When the temperature soars above 90 degrees and there’s still corn growing green in the field, it’s difficult to think about Christmas.
After all, the kids are barely back in school and we haven’t even celebrated Labor Day, Halloween or Thanksgiving yet.
While it might not look a lot like Christmas outside or in your home, my guess is it won’t be too long before we see decorations in the stores.
But before you get all “bah, humbug!” on me, I want to be sure you’re taking time to set yourself up for success this holiday season.
With less than 150 days remaining until the tree is trimmed, you need to be sure you’re preparing your budget now.
Start saving ASAP
We have eight different accounts with our bank. We’re constantly saving to make sure we are prepared for both short- and long-term goals. One of those accounts serves the purpose of making sure we have enough money every year when Christmas rolls around. It’s no surprise that Dec. 25 arrives every year, whether we want it to or not.
Our holiday saving pursuit begins on Jan. 1. A very small portion of nearly every check goes into that account until it’s filled to meet the budget we determine we will spend for Christmas.
Once we meet that savings goal, we direct our funds toward other efforts — including but not limited to a sinking fund for home repairs or a new car fund. Sometimes it feels silly putting away such small amounts, but even $5 per week means you can have $250 by Christmastime. You have less time to work with now, but all hope is not gone. Begin putting away as much money as you can as quickly as you can to make sure you don’t have to use credit cards to pay for Christmas this year.
As you build your savings, you need to consider how much you’ll spend. Break down each and every category of holiday spending. Don’t forget budget line items beyond gifts. The Christmas season brings with it many opportunities to celebrate.
From cards to photos, from holiday parties that require dresses and gifts to kind gifts for your friends and neighbors, your budget will encompass much more than you realize.
If you have no idea where to begin, comb back through your budget software or online bank statements from last year to gain perspective of how much you spent. It’s even a good idea to determine a rough estimate of how much you will spend on each person on your “nice” list.
Have difficult cHATS
Almost every year, around the second week in December, I begin receiving emails from men and women with a common theme. In short, each wants to know how to tell friends and family members that they’d like to reduce the amount they’re spending this holiday season.
The sad truth is that in December or even November, it’s really too late to open those discussions. For some families, August might be too late, too. But if you’d like to change the amount you’re spending or the number of gifts you buy for friends or family, the sooner those conversations can occur, the better.
Maybe you can suggest making homemade gifts or simply sharing a meal together instead of your past traditions of spending. Perhaps you could set a specific amount to stick to. While this dialogue might feel awkward, you may also be surprised that the other party is actually relieved to be left off the holiday hook. You can be certain that that awkwardness will only increase as the days pass.
Make extra money
Since you have less time to save money, you may want to think about other ways to increase the balance in your Christmas account. Typically you can achieve this goal in one of three ways. You can find a part-time job, sell something you own or educe your spending.
No matter how you choose to generate extra funds, you’ll want to be incredibly intentional about saving that money. Don’t let that extra work or those extra dollars slip through your fingers. Be sure to transfer them out of your checking account as soon as possible and put them in a savings account or even an envelope at home.
Leaving that money in your regular checking almost always results in you spending it and maybe even not realizing where it went.
I’m not trying to ruin what remains of your summer. I don’t want you to crank up the carols or dig out your decorations. I simply want to save future you stress, worry, and money this December. On Christmas day, you’ll look back and give a wink of thanks to August.
Greenwood resident Cherie Lowe and her husband paid off $127,000 in debt in four years and now live debt-free every day with their two kids. She is the author of “Slaying the Debt Dragon: How One Family Conquered Their Money Monster and Found an Inspired Happily Ever After.” Send questions, column ideas and comments to firstname.lastname@example.org