By now you should be starting to get a general idea of the steps I recommend to pursue financial security and build wealth. It’s really not that complex; but, it does come down to discipline with the core principle of monitoring your money. If you cannot track the funds you spend on a regular basis, I believe it will be very difficult for you to truly see progress within your finances much less build wealth.
Once you’re well versed in monitoring your money and have successfully categorized expenses into their designated areas in your budget, you can begin to automate such things as debt payments or even savings and investing. An additional area to consider is the annual expenses that, if not properly planned for, can easily derail the best-laid financial plans and throw us into an emotional tailspin. This could include annual insurance premiums, youth sports fees, and equipment, etc. However, the biggie on which to focus is Christmas.
While Christmas is supposed to be the most wonderful time of the year, it can easily become a financial disaster. According to a Gallup poll, the average American family will spend $885.00 on gifts. Factor in the Christmas tree and ancillary decorations, additional travel, food, greeting cards, stamps, stupid sweaters, festive parties, movies, and alcohol, to make it all palatable. My guess is that number creeps easily into the $2,000 range. This, of course, comes after Thanksgiving when you may have shelled out a few hundred to host 20 people you haven’t seen all year, or maybe you contributed a few dishes to someone else’s gathering and the additional travel costs to get there.
The point is simple; this time of year can cost a boatload of money, and it is no wonder that there is a financial hangover when the bills come due around the middle of January. Facing this reality can create emotional stress far beyond the joys of the previous holidays combined.
One of the reasons I’m passionate about this blog is to help you overcome this anxiety and hangover. Not only have I been on this rollercoaster ride, but I’ve witnessed it firsthand and know how devastating it can be not only to financial plans but marriages as well.
Do me a favor and follow the following steps to ensure you do not fall into the same holiday trap as you have in years past.
- Start NOW with discussion and planning.
I was not lacking content ideas when I decided to write this piece in March. The truth is, starting in March is actually two months late but it sure is a lot better than starting to worry about it in November. In order to properly prepare for the expenses of the holidays you must have a conversation with your spouse immediately regarding the amount of money that will be budgeted for the season.
While I am the budget CFO in our family, my wife is the one who handles Christmas. It’s just not me, and I really can’t stand the commercialization of the holiday. If I had my way I’d be on a beach somewhere sipping a mimosa wearing a Santa cap and my kids would connect with sandcastles and coconuts. Unfortunately, that isn’t reality; so, rather than be annoyed (I still struggle with this annually), I go with the flow and make sure the funds are available so my family can enjoy the holiday as they desire. When it’s all said and done, usually when all kids have gone to bed on the 25th, I’m always so thankful we did it their way. Nonetheless, my wife is the one who buys the gifts, writes the family letter, sends the cards, puts up the decorations, handles the trees, schedules the parties, etc. Wow, writing that I realize I really need to be more involved – I digress. Typically, we spend right at $2,000 per year on Christmas.
I know this sounds like a ton, and it is, but that includes everything – the entire kit and kaboodle. That is immediate three kids’ gifts (wear, read, need), extended family gifts, decorations, cards, stamps, travel, etc. If it is not something that is part of our normal expenses, but we’re doing it because it’s Christmas, it’s budgeted.
So, do not wait, guess, or pull a number somewhere out of the air. Sit down and do the math. If you’ve never done it, start with a budget item per kid, or per person that you’re willing to spend on gifts. How about the tree or decorations? How about travel expenses or food prep? To the best of your ability write these items down and give each area a specific amount. As you draw closer to the holiday you can firm this up; but, for now, the key is to come up with a general total for which to strive.
2. Break Down into Monthly Amounts
Including March, you now have 10 months leading up until the big event. Considering your spending will likely begin the minute Thanksgiving ends, it is actually 9 months, assuming you continue on your monthly savings plan you’ll be 90% the way there and be able to sock away the final 10% before year-end.
Monthly / Side Hustle
Let’s face it, if you’re staring at an additional $2,000 in expenses at year-end, you have two choices to make this happen. For those of you with an existing margin in your budget, already well into your financial security plan, it’s time to add $200 as a new line item expense and begin dropping this into an outside savings account. It’s really quite simple, just as you pay your mortgage, rent, or Netflix amount, you will pay yourself towards your annual Christmas budget. You can break this down into $100 per pay period and each time it comes, move it over to the new account and don’t even think about it.
For those of you just starting down this path with all income going towards monthly expenses or chipping away at debt, the thought of an additional $200 per month in expenses is ridiculous. While you may be able to revisit the Christmas budget and cut some things, I have a newsflash for you, despite your financial situation, Christmas will still come and you’ll still spend the money. So, either you can start to face this demon and prepare ahead of time or you can pretend like nothing is wrong and continue doing it your way.
While adding this to your monthly budget may be unrealistic, finding a side hustle to create an additional $2,000 from now until December is not. Here are just a few ideas.
Ebay/ Craigslist / Facebook yard sale – Look around your house. What can you turn into cash that is just sitting around? Maybe this is from previous Christmases when the kids had to have something that now collects dust. Whip out that mobile phone, snap a photo, and sell it. Collect the funds and set them aside for this Christmas budget.
Yard Sale – While it’s a bit early now, spring is right around the corner and what better way to celebrate than have a yard sale. Rather than selling item by item online, sell it all. Pull it out into the driveway and sell everything you no longer use or, more importantly, need. Cleanse yourself of all the stuff you’ve accumulated over the years and do away with it once and for all. My guess is, at minimum, you’ll get a few hundred dollars; or maybe more, if you’re aggressive. Don’t spend that money. Put it in a special savings account with the sole purpose of the Christmas budget.
Sidework – One of the easiest ways to make financial progress is to increase your income. Unless you have a physical handicap, my empathy for poor financial conditions is extremely low. There are a ton of places that would love weekend or evening help. If you immediately start coming up with all the excuses as to why this won’t work, maybe it’s time to take a look in the mirror and see if, in fact, the problem is staring back at you. If a set schedule doesn’t work why not start driving for Uber or Lyft? How about newspaper or pizza delivery, or seasonal venues like sporting events, shows, etc. A close friend and CEO of a major non-profit once delivered papers for a year in order to knock out ancillary debt. His family chipped in, and it became a team goal and a team effort. A professional I know works weekends at the local sporting event concession stand to bring in extra money.
The bottom line is there are quite a few ways now to make extra money, but it will take effort and will take some time. If you prepare for this well ahead of time, not waiting until the last minute, it can become much more palatable and certainly more achievable.
So, you’ve gotten to the end of this piece. It makes sense, you are motivated and fired up. The question is, what will you do about it? Will you actually get out that sheet of paper and start formulating what Christmas will cost, or will you pass this aside and procrastinate? Will you add the monthly amount to your budget or will you forget about it and ponder more about your upcoming spring break expenses? Will you start looking for some side work or will you plop down on the couch and watch more Netflix tonight? Will you consider selling that piece of furniture, that you had to have long ago and now sits and collects dust, or will you let all the clutter that could be cash sit idle another year?
You see, action is the only thing that will change your situation. Don’t just sit there and agree with this post; get off your butt and do something about it. Let’s go!