in Plan by Lacey Langford, AFC®
Christmas in July is “the most wonderful time of the year” to start saving and preparing for the holidays. For many people, the holiday season is the most stressful time of the year. Starting to save money early can reduce stress and make the holidays more enjoyable.
Christmas in July is a summer celebration of Christmastime. It’s meant to get you in the mood and start preparing for the holidays. Christmas in July is the perfect time of the year to get your finances ready for Christmas.
July marks about ten or eleven pay periods before Christmas. Did that make your heart speed up a little bit? You’re not alone. December comes every year, so why do we continue to let it sneak up on us and strip away our holiday joy?
It’s no secret that the holidays are stressful. In fact, the average couple will have SEVEN arguments during the holiday season. That’s not holiday cheer. Starting to save Christmas money in July means more money to spend the holidays the way you want with the ones you love. Kicking your savings into high gear in July also means fewer worries and more joy during “the most wonderful time of the year.”
Here’s how to get a jumpstart on your Christmas money.
The first thing you need to do to prepare for the holiday season is to figure out what you need to buy for the holidays. Then decide how much you’ll allocate to it. You can call this whatever you want—a spending plan, a budget, a forecast—but it should be your holy grail for holiday spending.
If you’re married, collaborate with your spouse so that nothing gets left out (this discussion should end some arguments). Be sure to include categories such as gifts, travel, parties, decorations, food (if hosting), and other expenses like ugly Christmas sweaters, family pj’s—you get the picture—included everything. Your spending plan will also need the following:
List every person you intend to give a gift to (keep reading for ideas to dwindle this list down).
Decide in advance what to buy. Go ahead and ask your loved ones to make wish lists now. Requesting your loved ones to create a wish list now ensures that by December, they’ll have forgotten what they wanted, and it’ll be a surprise.
Once you know what you’re going to buy, you can combine your online orders. Combining orders saves you time, as well as shipping, packaging, and fuel costs.
Once you know what and where you want to buy something, you can watch for sales.
When you create your spending plan, you can work backward. For example, if you decide you can spend $1,200 this holiday season, you can start earmarking the funds. If your family chooses to put $500 towards travel, $250 for your annual holiday party, you’ll have $450 to put on towards gifts. Then you will break the $450 down by person.
Once you’ve started making your purchases, be sure to track what you spend. Sometimes you can score big and find a better sale than you anticipated! When this happens, set the money you saved aside as a buffer. Forgetting someone or spending more than planned is going to happen. Give yourself some wiggle room. There are several ways to track your expenses:
Use Excel or Google Sheets to track how much you have spent and how much you have left to spend. If you’re not savvy with creating spreadsheets, you can easily find a template online.
Another resource is Tiller. Tiller is an online platform that connects your Google Sheets to your personal finance platforms like Personal Capital or your bank. It costs about $7 per month to use but Tiller can sup-up your Google Sheets and be a hub to manage your finances.
With this tracking method, you will create an envelope for every person and category from the spending plan. You will put the exact amount of cash from the budget into the envelope. When you’re out of money in that envelope you have two choices: You can either use money from another envelope, leaving you less for that category, or stop your spending.
If you want to try a digital version of the envelop system, check out Qube. It’s the envelope system of our times. A Qube account allows the whole family to use a digital envelop system. It solves the problem of being out and not having the envelopes with you. Qube costs between $18-27 month but users save an average of $400 per month using the digital envelope system.
Keep a small notebook in your car or purse and update it after every transaction. Many people prefer to write out their budget the old fashion way. You can use a budget planner to help you stay organized (especially during a PCS).
I love finding ways to be more efficient in saving money! There are many apps out there nowadays that simplify this process. If you choose to use an app to save more money for a specific goal, be sure to name the account. When you put a name and a goal, you are less likely to touch the money throughout the year.
Acorns is an app that you link your accounts to (debit, credit), and it rounds up all your purchases to the next whole dollar. The money that gets rounded up is transferred into a separate account. From there, you can invest it in a portfolio of your choosing, ranging from conservative to aggressive. Acorns is a great way to save a little more. And hopefully, come the holidays, you won’t have to use credit cards. Keep in mind that if saving for a holiday is your goal, consider using a conservative portfolio. Acorns has a monthly fee.
Digit is an app that uses an algorithm to analyze your income and spending habits and makes automatic transfers into a savings account based on how much it determines you can save. Christmas in July is the perfect time to start using an app to build up your savings for the holidays. FYI, Digit has a monthly fee.
Rakuten is a useful web browser extension that lets you earn cashback on an item you’re shopping for. It is an effortless way to save and make money, and this one won’t even cost you a monthly fee.
It’s tempting to charge everything to a credit card and vow to pay the balance once you get your tax return. Every year, Americans go into debt for Christmas.
Let’s expand on the $1,200 budget we discussed above. Say you charge your $1,200-holiday expenses to a 16% interest credit card and pay the minimum payment. It’ll take you 61 months and cost you 31% more than using cash or debit. Let’s say you pay a fixed $120 a month. In this situation, you’ll incur less than $100 in interest, but it will take you 11 months to pay off.
The credit card will get paid off the following December! If you’re still paying off last year’s gifts in the current year, you probably aren’t saving for the upcoming holiday season. You can break the cycle!
More on paying for Christmas: How to Cover Christmas This Year
We’re all familiar with the saying, “it’s the thought that counts.” But really, it’s the thought that counts. Think back to some of your most cherished gifts. Why was a particular gift so meaningful to you? Was it because someone put a lot of thought or effort into something that would make you and you alone happy?
There are lots of ways to spend less but give more. Here are a few ideas:
More on holiday shopping: Practical and Inexpensive Gift Ideas
Who doesn’t love getting gift cards? I know I do! One thing I try to do when I get them is to use them up sooner than later. According to a CNBC article, $3 billion of gift cards go unused each year! The longer you have them sitting in our wallets, the more likely you’ll forget they’re there. Gift cards also can have inactivity fees, and worse, they can expire.
When you buy gift cards for others, be sure to inspect it and make sure there is no evidence of tampering. The stickers are still affixed, and nothing is scratched off. Keep the activation receipt and tape it to the card. I have personally been given a gift card that was paid for but was mixed up and ultimately did not have a balance. Finally, be leery of buying gift cards on online auction sites as they may be counterfeit or stolen.
More on money and the holidays: How to Save the Most Holiday Money
The holiday season doesn’t have to be stressful! Start saving early, create a plan in advance addressing the 4 W’s- Who, What, When & Where. Pace yourself. Preparing for the holidays is a marathon, not a sprint! And then, sit back and enjoy the magic of the holiday season!
Want to learn more about personal finance in the military? Check out the latest episodes of the Military Money Show below.
If you want to “kickstart” your finances in the military, you can get access to my free Financial Kickstart Kit here.
Featured photo by Senior Airman Rumbaugh