Don’t let holidays break the budget —take a thoughtful approach

By Kathy Sweedler Educator, Consumer Economics

Making a holiday spending plan can definitely help you manage your spending and not feel overwhelmed. A Consumer Reports survey found that of those who used credit spent significantly more on gifts than those who did not. (Photo courtesy of University of Illinois)

Jingle bells, jingle bells … dashing through the snow – while we may not be dashing through the snow quite yet, we are definitely moving into the holiday season. The holiday season has a tendency to dash away; before we begin celebrating, now is a good time to plan to use our money thoughtfully.

A little planning now may mean that we feel much better after the holidays, especially when it comes to credit card debt. U.S. consumers have made great strides in reducing credit card debt and increasing savings.

However, recent holiday surveys show that many people are concerned about spending money, and spending behaviors in the past tell us that consumers tend to spend more than they plan.

A Consumer Reports found that those who used credit spent significantly more on gifts than those who did not.

How can you keep your spending to a manageable level? Here are a few tips for staying on track.

Spend thoughtfully. Before you begin making purchases, plan your expenses.

Approximately only 70 percent of all holiday costs are for gifts. People also spend a significant amount of money on flowers, decorations, entertainment, items for themselves, as well as many other items.

Remember to plan for your special food needs, workplace or school gatherings, postage, and other incidental holiday costs.

Add up your estimates and be sure that you’re comfortable with the total before you begin your shopping. If you’re not comfortable with the total – then revise your plan.

Making a holiday spending plan can definitely help you manage your spending; a Consumer Reports survey found that of those people who made a holiday budget, 61 percent kept their spending within their budget.

Reassess expenses versus experiences. Take time to think about your holiday activities. Are there ways you can modify the activity, and save money?

Here are some ideas to help stimulate your thinking about how you might change your holiday activities. Small changes do add up.

Perhaps you and four friends have traditionally exchanged small gifts (about $10 each). This year, instead of gifts meet your friends for a coffee and a muffin as a break while holiday shopping. You’ll have a fun, stress-releasing event during the holidays and may save $35, assuming you spend $5 for your snack.

Do you struggle to think of a gift for a family with older children? This year rather than giving individual gifts, consider giving a family gift such as a game or something they can enjoy in the home. Instead of spending $75 (15 x 5) you may be able to spend $30.

Are you entertaining in your home? Look at your food plans and thing about making changes such as asking others to bring a food dish to share, offering punch instead of alcoholic drinks, or changing from a dinner event to a dessert feast.

Wishing you had something different to decorate with this year? Rather than buying something new, consider trading decorations with a friend. Then you’ll both have the fun of different decorations.

Be creative and look at how you do things during the holidays and ask yourself, “If I changed this, could I still have as much enjoyment but reduce the cost?”

For more ideas on how to save money during the holidays, visit the Champaign Extension Center website at