Many people who don’t budget still have a Christmas savings plan. They know that Christmas can get expensive with all the gift giving and they diligently put away $50/month into their Christmas savings account. While I applaud this effort and it’s certainly better than doing nothing, many of those same folks end up with a huge credit card bill in January. Why? What happened?
When someone sits down to calculate how much to save for Christmas, they generally do an estimate of how much they plan to spend on gifts. $50 for Grandma, $20 for a friend, $100 for each kid, etc. If this adds up to $600, they conclude that $50/month is the perfect amount to save. What did they leave out? A whole lot! The whole holiday season (Thanksgiving through New Year’s Day) has many expenses other than gifts. If you don’t want them to destroy your Christmas budget and land you in debt, you either need to plan ahead for these expenses or find a way to cut them out.
Here are some non-gift expenses related to the holiday season that can quickly ruin your budget:
- Travel: Going over the river and through the woods to Grandmother’s house? You’ll need to plan for the costs of transportation, accommodations (if not staying with family), and food.
- Pet boarding: If you’re traveling and Fido can’t go with you, you’ll need to budget for pet boarding. Remember that many boarding facilities often have higher rates or longer minimum stays during the holiday season. They also tend to book up WAY in advance, so plan ahead.
- House guests: Maybe you are not traveling, but someone is coming to stay with you. House guests are a lot of fun, but they do cost money in extra utilities, food, and entertainment costs.
- Home improvements: Many people do minor home improvements before holiday guests come to town. If you’re planning to spruce up the fireplace before the stockings are hung with care, budget for it!
- Live Christmas trees: Do you enjoy bringing home a fresh Christmas tree every year? They often cost $50 or more.
- Wreathes, garlands, and poinsettias: Even if you don’t buy fresh Christmas trees, do you buy other kinds of live decorations every year? I know I can’t resist poinsettias!
- Eating out: The holiday season often brings more restaurant meals, whether it’s as a way to meet up with friends and family or just because it’s hard to find time to cook. Did you know that the Wednesday before Thanksgiving is the biggest pizza and bar night of the year?
- Extra personal shopping: Whether it’s Black Friday sales or after Christmas sales, there are definitely some good deals to be found around the holiday season. Many people take advantage of these sales to buy things for themselves in addition to gifts. I’m all for buying things at a great price, but you have to plan ahead.
- Clothing: Do you want your kids to have cute coordinating Christmas outfits? Their outfits from last year won’t fit, so plan to buy new ones. Don’t forget new dress shoes! Mom and Dad might also need some new clothes for office holiday parties, New Year’s Eve parties, or other events.
- Babysitters: If there are adults-only events on your holiday calendar, remember to budget for childcare.
- Family portraits: The holidays are a great time to get professional pictures of the kids or a multi-generational family photo.
- Christmas cards: Many families use those portraits to make photo cards to send to friends and family. The cost of cards and postage add up quickly!
- Outdoor decorating costs: Do your outdoor decorations rival the Griswalds’? Even if you don’t buy new lights, you should still budget for increased electricity costs. Consider cutting down on electricity by using timers to shut the lights off after a few hours and switching to energy-efficient LED lights.
- Increased fuel costs: Even if you aren’t traveling long distances to see family, odds are that you’ll still be doing more driving than usual to visit people, shop, and attend events. All of that driving means more fuel used, and peak seasons also mean higher prices.
- Tickets or admission: Costs for holiday theater, ballets, movies, and light displays can add up quickly.
- Gift wrapping supplies: Bags, boxes, paper, ribbon, and tape! Those gifts don’t sparkle under the tree without some supplies.
- Food: When people think of the holiday season, they often think of all the wonderful foods! Turkey, stuffing, sweet potatoes, apple pie, and cookies of all varieties… Your at-home food costs during the holidays will probably exceed your usual grocery budget, especially if you’re hosting any family meals.
- Charitable giving: The holiday seasons brings many great opportunities for charitable giving. If you’d like to participate in these, you should plan ahead for giving, so it can be part of the joy of the season instead of feeling like a squeeze on your budget.
As you can see, there are SO MANY different ways that your spending can increase over the holiday season. You can always choose not to spend in these ways, but most of us place a high value on time with family and friends during the holiday season. We just need to plan ahead and budget for these expenses so we’re not surprised and don’t create debt with our holiday fun. You can use this list to put together a more complete holiday budget, or you can look at last year’s spending to get a clearer picture of what the holidays really cost.
There are still two months before the holidays get into full swing, so there is still time to start putting away some extra cash for the holidays if you haven’t been saving enough. To be prepared for next year, make a list of your holiday-related spending to make a better budget for next year.
How have you been doing with your Christmas savings? Comment below or join the discussion in the Smart Family Money Facebook Group.