Keep fall traditions, don’t bust budget

QUEEN OF FREE: CHERIE LOWE

By Cherie Lowe

I love the fall. I greet the cooler temperatures with enthusiasm. Redheads and the hot summertime weather don’t mix, after all.

The earth ignites in color, inspiring awe and wonder. My birthday rolls around every October and no matter how old I get, I still enjoy the celebration. Some of my favorite traditions surface each year, too. I love hiking with crunchy leaves under foot. I love apple cider and persimmon cookies. I love gathering with friends around a fire and toasting marshmallows. I love the first days of the holiday season.

There’s really only one thing I don’t love about fall. For me, the months of September, October and November are the most financially tempting months of the year. I love fall decor. I want to drink all of the lattés and buy all of the novelty foods.

From mums to apples from the orchard, from Thanksgiving-themed napkins and plates to Halloween costumes, I get so stinking caught up in all things seasonal.

What’s a autumnal girl who doesn’t want to bust her budget to do?

Evaluate last year’s goods

Before I buy anything new, I know what I need to do. I need to pull down the big plastic tub I sealed up last year when I assembled the family Christmas tree. Inside this tub, I’ll find all of the fall decor I just couldn’t pass up in years past. Only after I’ve put out these decorations do I consider whether I need to purchase anything new for this season. Usually, I discover items I love that have been packed away for more than a year and I discover there are very few new pieces required.

Set a budget

It really is OK to spend the money you’ve earned. Part of life should be enjoying the fruits of your labor. However, you cannot purchase all of the fun fall attire, food and decor if you’ll be neglecting the essentials in your life. Utilities, rent or mortgage, food, debt repayment — all of these have to come first. Then and only then, if you have any extra wiggle room in your budget, you can afford to spend on extras.

Set a specific total you’d like to spend. Withdraw that set dollar amount from the bank. Place it in an envelope. Use only that cash to fund your fall fun.

Make your own treats

If you’ve been to the grocery store lately, you’ve probably noticed a large special display of pumpkin spice foods. Let me be upfront. I enjoy pumpkin spice, but I think we can all agree it’s starting to get a little bit out of hand. Rather than falling into the trap of purchasing all of the processed pumpkin spice foods, choose to make your own special seasonal treats. They’ll taste much better and, if you choose to make them from scratch, cost much less in the long run.

Pick your pumpkin

Probably the most iconic symbol of the season, we typically purchase two or three pumpkins every year. Sometimes we carve faces into them. Other years, we’ve left them blank.

No matter what you choose to do, you’d be better off to pick up your pumpkin from the grocery store instead of hitting a roadside stand or a pumpkin patch. Typically, you’ll spend $4 or less on a grocery store-bought pumpkin but two to three times that amount elsewhere.

Choosing to carve your pumpkin this year? Skip the pricey carving kit with hard plastic tools and stencils. Head to queenoffree.net where you can find hundreds of free printable templates to get the job done. And use the knives and spoons you already have.

Evaluate what matters

Before you go to the craft store or visit the dollar section of any store, jot down your favorite things about fall. Whether it’s an experience such as a visit to a local orchard (we love The Appleworks) or farm (Kelsay Farms is the best), or a physical item such as mums or a new door mat, rank your favorite things about the season.

You’ll spend your money more wisely when you have a better handle on the true value of what you’re purchasing. I’m sure you already know, but you can’t do and buy everything. Make sure you know what counts the most. My guess is that some of your favorite things about fall aren’t things at all and don’t cost much or anything at all.

Just the beginning

Fall ushers in the most arguably expensive months of the year for most of us. Not far behind the hayrides and costume parties comes Christmas. If you don’t pace your spending, there will be no presents under your tree in late December.

The last three months of the year may feel like a sprint, but when it comes to your money they’re really more of a marathon. Make wise choices so you don’t fall into a financial trap at the end of the year.

Celebrate the season and enjoy the special traditions it brings. Just don’t mistake consumerism for joy. Don’t trade financial security for momentary pleasure. Happy fall, y’all.

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