I know, I know. It’s barely hit June, the sun has just finally become warm, you’re thinking about camping, swimming at the beach, and mosquito bites, not Christmas. Not only is Christmas over six months away, we just got through a long cloudy spring, desperate for those warm summer nights, campfires, sunburns, and popsicles. Now, however, during the warmest time of the year, is the best time to start preparing for that blistery cold wintery season.
See, by the time Christmas comes around it will be too late to prepare financially. You’ll only have a couple of paychecks, all the regular bills, and yet somehow you’ll be expected to attend parties, bring presents, pay for the kids, the family, the friends, the alcohol, the vacation, the time off work, and be happy and joyful while doing it. If you are unprepared for Christmas, then suddenly the gift of giving seems a lot more like a burden because you’re not sure if you’ll be able to pay for rent come January, let alone the New Years Eve party.
The holidays can be a wonderful time, filled with laughter, family, and relaxation – but only if you can afford the time off work to do so. So start planning now, and reap the benefits later. Here’s how I prepare for Christmas.
First, my wife and I spend a few minutes together going over the general Christmas plan. This is not, “What time on Christmas Eve will you be home” or even “Are we visiting your in-laws or mine”, but more “who are we buying presents for”, “will we be traveling”, and “how much time should we take off work”. From these building blocks we can come up with a plan to save.
Budget for presents
Figuring out presents is the hardest part. You’ve got to make a list of who is getting presents, and about how much you want to spend on them. If you’re real clever, you’ll make a list of what sort of things you’re going to get, and carry that list around with you when you’re shopping so that you can take advantage of sales, and reduce stress come December. After you know these individual costs, add them all up into one big present budget – this is going to be one of your saving goals.
Budget for traveling
Next, figure out if you’ll be doing traveling, and make a quick budget for it as well. Again, the idea here isn’t to nail down specifics of hotel lodgings and eating out costs, but estimating if you’ll even be traveling, and if so, about how much it will cost to get from place to place. Are you flying to visit the grandparents? How much are tickets going to be? Are you going on a road trip? Will you need winter tires? Questions like these will allow you to get a rough idea of how much traveling you’ll be doing, and how much its going to cost you. Tally this up into a traveling budget, and you’ve got savings goal number two.
Budget for loss of income
Finally, look over your work schedule. Are you going to be taking time off work to visit with family and friends? Do you need to work on Christmas Eve or does your work let you get off early? Are you going to be getting a Christmas bonus? Do you know how much? If you know that you’ll need a week off work, and you know that you won’t be getting paid for that time, then figure out how much money you’ll be losing over the holidays. Sometimes it is easy to forget that you’ll be missing half your paycheck in early January when you’re having so much fun in late December. This is your third savings goal – replacing work time.
Now that you have your three savings goals, add them all up together. This is an important step for two reasons. First, you’ll see just how much you’ll be spending come the holidays – so are you okay with dropping two thousand in two weeks, or do you need to reconsider getting Aunt Bertha that gold plated iPhone case? Second, now you have a final tally for your savings plan. Whatever this number is, divide it by 12. This is approximately how much money you’re going to need to save each paycheck in order to have that much money by Christmas. Seem too large to handle? Go back through steps 1-3 and see if you can’t plan a less expensive Christmas. It is a lot easier to be Scrooge sitting poolside with your kids screaming their heads off than on Christmas Eve when the air just feels so magical at midnight.
If the number in your Christmas budget seems reasonable, then you’re set. Either make sure that you drop by the bank to withdraw the appropriate amount of cash each month, or if you’re like me and know you’ll “forget” at least once, then set up an automatic savings plan through an online bank to pull a set amount of money each payday between now and Christmas. That way, as soon as you get paid the money gets pulled, and you save without even having to lift a finger. Come Christmas time, you have a bank account full of cash waiting to be spent on whatever your little Elvish mind desires. Merry Christmas.