Rants, Musings, and Mental Meanderings of a former Conservative Christian Mother. Standing Strong against ignorance, preconceptions, labels and excessive housework. Celebrating original thought, religious freedom, parenthood, free enterprise and chocolate.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

How to have a financially stress-free holiday season!!

No, this is not a post yelling at people for spending too much, getting caught up in the commercial side of Christmas, being too busy to focus on the birth of Christ, or lecturing you to make all your gifts from scratch because homemade gifts are cheaper and more thoughtful. The facts are these: Yes, we all spend a lot, probably too much this time of year, but that's just the way it is. Yes, we do get too busy to focus on the birth of Christ, but call me cynical - The birth of Christ wasn't on December 25th anyway, and don't we get too busy to put Christ first in our lives at various points all year long?!?! I mean, is this really something confined only to December? And as for making all your gifts from scratch... if I did that, I'd really be stretching the limits of the saying, "It's the thought that counts." (I'm not a particularly creative person.) Sorry to be so blunt, but that's not what this post is about. It is, quite literally, just about the ca$h factor.

I mentioned to my hair stylist that my hubby and I do the majority of our Christmas shopping all in one day - the day affectionately nicknamed "Black Friday." Yep, the day after Thanksgiving I am one of those crazies in line somewhere at 4:00 a.m. clutching a strong coffee and my Christmas planner. (And yes, by all means, get a baby-sitter.) We spend the evening before planning our battle strategy - choosing which stores to go to first, depending on who has the hottest "Early Bird" specials. Our group has grown over the years, and now we drive in a caravan of two or three vehicles. (This is great for having people take turns standing in the often l-o-n-g lines.) Anyway, she told me, "Well, there's no way I could do that. I just don't have the money to shop all at once. I end up missing a lot of bargains because I have to wait for each paycheck and then rush out and shop." That's when I revealed our secret for financially stress-free Christmas shopping: our Holiday Club account. Go to your bank or credit union and see if they offer this great service. Our credit union takes a set amount out of our checking account all year and puts it into the "Holiday Club" savings account. (And ours is an interest bearing account, to sweeten the deal...) Even if it's only $10, you will have over $500 next Christmas. Do the math, and you'll see that $20 will net you $1,000 to spend next year! Who wouldn't love an extra $1,000 at Christmas?!?!! On November 1st, the money is automatically transferred from the holiday club to our savings account. (And then summarily dumped into my checking account to pay off my credit card charges...) We may over-spend a little bit sometimes, but for the most part we can start the New Year without the debt of a pre-Christmas shopping frenzy... and yet I still get all the fun of a pre-Christmas shopping frenzy. This is also the money I use to get us girls new holiday outfits, eat out when we are out shopping all day, or grab an overpriced drink at Starbucks without feeling guilty. I have heard so many people this year really struggling financially this Christmas, especially those of us lucky enough to be in the fine economy here in Michigan. One woman told me in tears, "I barely have money to make ends meet! How am I supposed to buy Christmas gifts?" Even a few dollars set aside all year would help relieve that burden. If you are the creative, crafty sort, you can use your saved money to make tasteful, inexpensive handmade gifts and stretch that holiday dollar even farther. (I am generally NOT the creative sort, unless I am duplicating something that someone else created, so I am better off bargain hunting.)

Don't procrastinate - get to your bank or credit union and set up this account!!!! Now is the time so you will have an entire year to save for next Christmas. And DON'T think, "Well, that's a great idea. I'll just set aside a few bucks on my own." Because, frankly, you won't. You'll either forget, misplace the money, or wait a few weeks and plan to "catch up" later... and then forget about it before April. Have the bank do your thinking for you and take it out before you even notice it. I have been preaching this to everyone who has cried to me about how difficult this holiday will be for them... so I figured I'd preach about it here, too! Hey, if it helps one other person have less stress next Christmas... it's worth it.

Now, if your problem is just that you spend spend spend like crazy at Christmas, you will have to take it a step farther and set up a budget. I use a Christmas planner, and it is a lifesaver. For those of you who itch at the thought of being organized, just use a regular old notebook. Write out a list of all your Christmas expenses, including your per person spending limit, holiday outfits/accessories, holiday cooking/baking ingredients to buy (Yummy! It's not Christmas here without piles of cookie, candy, and fudge!), Christmas cards, pictures, and postage, etc... plus a little extra for all the little "extras" that come up. Add it all up, then divide this total by 52. This will be the amount you need to save each week. Next year, you can do a little happy dance that you were so smart in thinking ahead!


Anonymous said...

Christmas Club savings are a life saver. I have been doing it on my own for the past few years and I love it. I didn't realize that I could set it up with my CU. Great advise keep up the good work.


Melanie said...

Woo Hoo what a great idea! I'll have to see if our CU does this... Probably not, but I have to go in there anyway and open accounts for the kids!