Even though the kids are just heading back to school and December may seem far away, it’s not too early to draw up a financial plan for the holidays.
That’s because creating your financial blueprint now can help avoid headaches later, like overspending and sinking into debt, experts say.
Heading into the holidays without a plan can increase the risk of unraveling an entire year’s worth of financial discipline – as well as undermining your enjoyment of the season. Unfortunately, most Americans enter the holiday season without a financial game plan.
“We found that two-thirds of Americans do not have a holiday budget,” said Greg McBride, chief financial analyst of Bankrate.com. “That can certainly present problems given the fact that the holidays generate lots of one-time big expenses and it happens every year.”
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August is a prime time to start planning, and this year provides a bonus: Because there are five Fridays in the month, some workers will receive an extra paycheck, McBride says. It’s a great opportunity to sock away that money for the holidays and begin building a cushion to weather higher spending, he adds.
Below are tips from experts on how to start a financial plan for the holidays.
Create a budget
Racking up credit card bills isn’t uncommon at the holidays, with more than one in four adults admitting they go into debt during the season, according to Dana Marineau, a financial advocate at personal finance company Credit Karma. Creating a budget can aid you in sidestepping the debt trap, she adds.
As part of the budget, make a list of specific items you’d like to buy for friends and family members to help you avoid impulse purchases, Marineau recommends.
“Be thoughtful about what you want to buy,” she says. “Maybe you see a great sweater you get targeted on Instagram. You think, ‘Maybe my Aunt Mary would like that,’ but don’t allow the impulse of the targeted advertising” to sway you.
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Don’t forget costs beyond gifts
Holiday shoppers often forget about costs like travel and entertaining, McBride notes. When you create your budget, make sure to add in the expense of flights, hotels, dining out and other ancillary costs.
These costs can often exceed spending on gifts, with credit bureau Experian finding that the typical American who plans to travel at the holidays spends about $930, compared with about $850 in gift purchases.
Put money aside now
Don’t wait until the last minute to save for holiday shopping and travel. If you receive an extra paycheck in August, sock away part or all of the money, as McBride recommends. And remember that some of your holiday expenses may occur far earlier than you expect, such as if you buy airline tickets in October for a family visit in December.
“Put a portion of every paycheck toward holiday spending,” McBride recommends. “When the fall comes and you start to begin incurring holiday expenses, you’ll have some money set aside.”
Rethink your gift priorities
Lastly, rethinking gift-giving can help save money and time.
Anne Van Donsel of Burlington, Vermont, notes that her family, which is scattered around the country, opted to stop exchanging gifts a few years ago.
“It takes so much pressure off everything because you can enjoy the holidays without going broke,” she says. Instead of buying gifts, family members then have more money to spend on travel to visit each other, she adds.
“It makes it so it’s not overwhelming from a time perspective or financial perspective,” she says. “It takes you off that roller-coaster.”