It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas! Wait, what? As much as we complain when stores deck the halls while it’s still beach season, it turns out that they are actually on to something. Although we’ve got over a month left till Christmas, believe it or not, the best time to start plotting out your holiday spending is NOW! The more you plan ahead, the less likely you are to overdo it — and the more likely you are to still have some jingle in your wallet when 2018 rolls around!
No one wants to be a sad Santa this holiday season— get moving on these seven head starts to saving so this holiday season is a joyous occasion. We’ve got your budgeting, planning and shopping to-dos.
Head Start To-Do No. 1: Hash Out Your Holiday Budget
Just as with any other financial goal, the first step to getting financially ahead for the holiday season is to nail down a budget.
One of the best ways to do that, is to add up last year’s holiday receipts and credit card charges for a clear picture of what you spent.
You can then use these numbers as the basis for creating a 2018 holiday budget worksheet, where you’ll plug in realistic estimation for every holiday spending category — from entertaining and gifts to travel and charity donations.
Once you’ve landed on the right figures, devise a specific savings strategy that you’ll execute over the next six months to cover those holiday costs — such as brown-bagging your lunch a couple days a week or skipping Starbucks, and save on the difference.
Head Start To-Do No. 2: Open Holiday Savings Account
Even if you’re not quite ready to start your holiday shopping, it’s never too early to start your holiday saving.
While it may seem easier to simply funnel your holiday money into a catchall savings account that also includes your emergency cash—Your emergency fund should be used for emergencies only—we cannot stress enough how vital it is to keep emergency savings separate. Opening different accounts for each savings goal is a good way to keep from dipping into funds assigned for a different purpose.
When shopping for a place to park your holiday cash, look at online banks, which typically offer favorable interest rates as well as provide an extra layer of protection against the temptation to withdraw the funds for other things.
Another benefit to starting your saving early is you will be able to take out a smaller amount each pay period than if you wait until December.
Head Start To-Do No. 3: Plot Holiday Spending Plan
With a first draft of your holiday budget in hand, dig deeper by pinpointing exactly how you’ll spend money within each category to ensure your numbers are accurate.
Knowing whom you want to buy gifts for — and how much you’ll be spending on each person — is key.
Creating a plan well before the holidays not only keeps you organized, but it allows you to take advantage of deals throughout the year — alleviating overspending when you’re pressured at the last minute.
Head Start To-Do No. 4: Hit Pause on One Habitual Expense
Let’s be real: There’s always room to scale back your budget a bit more.
Whether it’s your tendency to toss a magazine into your cart at the supermarket checkout or to order several appetizers with dinner, choose one unnecessary expense you can live without — and funnel the money saved into your holiday account.
Head Start To-Do No. 5: Seasonal Sales
Since you’re getting an early start to your holiday shopping this year, you’ll actually be able to take advantage of seasonal sales.
Gift cards are great because you can use them as presents or stocking stuffers, or as a way to save on your own holiday expenses.
Back-to-school sales are also a great time to find deals on winter wear items that will be perfect for holiday gifts. Also following retailers’ social media accounts to source additional discounts is the secret to shopping sales.
Want another shopping secret? You can grab gift cards at up to 90 percent off for such stores as Target, Home Depot, and GameStop on a site like GiftCardGranny.
Head Start To-Do No. 6: Redeem Those Rewards
Summer spending probably racked up quite a few credit card points that you can put to good use for your holiday spending, but before redeeming, do some research on your creditor’s website to ensure you’re not missing out on any valuable incentives.
And, of course, remember to only charge what you can pay off in full — lest you end up triggering interest charges that will cancel out those reward benefits.
Head Start To-Do No. 7: Track Your To-Do List
There’s just one downside to all this proactive holiday planning: If you’re not careful, you’re likely to forget what you’ve purchased and buy it twice — which is why organization is key.
Keep spending in check with the Better Christmas List app. It allows you to create groups of people you are exchanging presents with, juxtaposed with a list of gift ideas and your budget. You can also track each gift’s status, like whether it’s been purchased, wrapped, and even shipped.
While it takes some initial effort to stay organized, your reward will come in December — when you’re sipping eggnog by the fire and others are frantically duking it out at the mall for last minute gifts.