Paycheck Chronicles

Planning My Holiday Spending

Well, I finally found my Christmas book.  Whoohooo!  It is a green binder in which I keep all my holiday information - addresses for cards, what gifts we gave last year and what we plan to give this year, menus from parties, and other holiday season info.  It has been missing since we moved in May!  During the last few weeks, I've been a little concerned because I wanted to get myself organized and I didn't want to start from scratch.  Thankfully, I found a small box that somehow been stashed behind the curtains in the corner of the living room and there was my binder!

This morning, I vowed to catch up on my holiday planning and sat down with binder, new paper and pen in hand.  The first page I found was my budget.  Have you ever made a total budget for all the money you spend from before Thanksgiving to after New Years?  The first year, I thought that I would about fall over - by the time I added up the tree, cards and postage, extra food for the big meals and our holiday open house, babysitting for holiday events and tickets to the Nutcracker (our big family tradition), plus gifts, I calculated that we'd spend more than $1,500 extra between mid-November and early January.  And I thought we were pretty frugal!  Here's what it looked like:

  • Gingerbread Party:  8 houses at $6 each, plus extra decorations,  $60
  • Holiday Open House:  Food, $100;  Beverages, $100
  • Christmas Dinner:  $30 more than a usual dinner
  • Tree:  $35  Decorations $15
  • Nutcracker Tickets:  $150
  • Cards and Postage:   $60
  • Travel:  Gas, $300; Cat Sitter, $70; Meals on the road plus incidentals, $150
  • Babysitting for holiday events:  $120
  • Teacher Gifts:  $100 (and that is counting every teacher that each of my four kids have - even at a $3 hand soap from Bath and Body Works, that really adds up fast.)
  • Kid's Gifts:  $300
  • Gifts between the parents:  $100
  • Gifts for other family members:  $100-$200
Now, I'm sure that some of you will look at this list and think that we are amazingly extravagant.  Others will think that some of those numbers look awfully low.  However, the numbers aren't really the important part.  The most important part for me is seeing how all those "little" expenses come together to make a huge whammy by the end of the month.

So, how do I cope with an extra $2000 of spending in one month? There are a couple of different ways.  In really organized years, I put a little bit aside each month in a separate account that is designated for holiday expenses.  This year has been a little chaotic and I haven't been as diligent as I should have been.  I also make purchases throughout the year, particularly gifts.  I try to pare each category down just a little bit each year - maybe we have ham instead of prime rib for Christmas dinner, or we take the kids to that holiday party that is family friendly instead of getting a sitter.

While it is overwhelming to look at all the costs together, it helps me make sure that I have enough money to pay the bills on January 1st, and it also helps me to make good decisions throughout the holiday season.

I'm curious:  how do you plan for holiday expenses?

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