Build Up Your Holiday Gift Budget in Just Two Short Months
Can you believe that Black Friday is just a month away? It’s the biggest shopping day of the year and there will be countless deals to take advantage of to ramp up for the holiday season. After that, you have just under a month until Christmas. How does your holiday budget look this year? Have you been saving money for the holidays throughout the year or are you just now starting to seriously think about it?
Either way, the last thing you want to do this year is rack up another credit card bill just to buy gifts and maybe pay for some travel. If you do, you’ll be like millions of other Americans who find themselves with a bad financial hangover come January. So, with just two short months until Christmas how can anyone save up enough money to pay for the holidays?
Save $50 a Week Starting Right Now
Starting today, put $50 in a savings account meant for holiday spending. Do it right now! If you already have a savings account you can just use that, but it’s even better if you create and designate a new account strictly for this purpose so that the money doesn’t mysteriously disappear as it gets spent on other things. A good way to start is to open up an online savings account.
What will $50 a week add up to by Christmas? About $400. How many presents does $400 buy? It depends on who you’re buying for, but that’s a good chunk of change that can put a dent in your holiday budget. If you have to travel to visit family that could even cover your airline ticket. Either way, by tucking away just $50 a week from now until Christmas you can have a nice cushion set aside to use as you begin buying gifts.
Want to do one better? If your spouse or partner also works have them save $50 each week. Now you’ve just created an automatic savings plan that will put $800 in your account by Christmas. That isn’t chump change and it can really make a difference this holiday season.
Yes, You Can Afford $50 a Week
I know what you’re saying. We’re in a recession, money is tight, and there’s just no way to squeeze $50 out of my budget each week. Unless you’re already the most frugal person in the world and there is literally not a single penny left to be saved, there are plenty of ways here and there you can come up with a few dollars a week over the next two months.
1. Ditch or reduce your TV services for two months.
Sure, you’ve heard this a million times. Cutting back on your TV costs can mean big savings. Well, the reason you keep hearing it is because it’s true. But let’s look at the next few months specifically. Usually November and December are very busy months for most people. With all of the holiday travel, entertaining, shopping, and things that go along with the holidays that means you’re spending less time at home to actually watch TV. So, if you won’t have much time to enjoy your premium cable or satellite TV services you might want to downgrade for just a few months. If you reduce your package by $25 a month or cut out a premium channel or two until January that might save another $15-$30 a month. Total savings for just two months of fewer TV options could amount to $10-$15/week.
2. Eliminate just one meal out each week.
Ok, if you already make every single meal at home and never eat out this might not apply to you, but for most of us we grab a meal out at least a few times a week even if it’s just a quick lunch. But this is one of the easiest ways to save some money. Even if you only spend $5 or $6 a few times a week for lunch if you were to cut just one of those out and bring leftovers or a snack from home you instantly save that money.
Even better, if you regularly go out for dinner a few nights a week you can realize even bigger savings. Even a $15 meal at a casual dining resturant can add up to over $20 after a tip and a drink other than water. By just staying home one night a week and fixing a meal yourself you can probably do it for a fraction of the cost yielding a total savings of $10-$15 each week. If you’re married, remember, your spouse has to eat too and if you’re going out you’re spending twice as much while cooking at home usually doesn’t mean double the price so it’s an even greater savings.
3. Entertain at home instead of going out.
Who doesn’t like to have a good time with friends and family? Well, who says entertainment has to mean going out to eat, catching a movie at the theater, or some other costly night on the town? For the next month or two try ditching the entertainment nights out and do some entertaining of your own. Like to catch a movie every once and a while? Invite some friends over, pop some popcorn and have guests bring snacks and you can have a group of people watch a movie for nearly the cost of a DVD rental.
If playing games is more your thing you can organize a game night. Maybe it’s cards, poker, or just board games, but it’s a lot of fun to get people over and have a good time playing games that don’t even cost anything. And if you tell everyone to bring a dish to pass you’ve just killed two birds with one stone! No money spent on cooking dinner or going out to eat and no money spent on entertainment. The savings from just having one entertainment night at home could easily be $50 or more. Do this a few times before Christmas and you’ll probably save $100.
4. Only buy things that are on sale.
When you go grocery shopping, try to buy only things that are on sale. If you’re stocking up on some meat for the week and you see that pork chops are on sale but chicken breasts are not, don’t buy the chicken anyway just because you felt like chicken. Stick to the pork and substitute it for chicken in a dish or simply make a dish that works with pork instead. Same thing goes for produce. If a certain type of apple is on sale versus another type you normally buy, give the one on sale a try. Or if Yukon gold potatoes are on sale instead of Russets you should opt for the Yukon. The savings realized on produce and meat products can easily amount to a few dollars per item when bought on sale. Not only that, but it’s a great way to try new foods and introduce you to different items if you stray from your standard fare and opt for whatever is on sale. The total savings from buying only sale items at the grocery store can easily amount to $10-$20 each week.
5. Saving on holiday items themselves.
While I’ve highlighted a few ideas to save money each week on regular expenses, let’s not ignore the money spent on the holiday items themselves. First, start shopping early. If you have a gift in mind already it might not make much sense to wait until Christmas gets closer. Keep your eye out for sales right now. If you can save 10% on something now and not have to hassle with fighting the crowds as the holidays draw closer it could be the best 10% you ever saved. Also, shop online. It’s a lot easier to shop from the comfort of your home on your own time rather than hitting the stores and searching for items. So, go online and start pricing out the gifts you’re looking to buy and find the best deals. You can then use this information to comparison shop if you do want to check out some of the regular stores.
Finally, don’t go overboard with wrapping the gifts. Guys, raise your hand if you’re lazy and pay for a gift box or wrapping service. I’ve been guilty of this in the past, but that’s what I get for waiting until the last minute to do my shopping. Instead of paying to have your items wrapped you can buy a roll of wrapping paper for a couple bucks and do it yourself. It might not look as nice, but come on, the paper is just going to get ripped off and thrown away anyway. This goes for buying all the fancy bows and ribbons and stuff as well. Some people can spend $50 or more just on gift wrapping supplies! You’ve spent money on the gift already, so don’t spend even more just to cover it up with some paper.
If you really want to get a head start on next Christmas be sure to hit the stores in the few days after and stock up on your wrapping paper and decorations. As soon as the holiday is over you’ll see stuff marked down 50% or more. Buy your wrapping paper, bows, tags, or other decorations you know you’ll need after Christmas and throw them in your attic or storage until next year to realize big savings.
Don’t Let the Savings Stop There
As you can see, it’s pretty easy to come up with an extra $50 each week by making a few small changes to your lifestyle. While this might work for a few months to help you build up that holiday spending money, don’t let it stop there. You’ll probably find that after making a few of these changes that it really isn’t much sacrifice. So, instead of reverting back to your old ways in January you should strive to keep these habits. Think about it this way — if you save $50 a week for the entire year you’ve set aside $2,600 just by making a few minor lifestyle changes. If your spouse does the same thing you’ve just saved over $5,000. That can go a long way in helping you build an emergency fund, invest in an IRA, or apply towards your child’s college fund.
These are just a few ideas and not everyone will be able to utilize them all. But what are some of your money saving tips that can add up without making a huge sacrifice on your lifestyle?
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About the Author: Jeremy Vohwinkle is a Chartered Retirement Planning Counselor® and spent a few years working as a financial planner. Today, he helps people make the most of their money by writing about personal finance here and elsewhere on the web. Jeremy is also Coach at Adaptu and a regular contributor for other publications such as Intuit, and American Express. Be sure to follow Jeremy on Twitter or Google+.