The following tips will help you avoid debt, stress, and poor gift choices.
Did you realize it's only eight months till Christmas Day? I realize that a snowy, cozy Christmas morning is probably not the image you want in your head right now, especially if you're still waiting for spring to show up, but there is one good reason to give Christmas a wee bit of thought this early in the year, and that is MONEY.
If you start planning for the holiday season now, you could enjoy a much more affordable, even frugal, and definitely less stressful Christmas than if you leave everything to the last minute. Despite our best intentions not to break the bank, the fact is that money tends to disappear without a game plan, and now is the time to get that plan in place.
Writing for The Simple Dollar, Donna Freedman points out that the National Retail Federation estimated that Americans would spend $682 billion during the 2017 holiday season, but that estimate was off. Americans ending up spending $691.9 billion. Here is what you can do now to ensure that you won't feel like you've spent an additional $10 billion of your own money by the end of 2018.
1. Start a gift list. Make a list of all the people you intend to buy presents for and write down what they'd like. Keep updating throughout the year, so that you have a quick reference point when you come across great sales, thrift stores, or clearance.
2. Start your own Christmas Club. Freedman recommends adding up how much you spent last year and dividing it among the remaining weeks of the year. Aim to save up that amount each week so you don't have to use credit and are forced to stay within that realistic budget.
3. Shop now. This is the time to start looking for gifts at local shops. Christmas shopping shouldn't be an end-of-year activity because that's when everything is most expensive, most picked-over, and stores are busiest. Eliminate much of the cost and effort by acquiring gifts slowly and steadily throughout the year.
4. Get a rewards credit card. You can redeem the points for nice gifts or gift cards, and some cash-back cards even boost the value, e.g. 40 Discover points translate to a $50 gift card. An Amazon Visa collects points for Amazon merchandise (not that I like to encourage online shopping from this giant, but from a financial perspective this is convenient).
5. Consider regifting. You'll probably receive some nice presents over the course of the year. Maybe you can save these and reuse as presents later.
6. Start making. Homemade gifts are the best, but they take a long time. Take the pressure off yourself by starting those projects now, whether it's knitting, sewing, preserving, woodworking, or other artistic endeavors.
7. Rethink Christmas well in advance. Ask yourself how you want your holiday season to look and feel. Now's the time to talk to family members about trying a buy-nothing Christmas, committing to a strict budget or second-hand-gifts-only policy, or even planning a trip together instead of buying presents. Think about how you want to feel when that January credit card statement arrives.