Saturday, November 30, 2013

Holiday budgeting: The home stretch

There are 31 days left in the year, which means I am wildly close to seeing how my budget plays out.  I’m entering the home stretch! 

But you know something about the last 31 days of the year?  They’re the most expensive.

Even Christmas presents aside, spending in December ramps up in just about every way.  We’re talking meals out, holiday clothing, charitable donations, even more expensive coffee (who can resist peppermint mocha season?).

So my last 31 days of the year – the ones that will determine whether I fall within my budget or not – are also the most tempting, the most primed for failure.  But there is no room for failure, I tell you!  So I'm making an action plan.  Below, my 5 strategies for sticking to my budget to the end:

  1. Decide what’s important.  This season is about joy, so I don’t want to deny myself the good stuff.  I do, however, decide what’s worth spending on.  Am I the kind of person who treasures buying expensive gifts for my family?  Or having a new dress at New Year’s?  This year I’ve determined that the most important thing to me is my Lights in the Heights party, which I want to be completely stocked with holiday food and cocktails.  Expensive?  Yes. Going to sink my budget?  I won’t let it happen – providing for the party is my priority, so it will mean skipping a new holiday cocktail dress, and I may need to sacrifice a few meals out.  Worth it!
  2. Reassess (again!).  This time of year, reassessing my budget a final time is extremely important.  I like to think of each budget category as having its own particular set of results, and by now, the results are starting to come in!  For example, I’m done taking vacations, so I know for sure that I (eek!) over-spent for the year, and more importantly, I know by exactly how much.  Not to panic, I just took an honest look at where I had more room in the budget (clothes and grooming) and tightened those categories.  Taking this honest look gives me a really clear idea of what needs to happen over the next four weeks and keeps my goal in sight.  (Find a full post on the steps for reassessing your budget here.)
  3. Plan and buy Christmas gifts now (if you haven’t already, my Black Friday friends).  I write down exactly what I’m going to get each person and what it’s expected to cost.  This keeps me on target and I don’t find myself wandering around the mall, wondering vaguely what I should be buying… because around the Christmas season, that’s pretty much my idea of torture.
  4. Be conscious of micro-splurges, and keep them to a minimum.  It’s the daily stuff that adds up: Starbucks gingerbread lattes, buying lunch out, paying more for a closer parking lot.  I’m an advocate of limiting these micro-splurges all year round, but around the holidays, when bigger purchases are unavoidable, saving $15/day by making your own coffee, bringing your lunch and parking farther away may just be the thing that saves your wallet.
  5. Enjoy the season!  Some of the best stuff is free (or nearly free).  Bake chocolate chip cookies.  Play Taboo with the family.  Clean the apartment while listening to Christmas music.  Take a drive to look at Christmas lights.  
This is my favorite time of year, and I have every intention of living it up.  I hope you do, too, and that together we make it through the month, wallets intact.  Oh, what fun!

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