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6 Steps to a Financially Happier Holiday Season

A trip to any supermarket or department store quickly reminds you the holiday season is near. Despite still snacking on pumpkin seeds and Halloween candy, it’s still not too late to make a holiday spending plan. Investing a few hours now to craft a plan can save you time and money to help you survive the most wonderful time of the year. Here are six steps so all the spreading of holiday cheer won’t cause you financial stress in the new year.

Make a Holiday Spending Map

Look carefully at your budget and decide how much you can really afford to spend this holiday season. Then create a spending map that includes all of your holiday spending categories. Keep in mind the money you’ve budgeted has to pay for more than just gifts.
Don’t forget things like decorations, travel expenses, tips and extra charitable giving. Although some of these expenses are small, each can have a huge impact on your budget. Add detailed cost estimates to each category and total your projected holiday spend to get an accurate picture of your holiday spending activity.
Don’t take a detour by increasing your budget or going into debt if there’s a gap between what you can afford and your projected spending. Find areas where you can cut back instead. When the January credit card bills arrive, you’ll be happy you stuck to your plan.

Set up a Buffer Account

Have you ever found the perfect gift for that special someone after you finished shopping? Maybe an invitation arrives for a fancy New Year’s Eve party. Or you find out a family in your community could really use some extra financial support. This is the time to use your buffer account.
It’s not impossible to focus on building extra cash during the last two months of the year. Start the decluttering you planned and sell items on Facebook Marketplace or Craigslist, or clothing on Poshmark. Pick up a part-time seasonal job or if you are lucky enough to get one, bank that holiday bonus. You could even go on a personal spending diet and use an app like Tip Yourself to build up savings with the money you’re not spending.
You’ll be surprised at how much you can make or save during this short period of time. If your buffer account has money after the holidays, you can use it to start holiday savings account for next year too.

Be a Savvy Shopper

Retailers are already busy filling your email inbox and social media feeds with messages of amazing holiday deals. There are super coupons, flash sales and items deeply discounted. Just remember even if the sales look tempting, the goal is to separate you from your money.
Recognize tricks designed to make you overspend. Don’t assume the sale price is the best price – do your research and avoid impulse purchases. And if you make a purchase you regret, return the item. We all make mistakes and the bigger mistake is to keep something you don’t want or can’t afford.
Savvy shoppers also find ways to save money on the must-have items on their lists. Consider using shopping apps such as Ebates or BeFrugal, which give cash rebates to customers who shop at partner retailers. Ibotta even generates mobile coupons that can be used in addition to manufacturer’s coupons in many stores.
If you know where you will be doing your holiday shopping, you might find discounted store gift cards at sites like Raise.com or CardCash.com. And if you time it right, boost your savings by using the cards to make purchases during advertised sales.

Give Purposeful Presents

When you make your shopping list think about the people more and the presents less. What you’ll probably find is personal gifts aren’t the expensive ones. Skip the gift card and take your parents to the park for a picnic dinner and free concert. Buy the ingredients and spend an evening trying out a new recipe with a friend. Frugal gifts like these are more meaningful than any sweater or bottle of perfume will ever be.
And if spending time together isn’t an option, consider making a charitable donation in their honor. For less than the cost of a take-out dinner, you can give the gift of hope to families across the globe through projects like Heifer International. You’re loved ones may never know the full impact of your gift, but they’ll certainly remember how good it felt to get.

Gather a Group

It’s easy to get overwhelmed during the holidays. When you add one more thing to your already over-filled plate, your inner Scrooge appears. Talk to friends and family about ways you can help each other through the holiday season. Make it a goal to reduce stress, while saving time and money.
Set up a playdate calendar or trade babysitting time to finish holiday shopping. Do you have a friend who is a great photographer? Let them snap the family holiday card photos rather than spending money at a studio. Maybe the bakers in your crowd would gladly share dozens of cookies if someone else would wrap presents and run errands.
Chances are you are surrounded by people who have holiday superpowers but feel as stressed as you. Make that energy work for everyone so that you can enjoy the holidays rather than just power through.

Make Reservations Today

A look at your calendar may remind yourself if you haven’t finished holiday travel plans. Have you booked plane tickets, rented a car or decided where you’ll stay? According to financial guru Clark Howard, if you haven’t made holiday travel reservations yet, do it now. There are still some deals to be found. And don’t forget to purchase tickets to holiday shows or sporting events before they sell out or you may end up buying them from resellers at much higher rates.
The countdown to holiday merriment is on. Take action to be smart with your finances this holiday season. Skip the last-minute trips to the store and remember your friends and family are feeling the same holiday stress as you. Your season’s greetings will have more meaning if they don’t set you back financially to start the new year.
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