Enjoy the Season With a Budget

If you’re anything like me, you love to celebrate. I love the holidays and the fun, frenzy and time with people I care about. I enjoy taking time to pick out gifts for people, but it can also feel overwhelming. My list grows from just a few people to more and more people and suddenly I worry my budget will break under the weight! I decided earlier this year to be budget smart when it came to the holidays. Here are some of my favorite tips and tricks.

Make a Budget and Stick To Itchalkboard with budget

I get swept up in the holidays. I want to express my gratitude, appreciation and affection, and that can mean I’ve gone overboard in the past with how much I spend. This year, I set a firm budget based on what I’ve spent in the past. I also looked at my remaining expenses for the year and factored that into my budget. If I suddenly felt the need to “gift” someone, I set a 48-hour waiting period. I also want to remember to enjoy the season without sweating the finances. By sticking to my budget and aiming to come in under, I won’t be full of regret come January.

Make a List of Recipients and What They’re Getting

For me, this comes back to feeling swept up. Sure, I only budgeted $25 to spend on John Doe, but oh look! There’s a shiny new widget that looks like something he’d just love! Oh, and it’s on sale, for $15.99! I bet he’d love it. No! Stop! Take a breath, pull out my smart phone. Look at what I’ve decided to get John Doe and remember that John Doe doesn’t want or need all the things. He’ll appreciate and enjoy what I’ve already purchased for him. If I’m still really thinking about it, I can always file it away to purchase when it comes to time to look for a birthday gift.

Slowing down and remembering my list has really helped me this year. It’s so easy to tack on last minute items, but you’ll be happier in the long run if you pause and instead, file away a birthday or “just because” gift for later. If you’re still feeling grumbly about it, try to think about it as planning ahead for the birthday season! Look at you, you forward thinker.

Comparison Shop

If you’re in the stores looking for that amazing item to get for Jane Doe and suddenly the lights shine down and a chorus of voices sings a heavenly melody, freeze! Look at the price tag. Look at the item. Does it make sense? Some stores raise the prices of items during the holidays because consumers are less aware and more frenzied. Pull out that trusty smart phone and do a quick search online. Is this store’s price in line with what other retailers are selling it for? Is one of them selling it for less? Even if it is less, take a moment to factor in the shipping and time. Sometimes, online retailers charge much less for an item but tack on an outrageous shipping price.

If this item in store really does seem like it’s the best price, do one more search for a coupon! I love coupons and looking for deals. But don’t be duped. If a store is selling something at a two-for-this-price bargain, there’s a chance you may get the one item at the sale price. This is also great to keep in mind when purchasing food for the holidays. Don’t feel like you have to buy 10 cans of green beans to get the sale price. During the checkout process, watch the screen. If you can see the breakdown of the costs for each item, you can spot if you’re getting the deal or not.

Do Some Math

When I shop, whether it’s for a gift or for groceries, I use the calculator on my smart phone to keep a running total of what I’m spending. I don’t normally factor in taxes, but this helps me stay aware of where I am in my budget. This also helps me do some sale shopping and comparison shopping. If my pre-tax total comes to $20 but the total at checkout is $45, this lets me know that something is off somewhere. When I’ve completed my purchase and I pause and look over my receipt. If I’m at the grocery store, I find a place where I’m not blocking customers and stand and look at the receipt to make sure things line up. If I’m at a retail store, I’ll look it over before I leave. This has helped me on multiple occasions when a cashier accidentally scanned something incorrectly or if I grabbed the wrong thing. It’s a lot easier to fix an error in the store than once you’re home!

Use Your Words

You may suddenly realize you need to find a meaningful gift for someone at the last minute. Do not panic buy! You’ll regret the spending and you won’t think as clearly. Instead take the time to write. I like to buy blank holiday cards once the season is over and they’re marked down. If I suddenly need to gift someone, I’ll grab one of these cards and write a meaningful message. Taking some time to really write about why you’re thankful for them or why they’ve meant a lot to you over the last year is a wonderful gift. In our busy digital age, a handwritten message can be one of the best gifts. If I still feel like I want to give them something, I might throw in a gift card that has money on it for a splurge coffee drink or soda from somewhere. I have kept every card I’ve been given during my time at the library. They mean a lot to me and knowing that people took the time to write to me is very special.

My final piece of advice is enjoy the season. We tend to barrel through the holidays in a frenzied blur of ornaments, gifts, crowded shopping spaces and the echo of holiday music. Take some time with people you care about or on your own to enjoy the sights and sounds. Before we know it it’ll be the new year and we’ll be done with the holiday season. Make sure you recharge your own batteries and create some enjoyable memories with those you care about. People are more likely to remember an event than the shiny new gift. Many of my favorite holiday memories from my childhood don’t revolve around gifts. I look back on spending time with my family and friends. I remember making ornaments with neighborhood friends, or building a snowman. My family drove around in our pajamas to look at Christmas lights! These are the things I recall and that make this time of year special.

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Meredith is the Business and Career Librarian. She loves helping job seekers, entrepreneurs, legal resource information seekers and people researching a variety of finance topics. She loves to read mysteries, historical fiction and historical mysteries. When she isn't working she loves to spend time with her family and enjoys learning new things to keep her mind fresh.