Budgeting for the holidays

With all the excitement and feelings of generosity that the season engenders, it’s easy to overspend and find yourself facing big bills in the new year, which can affect your mental health by creating stress you don’t need. The key to keeping holiday spending under control is budgeting. Below you’ll find tips for celebrating while setting and sticking to a holiday budget.

Setting a holiday budget

Preparation is key to getting holiday expenses under control. There are four main areas in which most people spend: gifts, entertaining, travel, and decorating. And each of these areas comes with hidden expenses. Knowing in advance what your commitments are and how much you can spend in each area will help you make better decisions and look for creative solutions. Keep in mind that there are often hidden costs beyond the price of a product. For example, gift-giving costs can be much when you consider the cost of wrapping and shipping gifts.

Make a gift list. Take the time to make a list of everyone for whom you’d like to buy gifts. Include teachers, mail carriers, co-workers, newspaper delivery people, and anyone else you may give a gift to. Next, consider your list. Are there people who could receive a card rather than a gift? Finally, set a price limit on each gift. For example, you might decide that you’ll set a $30 limit on immediate family members, $20 on children in your family, and $10 on acquaintances like co-workers or teachers. Don’t forget to include the cost of wrapping paper and shipping.

Plan your entertainment. Are you going out to a party and need to bring a dish? Are you having a party? Are you hosting the family dinner? Many people forget to factor in the cost of holiday entertaining, and those costs can quickly add up. Try to think of ways in which you can cut back in this category. For example, if you are hosting the holiday dinner, ask family members to contribute a dish to your holiday meal instead of supplying all the food yourself.

Map out your travel. If you’ll be traveling during the holidays, even if it’s by car, be sure to include these costs in your budget. 

Decking the halls. Decorating can add up even when you are using previous years’ elements, but planning ahead can help you decide how big you want to go and if that extra reindeer for the yard is worth the cost. 

Add up the estimates from all four areas. If the total amount is more than you can afford, go back to your lists and see where you can cut back. If you find you can’t cut out anything else, we have some tips below that can help you save.

Ways to spend less

Don’t blow your budget. Remember that you can still celebrate and show your loved ones you care within your budget. The best gifts are those chosen with an eye toward what’s personal and meaningful to the recipient. These kinds of gifts don’t have to cost a lot.

Set expectations with friends and family. If you’re worried about finances this holiday season, talk about it with friends and family. Let them know if you’ll be cutting back on the number of gifts or how much you plan to spend. This is especially important for children, who often have unrealistic expectations about gifts and don’t fully understand the cost factors. Discuss having a gift exchange for adults and setting a limit on the price. 

Make a shopping plan. If you are able to plan a trip to brick-and-mortar stores, don’t head out without a specific list of gift ideas and price limits. This is how you end up spending more than you budgeted for. Look through catalogs or websites for ideas and develop a list before you add it to your cart.

Look for bargains. Take the time to look for ways to save money on decorations and gifts. Consider buying items during the post-holiday sale season and put them away for next year. Try to buy several things from one Internet site to save money on shipping, or better yet, look for sites that offer free shipping. Comparison shop using the fliers that come in the weekend papers to find the best deal around or use sites like the Google shopping site, Pricegrabber, or Honey. Consider buying gifts on sites like eBay or Overstock, both of which offer many new, high quality items at discount prices.

Cut back on mailing expenses. If you always send boxes of gifts or holiday cards to loved ones far away, think of ways to save on or eliminate shipping costs this year. Buy magazine subscriptions or send online gift certificates instead of shipping gifts. Send holiday postcards or even e-cards instead of regular cards. If you’ve already bought cards, save the leftovers for next year. And be sure to mail things early so you don’t have to pay extra for fast shipping.

Keep it simple. Focus on enjoying the simple pleasures of the holiday season, like spending quiet time with family or taking a walk to see the holiday decorations in your neighborhood. These kinds of activities often capture the spirit of the season better than expensive gifts or elaborate celebrations.

Use your credit card wisely. Finally, be very careful about using your credit card to pay for holiday expenses. Don’t use your card unless you know you can pay it off right away. If possible, use a card that doesn’t already carry a balance. Remember, buying a sweater on sale with a credit card and making monthly payments could end up costing double the price. You don’t want to start the new year off with an oversized credit card bill.

Source: Lifeworks

If you need additional support with managing debt and mental health, take advantage of Dallas ISD’s Employee Assistance Program (EAP) by LifeWorks, which is free for employees, 100 percent confidential, and available to all employees and their dependents. 

Sessions through the EAP are available by phone, virtual, and in person. Employees can also find tips, articles, self-assessments, and topical features focusing on specific EAP resources available through the EAP smart App.

To start on your wellness journey please visit dallasisd.lifeworks.com or reach out to the EAP by calling 972-925-4000 and selecting option 3 for EAP. 


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