It's almost time for Thanksgiving and Christmas, my favorite time of year. Unfortunately, it is also an expensive time of year. How can you prepare ahead financially for the coming holidays?
Put it on Paper
We can spend TONS of money at the holidays, always more than I think we will. Money seems to flow out of our wallets at the speed of light. You probably find yourself spending money on food, goodies, drinks, travel, clothing, shoes, film, cards, stamps, costumes, stocking stuffers, DVDs, music, and more.
Write down everything you spend money on during the holiday season. Don't think "best case scenario"--be realistic! You know where your self-control ends and what you are truly willing to sacrifice. Next to each item on your list, estimate how much money will be spent. Then total it up. That is probably the minumum of what you will spend.
Time to Pray
God cares about your holiday plans. Lift up your list to him and ask Him to both provide and prune. If you do not have money to spend on the holidays, ask for miraculous provision. Also ask Him to show you what you can do without or show you a realistic substititute.
If you pray for rain, you should get out your umbrella. If you pray for provision, you should be on the look out for coupons, free items from friends, extra money floating in, and all kinds of amazing ways that God provides. He is so good.
Get Rid of the Credit Card
The best way to stay on a budget at the holidays is to use cash only. When the cash is gone, you stop spending. If you have a credit card, I would cut it up. Or you can freeze it in the back of the freezer. To use it, you will have to thaw it, so you will think twice about using a credit card.
When my parents were alive, they would have me Christmas shop for them. I would cash their check and divide the money in envelopes, one envelope for each person. One day I shopped for almost everyone one their list at Khol's. I was pulling money out of each envelope and it was a nightmare. Because of the Lord's favor, the sweet lady behind me did not murder me, but from then on, I gathered my money BEFORE I got in line or paid for each person's stuff separately. But, working with cash really helped me to NOT overspend.
Pinch a Bit
During September and October, I start a Christmas/Thanksgiving envelope in my sock drawer. When I feel like spending a little extra money on fast food or a cute pair of shoes, I stop myself, and put the money in the sock drawer. By holiday shopping time, I usually have some extra money tucked away. When finances are really tight, there is very little extra money to do this, so the amount in the sock drawer changes year to year. I add this to any Christmas money my husband is able to squeeze out of the family budget.
Store and Freeze
When turkeys go on sale at Thanksgiving, I pick up several, hitting all the different grocery stores. During September, October, and early November, I pick up baking items (flour, chocolate chips, coconut, nuts) and freeze them until baking time. I also stock the pantry with candied cherries, sweetened condensed milk, evaporated milk, canned pumpkin, cream of mushroom soup, and other items I will use for holiday cooking and baking.
Combine Families for Holiday Feasts
Two families can split the cost of a holiday feast to save money. If you serve the family holiday feast, have everyone pitch in and bring 2-3 dishes.
Pick up Sale Items
When something goes on sale during the late summer and early fall that would make a good Christmas gift, pick it up and store it. You better hide it if you have a gift-peeker in your house!
One year, long scarves were in and I found an amazing clearnace sale on lovely scarves at Bealls. I picked up one for each lady in my family, my closest friends, and my sister. That year everyone got lovely, expensive scarves that I paid a small price for.
Following my mom's example, our stockings are filled with practical items: a new toothbrush, dental floss, socks, new make-up, and lots of chocolate. Again, I look for sales during the summer and fall months and pick up items as I go. I also put very practical things in our stockings that will save me money later on in the year.
Hair elastic bands are used at a rapid rate with all of our long hair, so I make sure to give each daughter a package in their stocking.
Give it Away
You can't out-give God! Be generous as you celebrate the holidays. Continue to give your tithe and give offerings as well to the Lord's work. After all, it is HIS birthday. Look for opportunities to give and share with others who have less.
May you spend with wisdom this holiday season and stay on your budget!