The holiday season is one of my favorite times of the year, but due to the mass commercialism of the holidays, it’s now become one of the most stressful.
It is difficult to watch so many struggle with the pressures of expectations -- many of which are self imposed. As unemployment in the U.S. is still historically high, and families still aren’t saving at the same rate as they once were, allocating funds for the holidays can be difficult.
While many people consider a budget a four-letter word, it’s one of the best tools to curing financial, as well as holiday, stress. The budget in a way can become your scape goat and remove the burden of knowing when enough is enough.
One of the best ways to plan your holiday and Christmas shopping is to sit down and make a list of those you would like to buy presents for. If you have an idea of the number of people you’ll be shopping for it will be much easier to plan ahead in knowing what you can afford to spend.
There are some great apps for smart phones like Elfster and GiftPlanner as well as various websites that can help with this.
Next you must decide what you can afford in total, not per person. If you can budget $560 for holiday gift giving and have seven people on your list, then you know you can spend $80 per person. By starting with a total amount, you’re less likely to overspend compared to just buying gifts for each person and seeing how it all turned out in the end. According to a recent Gallup poll, the average U.S. consumer will spend $770 on Christmas gifts this year, which is in line with what shoppers spent last year.
Once you know who you’ll be shopping for and how much you can spend, it’s time to start shopping. By sticking to our list we can track what items and how much has been spent on each recipient. Many shoppers find that they have excessively overspent once all the gift buying is said and done.
By sticking to your budget and keeping track of who you’ve purchased gifts for you’ll have a much more stress-free holiday season. Also remember the purpose of the season, don’t get lost in the shopping frenzy only to lose sight of what’s truly important during the holidays.
Many of us face financial pressures that are required in an overly stressed economy. The last thing we need is more stress over getting the right gifts, equalizing expenditures and coming up with the funds to cover the festivities afterwards.
Try to relax a little and enjoy the wonderful time with family and friends. Developing a budget will go a long way to creating a more peaceful holiday. Do yourself a favor and share the budget process with your children. The family project will pay dividends for all down the road.
Joseph “Big Joe” Clark, whose column is published Sundays, is a certified financial planner. He can be reached at email@example.com or 640-1524.