It’s not too early to start planning for your holiday budgeting. In fact, if you tackle things early you can mastermind your spending in a way that aims to save you money and stress. Not only can you make purchases early in a bid to score better deals, but you can also start earmarking funds so you don’t get left in a post-Christmas lurch.
Begin with the mindset
At the outset, turn on your money-saving mind. Here’s where you want to remember that while the holidays may be weeks away, your shopping and purchasing can start today. So can setting aside money.
A limited budget is a constraint
Here’s one way to think about your budget—it’s a constraint. By that we mean it’s something that hems you in. While that may sound negative initially, it isn’t. We operate under constraints every day. And they’re a huge contributor to a successful, ordered society and even to an ordered globe.
For instance, gravity is a constraint. It prevents us from doing certain things—like flying up in the air at will. Yet, you won’t find any of us complaining about this constraint. (Well, okay, you won’t find most of us complaining about this constraint). Gravity is a fact of life, and it helps make the world go round.
What we often do when confronted with constraints is find a workaround or some way to counterbalance the way in which we’re held back. To continue the gravity illustration, we expand to compensate for the fact that gravity holds us down. We build jet planes to fly anyway. We relish jumping on trampolines to feel like we’re flying.
Gravity doesn’t make us miserable—it enables us to live successful, reasonable lives. In the same way, budgeting doesn’t have to make us feel hemmed-in and sub-par because we can’t afford to spend with abandon.
Instead, budgeting can enable us to live splendidly—and within our means. Plus, the constraint of a budget can spur us to expand in other ways. We can compensate for the limitation by amping up our planning, our creativity, and our flexibility.
A constraint is the beginning of great things
Once you accept the limitation with a good attitude, you’re ready to begin the fun part—masterminding your low-budget holiday strategy.
People talk about being flexible in different contexts. We might advise someone who’s uptight about their schedule to be flexible. Or we might encourage someone who insists on doing things a certain way to be flexible. We also might list flexibility as a key skill in a job description, to alert applicants that they’ll need to think and work outside-the-box when dealing with unexpected situations.
When it comes to gift buying on a budget, flexibility can help you thrive and stay within your financial parameters—all while having a great attitude. One key consideration is ditching the idea of the “perfect gift.” To stay within your budget, you may actually find it more effective not to identify what you’ll be buying in advance.
Instead, you can determine approximately how much you can afford to spend, then shop around until you find it. To some degree, this could be a money vs. time trade-off. Yes, you may need to apply some extra time and effort to the situation. But, sometimes when you’re trying to be frugal, time and effort are more affordable than dollars and cents.
We’ve already established that your budget is a constraint. But, as you know, that doesn’t have to be a negative thing. One thing you can do to work within these parameters and still succeed fantastically is get started early.
Not only does this keep you from getting frazzled at the last minute, it also can help you make more financially responsible decisions. Take this as an example. Let’s say you have three people to buy for. With your “plan ahead” mindset in place, you decide to hit the stores in October to shop for Person #1. While it does take you a couple of tries, ultimately you score a fantastic bargain—25% off an item they’ve been wanting for a long time. Plus, you pair it with a coupon that you found by sleuthing the internet for an even greater impact on your bottom line.
Now, for Person #2, you’ve decided that a gift card is the way to go. But instead of waiting until the last minute you started thinking about this early in the year—say July. Lo and behold, one random weekday in August you notice a promotional email offering discount gift cards to several select stores. You look at the options and decide that even though none of the stores is your #1 pick, there are still some great options. So, you snag a gift card at a fraction of the price and hang onto it until the holidays roll around.
How to plan when you don’t know how to plan
For Person #3, things are a bit more complicated. This is the person you never know what to buy for, because—honestly—you have no earthly idea what they might want. This is when you have to think ahead. And you have to listen. Constantly.
Keep your ears attuned to any statements of interest or disinterest, like or dislike that this person makes throughout the year. Maybe you overhear a complaint that they can never seem to remember all their plans, meetings, and appointments. In this case, a little research on your end could turn up a certain planner designed for people just like them.
On the other hand, you might hear him express how much he enjoyed reading a certain author’s article online. This calls for good memory and a little internet sleuthing—it’s your job to remember the author’s name and research their other works. You might discover several published books by the same author, and if so, you can skim the titles and descriptions to see if any would pique your friend’s interest.
Exactly how you handle the numerical side of budgeting will vary. If you like to plan things down to the letter (or in this case, the number), you might choose to set aside a certain amount of money. For this, you can use a special bank account or an envelope. You can start by establishing a target percentage of your paycheck—say 5-10%, then diverting it to that account or envelope each time you’re paid.
Do this throughout the year so that when you reach the holidays your money is already waiting for you. At the same time, if you’ve committed to start your buying early, you may need to spend some of the money before you’ve accumulated the lump sum in an envelope or account. That’s okay. Just try to establish at the outset what you project the total lump sum will be in the future. And take care only to spend within those means.
Another way to budget
A second option is to set a maximum dollar figure for every holiday-related expense. Then, commit not to exceed it. For instance, you might allow yourself $200 for all food expenses. Then you might decide to spend $20 per person for everyone on your holiday list.
Itemize these expenses and total them up. If your total is a reasonable amount and something you can truly afford, then you’re good to go. As you tackle your purchasing, keep yourself accountable to this list. If you overspend in one area, arrange to underspend in another category—to even things out.
Gifts themselves can benefit from the ideas we’ve already outlined. For instance, start buying gifts early, then you’ll not only save yourself from the last-minute rush, but you may also shave some of the expense off the operation.
Another way to go is to make your own gifts. That’s where starting early really helps you out. After all, who has time to hand-manufacture multiple gifts in the scant week or two leading up to the holidays? That’s right, not too many of us.
But, the upside is that if you start earlier in the year, you can go ahead and dive into crafting and creating—with handmade gifts as your endpoint. If you’re new to the idea of creating your own gifts don’t despair. We’ll get you started with ideas.
Actually, if you give yourself enough spare time, it could even be the perfect time to get started with a craft or hobby you’ve always dreamed of. For instance, why not take a painting or pottery class, then give away some of your creations?
Crocheting and knitting are two other ways to go. Why not try this arm knit blanket tutorial? Or give one of these crocheted gifts a shot. Or choose from one of Crazy Little Projects’ 25 Quick and Easy Homemade Gift Ideas.
Gifts don’t have to be wrap-able
Also, remember that intangible gifts are a fantastic option. This could include things like a card outlining your plan to take a close friend out to lunch at a date of his or her choosing. Or it could be one free night of babysitting for a couple with young children.
Go for group gifts
And don’t forget the genius of group gifts. These can work in two ways. One way is to pool your resources with other family members so you have enough to secure one big-ticket item. Another way is to give one gift to two or more people—like giving a favorite restaurant gift card to your parents or grandparents or making up a movie night basket for a family with kids still at home.
While you do want to remember everyone in your gift-giving, you certainly don’t have to give an individual gift to everyone. Group gifts can be fun, too. Just be sure you take everyone’s preferences into account. For instance, don’t buy a young family a puppy. While the kids will be elated, Mom and Dad might be less than enthusiastic.
How and where to purchase gifts with money in mind
Here’s our biggest and best idea. Select any place that you’d normally shop for gifts for your family and friends. Next time you head to that place, force yourself to ignore everything around you and head straight for the discount section. If you don’t find anything on your first try, keep trying. You might find that it pays off to come back multiple times searching for a great gift.
Note that this may not help you find one particular item if you’ve already made up your mind about what the “perfect gift” is. But what it will do is give you options that line up with your general interests. After all, if you know that you like the store and its items generally, shopping for its discounted items gets you at least in the ballpark of items you may like.
Make up a gift basket
Let’s say you keep finding fantastic deals on the discount rack. But the problem is that they’re small items—not one large thing that would make a great present. No worries. That just means it’s time to rethink your gift-giving strategy.
Think about who you’re buying for. Now make a list (mental or on a piece of paper) of their interests. Then, turn to thinking about how you could create a themed gift basket according to that interest.
Snag some kind of container—it doesn’t have to be a literal basket—and start filling it with things that are related to that interest. Remember to think outside the box. Some items you find on sale may not be specifically related at first glance. But once you reflect on it, you may be able to find a way to make seemingly-random finds quite relevant to your theme.
When it doubt, establish a broad theme—something like “weekend relaxing.” That way, you can make most anything relevant. You can include food, books, mugs, favorite movies, and even gift cards for things like music, restaurants, or local attractions.
Money-saving decor ideas
Keep your eye out for curb alerts all throughout the year. Others in your neighborhood may tackle their decluttering at any time or season. So you really never know when holiday decor is going to be hitting the curb waiting for trash pickup. Stay attuned year-round so you can pick up treasure whenever your neighbors happen to be downsizing their decor stash.
Remember, too, that seasonal decor can come from unexpected places—if you’re thinking creatively all the time. Find one piece of neutral dishware on the discount rack at your local grocery store and pair it with some seasonal blooms and maybe even some pinecones and lights from your local dollar store. The individual components may not have been seasonally specific, but the finished product sure is.
Think about it—how much wear and tear does decor actually get? Plenty of decor gets gentle use, seeing that its main job is to sit around and look appealing.
Couple this gentle use fact with the knowledge that we all have different tastes, and you’ve got it made when shopping for decor on a budget. One man’s trash is another man’s treasure. Try thrift stores and online auction sites. Or scan garage sales and flea markets in your area.
Budget to win
Look at budgeting as a necessary first step in your holiday planning. It can help you make it through the holidays sane—and with your wallet unscathed. Be thorough in your planning, too, by remembering to include expenses for things like holiday travel. And if you’re going on vacation over the holidays, be sure to check out our Mobile Home Holidays | Where To Rent And What To Look For.