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Friday, October 18, 2013

Budgeting Especially Around The Upcoming Holidays


  These days especially since the Government shutdown I am not the only one who is probably tightening their belts. Many people go broke and in debt to buy Christmas presents for family, friends and partners. People just charge, charge away hoping like the Griswolds that maybe a Christmas bonus will cover it or somehow they will be able to find the money. Sometimes people only use credit cards for Christmas and pay it off all year.

  But this season for me is going to be challenging. This past August I got laid off from my job and I am actively looking for work. I am very lucky to be able to collect unemployment  during my job search and my husband has a good paying job where he can sometimes make overtime money.

   I am bringing in half the amount of money that I did when I was working. I am lucky that when I was working my salary paid the smaller bills, I was able to put away for savings/emergency money and that we purchased our condo based only on my husband's salary. That does not mean that we can pay all our bills and our mortgage off of my husband's salary that is incorrect. We did not over commit on our mortgage. As much as we day dream of a house on acres upon acres we just don't have the budget for it now. Many people buy a house or condo thinking that there would be two salaries that could go towards it. This is not a good practice. If someone gets sick or loses a job then you have to really budget or you might have to even sell your home. So we are lucky thanks to my unemployment that we can make ends meet without having to dip yet into our emergency savings account. But I have to really budget. I am lucky that before I got laid off I really budgeted and put as much as I could into savings. But it has been hard!

  A good practice is to pay your bills, pay money into your savings, and pay money into your emergency fund. Your Emergency Fun should be at least six months average of both your salaries. Whatever money is left over I would  then divide into for groceries and then for wants after all that is paid. That practice is so hard! I get so many deals sent to my emails! Just today the cute luggage I wanted went on crazy sale! I just love this Weekender bag from Saturdays Kate Spade brand and today they introduced their 30% off Friends and Family deal! But instead I remembered we were low on money, we needed to still pay the mortgage/were still short money, that I had to still put $600 into the house fund and really as nice as it might go on sale for even more by Thanksgiving. It helps to see where the money is going and to make it about logic instead of impulse. For right now it is more of a want not a need! I am just going to have to wait until it goes on even better sale than 30% off and maybe try to get it for Christmas or post Christmas sales!

  Also December 19 my husband is getting surgery, he will be out of work for at least 3-5 days because he is getting his gallbladder out. This means that we have to live on for a week or two his vacation pay which does not have differential and he will lose out on a lot of overtime. On top of that dilemma we have to pay a rather steep 30% of the fees out of pocket. We have a larger deductible this year that I doubt he has made yet. So there is going to be extra monetary stress during the holidays. But my husband has to get his gallbladder out and we are going to enjoy Christmas this year. It just adds to the importance of budgeting this Christmas.

  It is very tempting to live outside your means every day. When the Holidays come around even those that are frugal are tempted to "just not think about it because it is the holidays." The holidays are also a way to one-up people and to go way over the top than needed! Think about the Christmas with Kranks how one family decided not to celebrate Christmas and how pressured they were to put up crazy decorations! Think how bad the Griswolds got with the decorations! These are funny events because they are based on real situations just in hyperbole! When one is younger often one just spends, spends, spends because often it is not really one's money or one does not have a lot of bills. Sometimes I would get gifts for people just because I would be afraid that I would not have a gift for someone and receive a gift from that person. Also no one wants to be called a Grinch or cheap!

   If one is needing to budget for the Holidays I recommend going to family and friends and being up front. Tell them that one is not expecting gifts, that one would rather have (insert what you rather have) and that you do not plan on getting or giving gifts. If one is making your gifts I would mention that to one's friends because some people don't like home made gifts. It could also ease the burden of having to buy you something and maybe they have always wanted to bake a gift instead of buying one! I also suggest that one instead has a Christmas dinner/party inviting friends and family as the Christmas gift. You could also make it be quasi-pot luck and assign people to bring certain items.

    I also only recommend baking, cooking or making your gifts if you have a talent. Nobody want your crazy craft crap for gifts because that is worse than not actually getting a gift! Don't be Ralph's aunt and make a pink bunny suit for someone for Christmas unless it is homage to A Christmas Story. Also remember that Christmas is not Mother's Day! One's friends and Family love you but not enough to be excited about a macaroni necklace because not everyone is one's mom! Plus when one is over 22 you cannot get away with that boho charm!

   Last year I did not give out gifts to my friends. I would usually bake cookies and send them out to my friends. Instead my friends were relieved because most were also feeling the pinch. I used the money I would normally use to bake the cookies (not including the shipping fees) and I donated it. I gave it to a charity that could better use my limited budget for good. 

   I was up front with my friends and a lot of friends were inspired. Instead of Christmas being about standing in long lines, and commercialism it was about enjoying the season with friends. It made me happier because I was not trying to make it work with a very limited budget to then have to stand in line to ship the items at the post office! Also I helped fund a classroom project that needed basic supplies after Hurricane Sandy through Donors choose. The classroom asked for paper, pens, binder, and paper. It really humbled me and made me realize that my budget can really go further by helping someone rather than giving a stupid cheap gift to someone. I asked that other people donate as well to the classroom and to try to fund other classrooms as well if on a budget. 

  I talk freely to my friends and if I am thinking of getting a gift for them I ask "do you want to exchange gifts this year?" This way I do not have to overspend and I kind of don't care if someone thinks I am cheap because other people don't pay my bills! If someone is not going to give me a gift I do not then have to send out a gift unless I really feel like they deserve a gift. But if one is going to go to a party they are throwing one could make something for the party, offer to help them set-up/clean up or go early to help them with the food. If you are meeting up for the holidays one could just maybe say "I'll get the drinks and you get the desserts." That way you make your gift an experience instead of just a one up-ing!

   Make the holiday season more about an experience than "well, what can I get for $15- $25 per person that does not make me look cheap!" Plus how often have one just gotten this crappy gift that you have no idea what to do with? Are you really going to wear that Wally World hat and when it comes time for Christmas you know you will lose it! That just either gathers dust, gets donated, e-bayed or just gets thrown out? That is wasteful and just not worth it! There is also  less chance of also receiving a crappy gift that you don't want if one doesn't exchange gifts! Which makes it less stressful because you don't have to pretend to like that hideous Christmas Sweater! You just can enjoy your time with a person and just get stressed out over your own family and your in-laws! (Just kidding to my family and in-laws!)

  Taking back the holiday and make it less about getting gifts makes the season less stressful! You will find that one has more time to enjoy the season ! One doesn't have as many melt downs and one can enjoy making all those Christmas cookies because you are refreshed! If one takes back the holiday one can be more selfish by taking those exercise classes one loves and you get more things done! One's energy does not get zapped by over priced items, long lines, losing one's car in the garage, lowered blood sugar, realizing one went over budget and one can spend it on things you want to do!

  Another good friend gift is that one could just make time for the person during the hectic time and enjoy free events in the city, make food/pastries with them and exercise. Exercise is often free or one could go to a reasonable priced class with a friend. If there is something that most of us don't do during the holiday season it is working out! That helps with stress, don't have to wrap it, wait in line to send it and great way to bond! Plus it makes one feel good and keeps one on task if you are trying to lose weight. So that Christmas cookie  that one have got to have is not so bad after one does a spin class. Or after that Spin class one might feel like one doesn't have to have that cookie. That never happened to me. One could make healthier choices because one is feeling good, one realizes how much it takes to burn calories, one is not as stressed and less likely to just eat from drive thru it! 

   I did a free belly dancing class with a friend and it was great fun but it was not my thing. But all the class cost me was a little bit of gas money and my pride! Now we can  be like "remember when I was an idiot in belly dancing class?" Instead of remember when I spend $300 on drinks going out in NYC, I got you that cashmere sweater I never see on you,  I woke up with a hangover and 5lbs heavier? You get fun for a whole lot less which means you can get together a whole lot more!

  You could also afford to budget if one does not have young children in the family. My in laws and my family are all adults so there is no need to buy something right now. One could give them a gift certificate so that they could spend the money on items that will be on sale right after Christmas. One can easily send an Amazon gift if you have an email for the recipient. CVS and grocery store chains now have gift cards in the store so you can get your groceries and gifts out of the way! With the gift cards you can just start budgeting in October and slowly buy when you have extra money the gift cards. When I gave gifts I tried to just through out the year put aside money. I have a list of names I check off after I purchase a gift card and then I keep all my gift cards in that folder so I do not lose them. But when in doubt all adults like money and it always fits!

   Last year my in laws and we were not able to go all out for Xmas. I recommended that we do a Secret Santa with gift cards of $25 and that we just have a really good pot-luck Christmas Dinner. It was good because we did not have to stress ourselves out nor did we have to go over budget. We just spent $50.00 plus whatever the cost for my appetizers and cookies that I made. For my family because I did not want to stand in line for shipping items I use the same budget I spent on my in laws for my family. I sent early around my dad's birthday (December 15) cookies before the long lines started at the post office. I told them to freeze them for Xmas or to share them at my dad's birthday. For my brothers I sent them gift certificates in the budget range to Amazon.com directly to their emails. I did not pay for shipping and I gave it to them before Cyber Monday and Black Friday incase they wanted to pick up something.

   This year for my dad's birthday and for my family for Christmas I am sending them Legal Seafoods online. My dad loves Legal Seafood. He goes crazy over Lobster Mac and Cheese, and he loves Clam Chowder. I  got 5% back by going through ebates. I also saved 20% because I found a promo code on Retail me or Not when I searched the internet. So I spent a good deal of money for just my dad's birthday but it was not bad since it is also my family's Christmas gift. I have five other people in my family and technically since it is my dad's christmas/birthday gift I can divide the total by 6. My gift is a good one because it is chance before Christmas for my my family to get together enjoy food that they love and it is an experience. Since I cannot be there to make my appetizers and cookies it is a way to do something nice for them. I also got a lot for my money. I got 1 gallon of clam chowder, 1 lbs of cooked shrimp cocktail, 2 orders of lobster mac and cheese, Bacon wrapped scallops, and dinner rolls. All my family needs to do is to get some drinks and dessert to round out the meal. The most expensive part of the gift was the shipping of the items to my parent's house. After the rebate the cost is $24.81 per person including the shipping. I normally try to do $25 a person so this was a good choice!

  For my in laws I am making a lot of desserts and appetizers. The total is probably going to be about the same I spend on my own family. I am going to make good food with good ingredients. They also benefit from me being closer and I do bake quite frequently for them. I do not really make inexpensive cookies because I always use high quality chocolate and I always double the amount of chocolate. Then at the end of the Christmas dinner I will divide what is left of the dessert and give it to all the families that come to the dinner. It will be less stressful for me and I can just enjoy the Christmas season. I could a couple days before make and freeze some cookies. That way on Christmas I just have to assemble the appetizers, I can wake up later and I could get in some exercise before the big feast!

  Children make it harder to budget for the holidays because they want the in items right away and under the tree. Plus you don't want to disappoint children around the holidays because it really is a holiday for the kids! You really want to make the holidays magical and you want to see the "Santa! Santa!" face. But you don't have to order that from the overly expensive Pottery Barn Kids catalogue!

  I have a great married couple as friends that really do it right. They have a modest house in RI and the wife is able to stay at home with the kids. But they have a great garden, bee hive, and the wife makes Martha Stewart look like a chump.

  This family tries to make holidays/events be about experiences not spending a ton of money. For a lot of people that would make them upset to hear that they were described this way but not my friends! So when my friend makes gifts it is not like an insult to get them because they are awesome! It is often BETTER than getting them in the store. She sends us cookies (amazing ones) and honey. She makes her kids clothing and blankets etc.

  I am not sure how she does Christmas with the kids but she keeps their commercialism in check year round. Her kids are more realistic about Christmas than most kids, she limits how many toys she buys and also they play with toys that my friends saved from their childhood that are in good condition. She works hard to make her kids be grateful for what they have, be exposed to great food, she makes them wonderful creative things, the kids help create things and they try to have fun on the cheap. Her kids as a result have an amazing creative streak and are very imaginative! She does not tell them to be grateful for what they have but rather she just lets them have a great time with what they have. Totally fun version of "waste not want not!" It is not about how she got the expensive Princess party set nor is it about her spending hours making things like a sweat shop.

  If one has kids that are three or under I don't recommend really getting much because they won't remember it. It is crazy what people give/get a one year old for their birthday! One could just wrap up a box, do a smash cake and they would be happy! The same thing applies for Christmas!

  Giuliana Rancic from E! admitted on the air that she has 24 strollers the other day! People say oh that is crazy! Well it is!  On the flip side I have been to one year old birthdays that were gifted so many things that the kid cannot wear fast enough to get use out of them. Also how many over sized stuffed animals does a kid need? A great gift would be a bond or a grocery store card so the parents can get formula/diapers and baby food. That is not glamorous I admit but if the kid won't remember how expensive your gift is and it is a waste. You should get something for the parent's. If one is close by and have experience with kids gift the parent's a night out with babysitting provided by oneself!

  If one has kids in your family that are old enough to remember receiving a gift I would ask the parent's of the kids what the kids would want. Perhaps the parents would love it if one went in on the gift with them. If one has kids of your own I recommend asking your kids what is the one toy that they really want to have. Then one will get one or two of the must have toys.

 I do not really suggest saving by using Black Friday Sales because one has to wake up early and fight in crowded stores. If one is one of those people  try to focus just on getting those must have items and not get distracted by other "crap you don't need but is a good sale." A safer bet is online Cyber Monday sales which one can do safely from home. One can save the desired items in a cart before the sales. Monday sign in and the must haves will be in one's shopping cart perhaps on sale. Then one will not be tempted to look elsewhere on the site and overspend. So just peek to see if the most have items are on sale then if they are purchase them.

  If I do purchase items on Cyber Monday I make sure it is actually a good deal.  I always try to go through Ebates first so that I can save a percentage on top of that. Also if do a web search for that website for promo codes which can help save you even more. I never purchase anything online without doing a quick web search for Promo codes. Plus don't shop online on Black Friday because most often the best sales online are actually on Monday for their Cyber Monday sales. I made that mistake a couple of times but I have learned my lesson!

  Then you have those one or two items for the trees so that the kids have something to unwrap. Make an event of Christmas by making a breakfast or brunch, make popcorn, make a snowman or anything that is a more reasonable tradition. Then have another post holiday shop with the kids where they can pick out something else that they really wanted. It helps with the post holiday blues and things are on sale and cheaper. Plus you might just be able to do a one on one with the kid or make it a really special event. Kids also tend to get so much crap that either breaks or they lose interest in. They do not need all this junk because in the end you have to pick it up or yell at them for not keeping it clean. Make it simple and make what you spend money on special.

  So to summarize you should focus less on spending money and more on spending quality time with your friends and family during the Christmas Season. Take this need to budget and see how actually freeing it is because one no longer has to have Christmas arm race! One can instead let people fight over a slightly irregular Christmas toy or sweater while you sit by the fire with hot cocoa! Try to balance between the Radio City Christmas and Stark Christmas. Spend less time stressing about things that you hate doing and spend more time feeling relaxed but on budget! If you are caught off guard this year maybe start a Christmas fund for Christmas fun next year but don't focus on wants but rather higher quality needs!