Begin preparing for holidays now to avoid headaches later

QUEEN OF FREE: CHERIE LOWE

By Cherie Lowe

I indulged a guilty pleasure in July. You see, I teach an indoor cycle class at a local gym and each year at the end of July, we ride to Christmas music. I plug in Christmas lights and we enjoy working out along to upbeat carols and holiday favorites.

The cyclists enjoy the festive break from our typical playlist and I get to hear music I love that’s only deemed appropriate a month or so out of the year.

Win, win

While you probably won’t listen to Christmas music in August or decorate a tree, you can make some smart moves now to ensure a merry and bright season. Waiting until November or December to plan threatens your budget.

The holly and the ivy, the tinsel and the bows bring with them the potential for great joy. They’re also fraught with Grinch-like disaster. Keeping the happy in your holidays begins in the summer months, not on Black Friday or after the first snowfall.

Have conversations now

November and December bring family celebrations. We all love spending time with the people who matter most in our lives. However, the air around those gatherings can be filled with tension, unmet expectations and disappointment.

If gift-giving and parties have stretched you to the limit during the Christmas past, you need to begin to have conversations about limiting giving and spending now.

Don’t wait until the holiday season is in full swing to bring up uncomfortable talks. Instead, have an honest and kind conversation with your friends and family about your current financial situation. While we were paying off $127,000 in debt, I was so nervous to share with our extended family the limited resources we had to actually spend on gifts.

Imagine my surprise when I was met with relief rather than condemnation because they too felt overwhelmed by the traditions we had established. Make a phone call, write an email or set up a time to chat so you can get a workable solution in place before the gifts have been purchased.

Start saving now

Here’s what I know about your checking account. If you leave any extra money in it at all, it will grow legs and walk to the nearest Target. You must put into place automatic procedures to get any non-budgeted funds out of the checking account as soon as they arrive.

For Christmas in particular, we established a savings account years ago. We set a savings goal each year for how much we’d like to budget for Christmas. Then, we slowly but surely fill our account up. If money is left over at the end of the month, we transfer a small percentage into the savings account. This helps us slowly and steadily save all year long instead of panicking on Dec. 1.

Make more money now

In a couple of short months, retailers will begin hiring seasonal help. However, you may want to consider picking up extra work now. If you’re like most Americans, there’s not much (or any) wiggle room in your budget to save. So that means if you want to have a Christmas that’s more green than red, you’ll need to make more money.

This could require you to pick up more shifts or work more hours. Or you may want to consider taking on a second job. Or you could host a yard sale now and put back the profits for holiday spending. Think creatively about ways to bring in more cash with the express purpose of saving it for Christmas.

Consult experts now

Instead of reading about money-saving ideas and thrifty gifts in the hectic, hurry of the holidays, begin your research now. While it may seem a little odd to read about Christmas during months of high humidity and record temperatures, it’s a better use of your time. Consider creating a Pinterest board with ideas.

Check out books from the library now while there’s not much demand. I’ve written a succinct guide to saving money during Christmas entitled, “Keep the Happy in Your Holidays: 21 Ways to Save Time, Money, and Your Sanity.” You can find it on Amazon. Your time will be stretched thin during the holiday season. Take advantage now.

You may not be ready to crank up the carols just yet. I’m not going to force eggnog down your throat or dress you in a Santa suit. But it’s still wise to begin preparing for the holidays now instead of a week or two before the shopping season hits.

Your future self will thank you as he or she sits next to the fire truly enjoying the cards and cocoa, the cookies and the customs.

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 newstips@dailyjournal.net