It’s that time of year again — Black Friday deals beckon, department stores are exploding with fake snow and plastic Santas, and children are dreaming of what cool toys to add to their lists. That’s right folks, the holiday season is coming to a doorstep near you!
Whether you are the embodiment of holiday cheer (see Will Ferrell’s Elf), the Grinch’s closest kin or something in between, the holiday season can definitely be a time of joy, catching up with friends and family, and generosity, but also a time of stress and budget dilemmas. As a young apartment dweller, I often find myself falling in the “something in between” category. This time of year I always want to decorate my apartment with festive DIY projects, I want to buy a real live Christmas tree, I want to give my friend and family awesome gifts, I want to bake and eat sugar cookies for days in a row. However, my cheerful attitude can quickly turn into a downward spiral of holiday blues when it becomes all too clear that my budget cannot support all my hopes and dreams. And nothing can turn an Elf into a Scrooge faster than a tiny budget. So before you or I start getting a bad case of the holiday grumps, let’s talk about the budget friendly way to survive the holidays.
Step 1: Actually Create A Holiday Budget
The first big step to surviving the holidays without going broke is to actually create a holiday spending budget. Decide if and how you’d like to decorate your apartment, to whom you are giving gifts, how much you are spending on said gifts, etc. and determine what you can actually afford. Once you set your budget, allocate in the beginning how much you want to spend in each category i.e. gifts, decorations, parties, tipping. (Yes, now that you are living on your own, there are people in your life, your super for one, who may expect a holiday tip.) Personally, I like to think of a gift for each person on my list before I ever start shopping so I can have a realistic price in mind and I’m not tempted to buy more extravagant gifts than I can afford while shopping.
Etiquette tip: If you aren’t able to buy for everyone in your family, it is perfectly okay to not buy for every person that you bought for last year. However, if you’d like to include everyone, suggest a secret gift swap game or give a group gift, such as a movie night gift basket to a whole family.
Step 2: Stick To Your Budget
Once you successfully complete step 1, it is essential that you stick to that budget. No matter how badly you want to buy your mom a new iPad mini or how great those dancing Santa toys are, sticking to your budget will avoid the January blues and remorse.
Step 3: Put The Plastic Away
Credit cards can be your number one enemy during the holiday season, especially since it is so tempting to use them to go over budget. If you don’t want to break the bank this year, put the plastic away and use a cash system. Many first time apartment dwellers suggest that using the “envelope” trick and leaving your debit/credit card at home is key. Withdraw in cash the amount you set in step one and use that money for your holiday shopping until it is gone. This cuts down on impulsive buys and gives you no other option but to spend what you have.
Step 4: Don’t Buy For Yourself
When you are out shopping for gifts, it is super difficult to not buy extra things for yourself. Hey, I understand. It’s a time of great deals and shopping is fun, but when you are planning for your budget you didn’t include yourself, so don’t include yourself in a desperate shopping moment. Plus, the deals are even better after the holiday season; do your personal shopping then.
Step 5: Look For Sales
To get the most of your holiday budget, always try to look for special sales and promotions before you purchase; those extra-%-off coupons aren’t just for your mom, you can use them also. This isn’t a free pass to go shopping crazy though, so use it only to look for cheaper version of an item you already planned to buy.
Step 6: Consider DIY or Handmade
A gift doesn’t have to be store bought or cost a lot of money for it to be meaningful. In fact, some of the best gifts I have ever given were handmade projects. This season, don’t be afraid to be creative when it comes to your gift giving and holiday decorations — make your own gifts, wrapping paper, and decorations! It’s true that the thought is what really counts.
Remember, the holiday season is about enjoying time with your friends and family and about not who bought the biggest and best present. Stick to your budget, give meaningful gifts, and love the holidays season for the really good reasons.
As always, please share your tips and tricks below!