Why Getting into the Holiday Spirit Now Will Benefit Your Budget Later

Many consumers go into the holiday season blindly, with no idea of how much they can actually afford. Taking the time ahead of the season to review finances ensures you have a well-thought-out budget and gives you the time to make adjustments to current spending and savings habits. Doing so can help you pay for the things that matter most during the holidays, like buying gifts for loved ones, hosting a Thanksgiving Day feast or traveling home for Christmas. Use the following tips to help map out your expenses and guide you toward a debt-free holiday season!

Review and make adjustments to your current budget.

Modifying your budget might mean cutting back on luxury services, such as regular massages or twice-a-month cleaning service, so you can use the extra money toward gift shopping or airfare. Use tools like Mint to analyze your current spending habits and find areas to cut back. While these cut backs can be temporary, you might find that you live just as well without them and continue pocketing savings after the holidays!

Figure out how much you need to save.

Part of your budget review and planning should include crafting a gift shopping strategy. Create a list of people for whom you plan to buy gifts and make a detailed shopping list including the amount of money you want to spend on each person. Review this against your budget to make sure it works with your finances and adjust accordingly. This exercise will also make clear how much additional money you need to save to afford the holidays, or offer a reality check for your plans.

Beat financial pressure by giving yourself time.

Whether your goal is to save $200 or $2,000 for the holidays, you need to create a savings plan. The more time you give yourself to stash away cash, the easier it will be to reach your goal and the less financial pressure you’ll feel during the holidays! Automate your savings from your paycheck directly into a separate savings fund or set up automatic weekly transfers from a checking to savings account. Even if you can only afford to put away $10 to $20 a week, every little bit counts. By Dec. 15, you can save between $110 and $220 and still have time to buy gifts!

Review and redeem rewards.

Review rewards earned through credit card purchases, flights and other loyalty programs and use them toward your holiday budget. You can typically use rewards for gift cards which you can give as gifts or use as currency for your holiday purchases. You can also redeem points for actual items to give as gifts, or redeem miles to go home for the holidays. It’s important to get a head start on reviewing this option because some can take a few weeks to go through.

Sell or trade in unwanted items to boost budget.

You likely have drawers and closets full of goods you no longer use. Since it takes time to go through these items and sell them, get a head start by researching and planning it all out now!  Trade in old gadgets to stores like Target and Amazon for gift cards or sell them online at sites like Gazelle. Old clothes can be turned into cash through sites such as Thredup.com, and you can cash in on unused gift cards via GiftCardGranny.

Shop early to avoid financial strain later.

It may seem too early to start holiday shopping in October, but doing so helps spread out the cost of the holidays across several months. Those who buy several gifts at once are more likely to use their credit cards and have trouble paying the balance and interest come January. What’s more, you can take advantage of sale and clearance prices on fall clothing including denim, shoes, and even Halloween costumes for the kids on your list who like to dress up throughout the year. With Columbus Day coming up, look for extra discounts on top of store-wide savings with in-store and online coupons from sites like CouponSherpa.com, where you can often boost discounts by 10% to 25%.

Purchase discount gift cards.

Discount gift cards offer savings of up to 25% on popular stores like Macy’s, Home Depot, Pottery Barn, Old Navy and more, and you can use these to offset the cost of your purchase or give as actually gifts. Since many takes 7 to 10 days to receive in the mail, it’s smart to begin purchasing a few cards in advance and over the next few months. Not only will discount gift cards help you spread out your spending now, but you can also use them strategically with holiday sales and coupons to save even more money.

Book travel ahead to guarantee best price.

Though most domestic air travel is best booked six weeks prior to your desired departure date for the best price, the winter holidays are an exception and the best deals are for the early-birds. Start tracking flight prices today using Yapta.com and get ready to book when prices dip for Thanksgiving or Christmas. The busiest (and priciest) travel days are often a day or two before the holiday, and the Sunday following the event. If possible, travel earlier in the week and opt for the earliest or latest flight out for the best price.

Andrea Woroch

Andrea Woroch is a nationally-recognized consumer and money-saving expert who regularly contributes to leading national and regional news stories. She has appeared on NBC's Today Show, Dr. OZ, Good Morning America, FOX & Friends, MSNBC, CNN, ABC News with Diane Sawyer, and been quoted in New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Money Magazine, Kiplinger Personal Finance, Better Homes & Garden and many others. Andrea also enjoys writing articles for various personal finance and lifestyle websites and blogs. Andrea is passionate about sharing ideas and tips to help you live on less without having to sacrifice. She says making a few small tweaks to daily and monthly spending is all you need to do to achieve your dreams within your means. Follow Andrea on Facebook and Twitter for daily savings tips and check back for new videos, magazine stories and blog posts all about saving money!

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