whoop when the surprise is something you’ve been hoping to receive.

And this thrill is intensified in children. Kids wait all year for that moment of ripping open their gifts, and as their parents, you want to make them happy. This is why 60% of the parents surveyed claimed they will try to check off every single item on their child’s wish list.
But giving in to all their demands does nobody any favors.
Aside from the financial drain, purchasing every gift your kids have their hearts set on teaches them a host of lessons they’re better off without. Childhood is the time to create lifetime habits and mindsets. Do you really want your kids thinking they can always have everything they want? Do you want them to feel that everything they own must always be the best and most expensive?

Of course, this doesn’t mean skipping all or most of the items on your kids’ lists. But try to trim down where possible. Whether it’s a new toy, electronic device or even their own car; teaching your kids to be happy with a cheaper version, or to forgo one or more items on the list, will be a lesson they will carry for life.

This holiday season, teach your kids that true happiness can’t be bought.

Be proactive

You can beat the budget-busting this season by saving up for the holiday season throughout the year. While it may be too late for this year, it’s never too early to start thinking about next season! Just a little bit of money put aside each month can take you through the holiday season without any long-lasting scars. Sign up for our holiday club accounts, if you haven’t already done so.

Be an informed shopper this holiday season and your decisions will pay off in more ways than one.

Your Turn: How will you fund your holiday spending? Do you plan to buy your kids everything on their lists? Why or why not?