Holiday expenses have a way of sneaking up on you. Many people will find they aren’t fiscally prepared for the holiday season, and some last-minute savings will be needed to make it through to the new year financially intact.
It’s also important for a lot of people to have fulfilling holidays and not just survive them. People want to buy meaningful gifts for their loved ones, have gatherings with family and friends, and travel during holiday time off. To do that, you need to save some money quickly.
If you don’t have a Christmas savings plan in place that will allow you to financially get through the holidays, then you’ll have to act now and take some bold steps.
1. Plan your Christmas gifts in writing.
Sit down and determine what you expect to spend this holiday season. How many people do you need to give gifts to, and what will you spend per person? Also, think about family meals and travel. It’s crucial that you put all of this in writing to give yourself a roadmap to follow. Equally important is to keep track of how your spending goes, so you’ll know what to budget for next year.
Take a look at last year’s credit card receipts and bank statements. See if you can put together an accurate picture of your previous spending. Always see if you can manage to spend less, but more importantly, use last year’s spending to ensure that you’re being realistic in your written Christmas savings plan.
You’ve got a limited amount of time to accumulate the funds you need, so start saving money for Christmas weekly. Divide the total you need by the number of weeks you have left. If you plan to spend $600 total on gifts, and you have 8 weeks to do your shopping, then you need to set aside an extra $75 per week. Do this kind of math for any of your planned holiday spending, whether it’s food, gifts, decorations, or travel.
2. Host a garage sale to save for the holidays.
If you live in an area where the weather still permits it, plan a yard or garage sale to pick up some extra funds. Doing it now might give someone else the chance to buy an interesting holiday gift from you for someone on their shopping list. Or old Christmas decorations might catch someone’s eye if they’re thinking about their own holiday décor. You’ll clear out some clutter and potentially make a few extra dollars toward your savings goals.
Besides yard sales, hit your local classifieds, or sites like Nextdoor, eBay or Craigslist, to sell big-ticket items. You might find someone who wants your old treadmill or exercise bike in time for their new year’s resolution. Anything that could be a holiday purchase for someone else should be advertised as such — add a line about how your item would make a great gift. Consider selling things like old video games your kids don’t play anymore, or toys they’ve outgrown.
If you do sell items online, take care not to be scammed. Selling locally through sites like Nextdoor will let you know who the buyer is, so it’s not an anonymous transaction. Meet in a public place to make the exchange, and insist on cash. It’s perfectly reasonable to protect yourself in this way.
3. Find extra employment.
This time of year, lots of retailers will be looking to hire seasonal help. You’ll go in with an understanding that your time there is limited, so you’re not making any life-altering commitment. It’s also understood that a seasonal hire might have another job, and you should be able to pick up flexible hours, like working nights & weekends.
Depending on your current lifestyle, a side job like this might be very demanding but remember it’s only temporary, and that extra paycheck can be solely devoted to your Christmas savings account.
If finding a second job doesn’t sound realistic, see if your current employer has the capacity to give you more hours during the holidays, or offer your services for one-off odd jobs around the neighborhood. Someone might be willing to pay for help cleaning or getting ready for a big holiday party. These days, apps like TaskRabbit or Lyft give more people a quick way to pick up extra work.
4. Cash in any extra savings.
Do you have extra savings you’ve accumulated that it’s time to cash in? Maybe a coin jar or other stash of extra cash is holding more funds than you realize. You might also have credit card rewards you can cash in. Install your bank or creditor’s app on your smartphone and log in—that will make it very easy to see what rewards you’ve accumulated and how you can redeem them.
Another place to look is any online accounts you have that could have a positive balance. Do you have funds in an iTunes or PayPal account? Call and see what you can do to reclaim those funds or use them to fund gifts for others.
Finally, if you have outstanding debts where you’re the creditor, talk to the people who owe you money. No matter the source, any money you’re owed needs to start coming your way if you want to build your Christmas savings account on short notice.
5. Cut unnecessary Christmas expenses.
This is not as simple as just spending less (though that’s always a good idea). You should really take a look at all of your monthly expenses and start making phone calls. Can you adjust your insurance policy to lower your rate? If you’ve gone years without filing a claim, it might be time to ask for a better deal or start shopping around.
The same is true of your cell phone plans, cable bills, and other subscriptions. Anything that can be altered to be less expensive, or canceled altogether, will save you money over the next few months as you save up for the holidays.
Are you paying high heating bills as winter sets in? Look into adjusting your utility bills to even out your monthly payments, so you won’t see a spike in your gas bills during the colder winter months. Talk to your gas company about “Budget Billing,” “guaranteed billing plans,” a “level pay plan”, or whatever your gas company calls their program.
After you’ve cut monthly expenses, it’s time to cut day-to-day spending. Stop eating out for lunch every day, and start packing a cheap sack lunch. Remember, this is temporary until you get through the holidays. After the new year kicks in, you’ll either be better at packing a nice lunch for yourself, or you’ll be financially ready to go back to dining out.
Set aside the money you save in this way. Saving money for Christmas weekly is important, so any dollar you save cutting expenses should be saved, week after week.
6. Learn to budget for the holidays.
Not all of your changes should be short-term solutions to get you through the holidays. Create a budget and make some permanent changes to how you plan your spending. Not only will this help you build your Christmas savings account, but it’ll also make you more financially secure going forward.
While you’re at it, learn how to save for Christmas from our “Surviving the Holidays” educational guide, available free from our downloads page. There’s also our “Essential Couponing” workbook if you want to use coupons to cut your spending.
If you’re swimming in credit card debt, you might need a more focused plan to address your monthly debt payments and budget for other areas of your life. A debt coach can help you free of charge and give you options for getting out of debt and achieving financial freedom.