It’s official! Fall is here; it’s the season of overpriced Starbucks pumpkin lattes, North Face jackets, Under Armour cold gear and UGG boots. Let’s not forget the Halloween extravaganzas which lead to Christmas, that single day of the year when credit cards might be the most used. Between those two days, there is Thanksgiving, the holiday weekend when the average shopper spends $320 according to the National Retail Federation. Over the few weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas, the average American swipes his/her card for more than $800 in purchases. In January of 2015, Magnify Money published the results of a survey which revealed that Americans have added over $900 of debt during the holidays.
Those are the facts. If you stop reading this article at this point and do not go any further, here is the single question I would like to ask you: when the frenzy of the holidays is all gone and we’re all back to our lives in February/March, will getting indebted during the holiday season be worth the chaos, the headache and the stress of financial instability? Any rational answer is obviously a big no. So, why do we torture ourselves every year with expenses which simply deter the progress we’ve made getting back on the financial stability track all year long?
Don’t get me wrong. I am huge fan of the holiday season. December is probably one of the favorite months in our house because Heather and I love Christmas. It is a time of appreciation, a time to recognize the intangible gifts we’ve been blessed with and more importantly, a time to be grateful for the people we call friends and family. Add the snow, the lights, the food and Pentatonix Christmas albums and I am a kid again. Have you noticed that during the months of November and December, people are generally happier, friendlier and more generous? They are more willing to give and bless others with gifts at a higher level. Doesn’t it sound great!? Of course it does. The issue is when self-control is thrown out the window.
I am in no way advocating not enjoying Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas or any other holiday you may celebrate this season (Halloween is not a holiday by the way). In fact, if you have the means to wow your friends and family in a financially sound way, go for it. Treat yourself and the ones you love with the finest. However, when the average American has barely $500 in a savings account, how are we really paying for all these expenses and gifts without swiping credit cards? Realistically, it is not possible. As we enter November and prepare for December, let’s look at ways to have a financially stable and a stress-free end of year.
Prioritize experiences and quality time
Time is your most expensive commodity. There is no technology and absolutely no one is this world capable of regaining time lost. The rich may have millions of dollars in their bank account but when it comes to time, it is quite a level playing field: we all have 24 hours in a day, no more, no less. One of my favorite quotes is ‘the days may seem long but the years are gone before we know it’. Cherish time with family and friends during this season. Create memories that will last a lifetime. Materialistic gifts may be exciting for a few days, a few weeks or even a few months, but next year they will no longer matter. What will always bring a feeling of joy, appreciation and love are the laughs, the cries, the hugs, the stories and the experiences we share together.
Make a budget now!
Not next week, not after Halloween or Thanksgiving, now. Here is a guarantee: November and December will be here soon and you will spend money. The more prepared you are, the better your financial decisions will be. First, figure out if you’ll be traveling. Are you visiting family for Thanksgiving, Christmas and/or New Year? If you are, I recommend booking your flights now before demand increases the prices. Next, decide how much you’d like to spend this holiday season. You will most likely end up spend a bit more or less. Nonetheless, having a limit allows you to stay within reasonable measures. Naturally, we all spend more during the last few months of the year but remember that continuing to save during that time is non-negotiable.
Then make a list of all the individuals who will be receiving gifts from you, starting with yourself. It is important to prioritize here as well. Let me explain. If you are like me, you are guilty of wanting to bless everybody but really, you do not have to buy something for every single family member, friend, coworker or acquaintance. Let’s get off the entitlement train and be honest with each other. NO MATURE ADULT HAS TO GET A GIFT AT CHRISTMAS. In accordance with your budget, allocate a dollar amount to each individual. As you are going through your list, you may realize that 1. Your budget was too low; 2. Your budget was quite high; 3. You may have to delete some people from your list.
Set goals for 2018
Most people lose focus and are easily distracted by the holiday season. With office parties and potlucks, concerts and other entertainment events, family gatherings and delays caused by the weather, they lose track of their goals and end up having to start up all over in January. Do not let it be you. The earliest you set your goals for 2018, the more you will be motivated and less susceptible to distractions. Have fun, enjoy time with friends and family but stay focused.
It is not enough to simply set goals; you must also design a game plan. For example, if your goal is to save an extra $200 per month in 2018, will your current situation and income permit it? In many cases, cutting out unnecessary expenses may help in achieving that goal but you may need to make other adjustments. It could be your job and income. It is your responsibility to evaluate and determine whether your current income will allow you to reach your goal. If it’s not the case, do not wait for January 1st to start your job search. Start now. In fact, while in general the job-search process spans over six weeks or more, expect a longer process during the months of November and December because most companies are closing their books around that time.
Remember to give back
You are fortunate to be able to enjoy the company of your loved ones during the season or to have the financial means to bless yourself or others. Look around and you will see that many suffer emotionally and financially during this time of the year. From Thanksgiving food-drives to Christmas events at orphanages, find a way to put a smile on someone’s face. Churches always have opportunities to give back. Look and you will find your way of giving back. At the end, it is what matters and trust me, your pocket and bank account will thank you as well.