A Tried & True Strategy So You Can Relax and Enjoy the Holiday Season
I’m sure no one could’ve guessed this about me, but I have a plan of attack when it comes to being prepared for the upcoming Christmas season. You should know that being prepared wasn’t always something I gave much thought to when it came to this busy but festive time of year. There have been years of shopping for gifts right up until the last day (admittedly these purchases were left by me until the last possible moment and not delegated purchases from my husband or dad who tend to leave their holiday responsibilities until the 24th each and every year!)
One particular year as I wrapped until the wee hours of the morning on Christmas Eve I promised myself that never again would I take such a haphazard approach to preparing for a holiday that has always been a favourite for me since I was a little girl. I decided that if I wanted to continue to enjoy the holiday in the same way I did as a kid, the adult in me would have to become better at nailing down a strategy for getting what I needed to do done, leaving enough time for me to sit back, chill and enjoy the festivities!
That’s what this post is all about. I’m sharing with you my successful strategy to have ALL of the holiday responsibilities complete by November 30th, so the entire month of December can be about the fun stuff: putting up the decorations, visits and parties with family and friends and watching Christmas specials on TV with the kids (while I can still talk them into doing this with me :) ).
Here’s the goal: have all of your gifts purchased and wrapped by November 30th and have a budget in place to ensure your purchases are paid for by the end of the year (yes, you read that right, my strategy does allow for credit purchases……just not unpaid credit for months after the big day). Nobody wants to be paying for Christmas spending into the spring of the following year, but without proper planning this is exactly the situation you could find yourself in.
Here are my 3 steps to creating a successful holiday season strategy so you ensure that you are sitting back relaxing and enjoying a cup of cocoa in front of the fireplace by December 1st.
- Create your gift list
- Create your purchase schedule
- Create your gift budget & payment plan
Creating Your Gift List
Over the years I have found that the scrambliest of purchases tend to happen when I haven’t created a list of people I would like to buy gifts for. Without a list, inevitably you will remember that you forgot to buy a few gifts just a couple of days before Christmas and then rush to the mall, elbows out to battle the crowds, to purchase a gift pack of hand soap or something very impersonal like that, just so you have all of your Christmas bases covered. I think the best part about creating this gift list is that if you do it electronically, you have it saved for the next year to use again (seriously reduces the opportunity to miss buying a gift for someone year over year). Added bonus, prepare your list in a spreadsheet and knock of some of the budgeting items we are going to discuss in step 3.
To kick-start your own list, here are some people you may be considering buys gifts for this year: your kids, nieces, nephews, grandparents, brother, sister, in-laws, parents, co-workers, kid’s teachers and friends. Give each gift you would like to purchase one line on your list.
There’s nothing saying you can’t add to your list later on when you realize you’ve forgotten someone, but make sure to save your list in a safe place so you don’t forget the same gifts next year and end up scrambling to get them purchased. Also, likely a good idea to keep this list in a safe and secure spot so sneaky kids trying to find out what they are getting for Christmas don’t become privilege to this information until the actual day!
Create Your Purchase Schedule
This is the sort of over the top step that nobody wants to do because it just seems so ridiculously anal to plan when you are going to buy the gifts for the people on your list, but it is a very important step in my mind and should not be skipped!
I create my purchasing plan in a simple and logical way and how I go about it is probably completely what my readers would expect of me now that they know me better: total number of gifts to purchase divided by number of weeks left until December 1st. If you are reading this post on November 1st when I’ve first published it that means you have 4 weeks to get all of the gifts on your list. I started my gift purchasing this year in mid October which allowed me to reduce the number of gifts I needed to purchase each week to stay on track with the plan. This is an option for you next year of course, but for today, let’s assume you have 4 weeks to get everything purchased.
So you have the number of gifts you need to buy each week to meet your timeline, now it’s time to schedule them out. Create columns beside your list (or better yet…..use a spreadsheet, have I said that yet??) and title those columns with the weeks left until December 1. Now, within those columns “X” off the gifts you are going to buy in each week.
A couple scheduling tips
- If you don’t love wrapping the gifts, leave one week simply for wrapping (which may mean at this point if you haven’t started your shopping yet, you only have 3 weeks to buy it all).
- Second important thing to consider when scheduling – holiday shopping is something many of us need to get warmed up to. Start with the easy stuff early on in your schedule if at all possible.
- Consider delivery dates. I made the mistake one year in forgetting to consider delivery for the gifts I planned to purchase on line when creating my schedule and ended up buying those gifts far too late in the plan and paid a fortune in shipping just to have them here for Christmas.
Create Your Gift Budget & Payment Plan
I originally thought of these items as separate steps, but they really aren’t. The payment plan truly should drive your overall Christmas budget and let me explain why. Let’s say its November 1 when you are reading this. If the goal is (and it should be) that Christmas purchases will be fully paid for by January 1, that means you have 8 weeks of residual income to put towards your gifts. Sidebar here: if you are planning to buy all of your gifts in November and pay for them all by January 1 – I’m assuming you rely on credit as I generally do at this time of year. If however you work better on a cash basis, you should consider the residual income you can put towards Christmas gifts over the same period you expect to be buying them.
Now, this is where you make your first big decision. If this is your first year putting a structured plan of attack in place for paying for Christmas spending, perhaps 8 weeks of residual income really isn’t enough to pay for the gifts you would like to buy (I know that sounds really crazy, but it could be the case if you are already pretty cash strapped with your ongoing expenses!) Perhaps you should’ve been setting money aside starting in October or even September in order to pay for Christmas expenses.
It’s no surprise that many of us live pay cheque to pay cheque, so finding ways to pay for this increased gift buying during the holiday season is a real issue that needs to be considered so that you can avoid paying for these gifts all on credit which ultimately means you could carry the burden of the debt well into the new year.
We are trying to avoid unnecessary credit debt carryover, so let’s look at it this way:
- How much residual income will you be able to put towards gifts based on your income and expenses between now and January 1st? If you don’t know the answer to this question, stop right here and refer to this free resource that will help you figure it out: YFFL Guidebook titled Create a budget that includes guilt-free spending on fun. The guidebook walks you through a series of action steps that will help you to understand and document your current income and expenses and to develop a reasonable budget. Once you have this, it’s much easier for you to know how much residual income you can dedicate to Christmas spending each year.
- Once you know your residual income between now and January 1st, decide is this number enough? By asking this question you should consider honestly, can you make it enough by reducing the number or value of gifts you actually buy? If, in this first year of planning, you determine 8 weeks residual income is not enough to allow you to buy the gifts you want for this holiday season, keep in mind for next year you should start this process sooner.
You may think this sort of planning all comes easily for an accountant – but I have had years of paying for Christmas gifts in April that had been accumulating interest on my credit card because I didn’t plan for this spending early enough in the year. Think about it. At any other point in the year you may have one or two gifts to buy per month: a birthday here, a wedding or baby gift there, and then you hit December and are walloped with the need to buy multiple gifts, into the double digits sometimes and are expected to just come up with the money to pay for it. Planning my friends will get you far!
Also, realistic spending is so so important at this time of year! Never buy a gift just for the sake of buying it or because you feel obligated to buy something for someone. A gift should come from your heart because you truly appreciate that individual in your life and you can afford it. Side note here though: for those people that you would like to purchase something for but really don’t know them well enough to buy a meaningful gift, a donation to a charity in their name is always a good option. The kids teachers and my co-workers all get donations made in their name to Sleeping Children Around the World, an organization that donates bed kits to children in need in third world countries. These gifts include a picture of the child that was sponsored and I find they are always well received!
Okay, if you have the total amount you want to spend on gifts pegged now based on your residual income that you are willing to dedicate to Christmas presents, allocate that spend to the gifts on your list. I like to come up with the overall budget first before I attempt to figure out what the individual gifts are going to be. This ensures there is less opportunity for me to go overboard with what I’m buying because I have already determined my spending ceiling!
I guarantee if you follow these 3 steps, you will be much more relaxed this Christmas because you won’t be rushing and you will know that you can afford what you are buying. This plan can be set up in an hour if you have all of the inputs required. If you are struggling with how much you can actually afford to dedicate to gifts this holiday season because you don’t have your own personal budget in place just yet, it’s okay to guess, but JUST FOR THIS YEAR! Having a budget of any sort is better than no budget at all! Make it a goal of yours in 2016 to figure out your overall personal financial strategy and budget so that next Christmas you’ll have better information about how much you can reasonably spend on holiday gifts.
At the end of the day, Christmas is not about gifts or money, but I do enjoy giving gifts and I like to give gifts that are going to be meaningful in some way to those receiving them. In order to do this but also honour my desire to not rush through the season but to savour the month of December and to ensure I don’t overspend, a well laid out plan of attack for the gift buying part of the holiday is essential to being true to myself. If you can relate to this desire, it’s time to start creating your own strategy to ensure you maximize the enjoyment you get from this holiday season!
Lots of talk of budgets and residual incomes in this post, but don't let that scare you off of the plan! Anyone can implement this strategy! I mentioned the free personal finance guidebook, but if you aren't feeling quite ready to go that in depth when it comes to your own personal financial strategy, the Organize Your Life free challenge offered by Your Formula for Life includes 6 basic challenges relating to organizing your personal finances and is another great resource that you should consider signing up for. The program works by sending you a few emails a week over a period of 4 weeks with new challenges in each email to help you organize your life and we start by organizing your money!
Having a financial plan is not just for accountants or finance types, it's for everyone and it will make even the simple things, like planning for Christmas, so much easier!