Challenge Accepted!

Making the Holiday Budget List and Checking it Twice

Making the Holiday Budget List and Checking it Twice

So in my last blog I challenged everyone to come up with a financial savings strategy that I could execute as a 30 day financial challenge in November.

So I chose two to try this month…I know such an over achiever

  1. I am trying Ali’s suggestion from the comments, to take the equivalent amount spent on non-essential items and place in a savings jar.
  2. I am also going rogue and trying an idea that I did last year and putting every single five dollar bill in a savings jar.

With six days into the month I have saved $10.00 from the $5 bill exercise and nothing from the non-essential items.  I think this weekend will be a great opportunity to test that non-essential item exercise…I see a few non-essential beverages in my future.

This time of year with the holiday’s approaching; it is tempting to get a little loosey goosey with the old budget and less diligent with the savings.

My primary goal with both exercises is to just reassert some savings discipline into the mix. 

Speaking of the holidays, informal poll….how many of you actually create a holiday budget?

I actually become a bit excited about creating a holiday version of our budget. 

I begin our budget by creating a comprehensive list of every expense associated with the holiday season.  This means I have columns for everyone that we need to purchase gifts for, from care givers to the mail person.

I have a list of items for all holiday meals.  I even factor in incidentals such as; holiday cards, wrapping paper and shipping costs.

My husband and I then sit down and figure out exactly what we have to work with from a budget perspective and distribute it across all of our listed items.

Not everything or every person makes the final cut…

But at least my husband and I start the season off on the same page with level set expectations.  I have found this exercise makes a huge difference in how stressed out I am over the holidays.

If I know that somebody is not going to receive a purchased gift, I try to find a creative way to include them with a homemade something or other.

If we need to be a bit less festive for our holiday meal celebrations I know to enlist the help of our invited guests to bring the beverages.

It basically comes down to planning. 

Once I have the financial blue print for the season, I can bob and weave more effectively.

I would love to hear about your budgeting tricks for the holiday season.  I would also like to know who is joining my November 30 day financial challenge.

About Suzanne Coblentz

27 Responses to “Challenge Accepted!”

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  1. Travis says:

    Going into the holidays with a plan is a MUST, and I agree with you 100% that having one will undoubtedly reduce the stress of the season. Additional things we like to do to complete that plan are:

    1.) make plans early for family gatherings
    2.) get on the same page with extended family about gift giving expectations at those family gatherings. I like to throw out ideas that would keep gift giving to a minimum (like playing games for nominal fun prizes instead of exchanging gifts with everyone), but fun to maximum.

    Count me IN for the $5 challenge….I’ll spot you the head start. Is it cheating if I explicitly ask for change to be given in $5 bills if possible? LOL.

  2. I don’t create a holiday budget because I actually don’t spend a lot during the holidays. Whatever I do spend just comes out of my normal discretionary category. I’ve been forgoing a lot of non-essentials since fincon. My income has decreased quite a bit this fall while I had some big expenses, so I’ll be pretty much laying low for the rest of the year, save for a few oscar-type movies I really want to see in the theater. Good luck with your challenge!

    • Hi Travis,
      I think #2 is really important and can be awkward if you don’t approach before the shopping season is underway.

      Okay Pizel, it’s ON! I will waive my initial $10 and begin fresh – I ain’t scared LOL – and no that does not count as cheating since I did that on Saturday LOL!!!! Okay bring it friend, let the best personal finance person win – but really won’t we all win 🙂

    • Hey Budget and the Beach,

      Sounds like you have your holiday budget strategy pretty well handled. Not spending is equally effective LOL

  3. I can say that I have a rough budget for the holidays as we usually discuss it with the family before we do any gift shopping. It makes it much easier when you put a limit on how much can be spent. I use the max and then see how well I can push myself under without giving crappy gifts.

    • Hi Grayson,

      I think having that final number is the most important part of the budget equation. I know what you mean about the crappy gift thing…I try to go ‘home made’ when I realize the budget is going to create a lack luster gift situation. Straight from my oven/heart wins over tacky item every time. Thanks for stopping by!

  4. Hi Suzanne,

    Rarely do we (wife and I) create a budget for Christmas. This year will be different. It took our family 4 years to become debt free. Christmas gifting can add up quickly.

    • Hi Rich,

      First of all, HUGE congratulations to you and your wife for working your way out of debt! I know very well just how challenging it is to accomplish a debt free life. Well I hope my post is helpful to you as you build out your first holiday budget. Leave no detail unaccounted for and you can’t miss 🙂 Thanks for stopping by!

  5. My budget for gifts is $265 + any extra I can make from mystery shopping, etc. Super small but I am an excellent clearance rack shopper. I shop for my family first, then friends. I divide up how much I will spend per person and have a google doc spreadsheet of gift ideas and what I have already bought (which eliminates the early shopping over-shopping that can happen when you find something that you think is a perfect gift for someone even though you already bought them something). The way I determined my budget is adding up the $100 a month misc money I budget a month for Nov and Dec, plus $65 I got from an online focus group I did. I have big medical bills coming in right now so the budget is probably not going to go up.

    • Hi Alice,

      Love your blog btw! I think you have a really detailed plan of attack, so of course I love it! I think keeping track of what you have purchased so you don’t over buy. I hope that the medical bills don’t overwhelm your plan! Thank you for commenting 🙂

  6. Kathy says:

    Great post!

    For holiday spending/budgeting, I have a certain amount from each paycheck put into an account that is used exclusively for Xmas/Thanksgiving. It is in my name only, so the hubs can’t “accidently” spend from it. 🙂 The debit card for that account is in a separate portion of my wallet so I don’t “accidently” use it. When both my husband & lost our jobs, it was quite a challenge to keep that account funded. Well, first we had to look at past spending for it & see how we could downsize the amount, slashing where we could. One area we did NOT slash was the giving portion. That stayed the same & ended up being a large chunk of the amount spent.

    Since I love Excel spreadsheets, especially the formulas that can be put in to do all the calculations for me, I have gone overboard with them. I use the same file, with a tab for each year (going all the way back to 2005). For the holiday spending, I have specific categories, with a spending limit for each. They are Thanksgiving dinners for local families (3 of them, with a list of exactly what to get); family Xmas gifts by person, with an expanded category for each of our 3 kids (HAVE to spend the same amount for each, as they KNOW); 3 Christmas dinners for local families (same list as Thanksgiving); Christmas giving tree gifts for church, school, work (10 total); Christmas cards + postage (ugh!); etc. It’s fun to go back & look at what I bought for the kids over the years & what would get dropped off eventually. Ok – I’m a geek!

    These spreadsheets have helped me stay on budget, and I haven’t overspent on Christmas since the IRS took away the credit card interest deduction. Whoops – did I just date myself?

    I also have another section — “personalized gift certificates” for certain family members (grandparents, special aunts/uncles/friends, godparents) from each of us (me, husband, & each of my 3 kids). We decorate index cards, writing our own gift certificates, fold them & hold shut with a Christmas stamp, & put them up in the tree, in their stocking, or even coat pocket or pocketbook to be found later. An example is one year one of my boys gave to his (now deceased) grandfather a gift certificate that said “Good for 4 car washes/vacuum by me & then a bowl of ice cream afterwards, to be redeemed by 12/1/2006”. At age 24 he still has it, with only 2 used, as his grandfather passed away in mid-2006. But it’s such a sweet thing to go back & read & laugh about these. I know this last part isn’t money-related, but it does tie in with the part about those not being able to receive purchased gifts.

    • Kathy, I didn’t see your post until after I sent mine about the separate savings account! I am not as detailed as you by a long shot – I just make sure I’ve got enough in the account to keep me covered. I did not do it this year and am trying to spread out my purchases by paycheck – buying a little at a time in starting in October, some more in November and then the rest in December.

    • Hi Kathy,

      Okay you are on the ball with your budget! It is refreshing to find another spreadsheet dork – which I mean as a total compliment 🙂 I too get very excited when it is time to create a new spreadsheet! Your personalized gift certificates are such a fantastic and fun idea! I may have to steal and thank you so much for stopping by to share with the EOD family!

  7. My list includes my parents, my spouse, my mother and father in law, 5 nieces, 2 nephews, teachers, coaches and my 3 kids between the ages of 7 and 13. I only give to coaches/instructors that my children are in a competitive or rep program with. I buy birthday gifts for good friends but don’t exchange gifts with friends at Christmas. My children have a program at school called Star of Hope, where they pick a star from a tree to buy a gift for a person in need – sometimes it is a specific gift and other times the star might say “10 year old boy”. I allow all of my 3 children to participate in this. The gifts requested are between $5 and $25. My own children have been the most expensive in years past with wanting ipods, licensed sportswear, etc.

    What I have done in the past but didn’t do this year is divide the amount I spend at Christmas and then put aside a certain amount with every paycheck, so if the amount spent this year is $300, just put aside $25 from one paycheck per month starting in January. By December, you have the money and don’t have to charge it to your credit cards or you can but easily pay it off. I also plan to do the same thing for a vacation fund. Any purchase is just so much easier if you spread the payments out which is why so many stores have payment plans but charge interest. Instead, make the payments ahead of time to yourself in your special bank account and then you can pay for Christmas, a vacation or furniture in full when the time comes!

    I don’t often use cash so wouldn’t have enough $5 bills to get me much but like the idea – it’s all about spreading out the savings and planning a bit!

    • Hi Karen,

      I have always prided myself in previous years with spreading the costs for the holiday’s across the entire year. I did not make this a priority this year and am kicking myself now! I think that is a fantastic way to handle the expense and agree that having it all saved and ready to roll basically eliminates the temptation of using a credit card. You are clearly ready to rock out the holiday season with zippy financial stress so way to go! I appreciate the comment!

  8. Sassy Mamaw says:

    My hubby and I are still paying off debt, so most of our savings goes into that and our 401k.

    We have a Christmas Club account at the local credit union. I love that it keeps the holiday money separate from our regular savings. I have three grown kids, 2 of them married, plus 6 grandkids. My holiday budget is pretty big, but it is a true budget, in that I know how much I am going to spend on each person. Every time a new grandchild is born, I put an additional $5 per pay period into the account. I guess the Christmas Club is sort of old-fashioned, but it works for us!

    • Hi Sassy,

      I am a huge fan of the Christmas Club accounts. Keeping that money separate is extremely effective and you can almost forget it is there building LOL. I love that you account for each new grand child…that is super on the ball. I don’t think there is anything old fashioned about leveraging the club savings account…I think it is tried and true and works! I know you will be able to relax and just enjoy the holiday season 🙂 Thank you so much for stopping by to share!

  9. I rarely use cash (love my credit card rewards) so I’m not sure how much this challenge would benefit me. I don’t think I have a single $5 bill in my wallet.

  10. dojo says:

    For us it’s easy: we don’t spend the holidays. I mean we do eat on Christmas (we don’t have Thanksgiving here), but we don’t go out of our way too much with it. No decorations, no presents, it’s a regular day for us. Not to mention we’re trying to save as much as possible, since 2 months after Christmas we’re expecting our child, so we do have a lot of expenses lined up. In the following years we’ll need to re-think our strategy, so that the kid can have a ‘normal’ Christmas, but this year we can still do our thing.

    • How freeing it must be to just not ‘do’ a holiday…feeling just a tad jealous of you @Dojo. Well, you have plenty of tips and techniques to get you started with the holiday budget for next year. I do think that spreading the expense across the entire year is probably the best bet. You can either shop all year long or just save all year long…either way, you are all not going to be too stressed when the holiday season comes a calling. Yay on the first baby! Congratulations!

  11. I’m humbled by your post and by the comments people are writing! Christmas is a bit of a “sacred cow” for me, and I’m avoiding the thought of it, because this year we really should cut back on our expenditures. We’ve had huge expenses lately, and to make headway on our debt-reduction, we’ll have to make some tough decisions. I just don’t want to make them! I will follow your example and write out a comprehensive list of expenses with my husband. That will be a start. I needed a Christmas reality check. Thanks for providing it : )

    • Hi Prudence,

      Believe me when I tell you that I understand. I am thrilled that this blog and the subsequent dialogue has helped to inspire you for the upcoming holiday season. I hope you will come back and let us know how you do 🙂

  12. I like the idea of saving every $5 bill! Good luck on the challenge! 🙂

  13. I’m with you on the non-essential items… most of my spending money goes to those! As far as the holidays are concerned, I do start out with a budget, but most of it goes to decorating and food. It just doesn’t feel like the holidays to me unless my apartment is decked out in full holiday cheer!

    • Hi Terry,

      I totally know what you mean! I also find that it becomes much easier to justify some of the spending based on the “special” aspect of the season. This 30 day challenge has been really helpful in terms of timing. I have found myself putting things back on the shelf a lot over the past two weeks. Thanks for stopping by 🙂

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