Promises, promises, promises. Every year, you vow to control holiday expenses by getting things done early, yet inevitably end up doing the old 11th hour rite-of-season shuffle. You can't believe you're one of the people rushing to the mall at the last minute--again?--busting your budget on expensive items you don't even want to buy-but, you're stuck.
The beauty of planning ahead is that you can think clearly, potentially save money and, imagine that-even enjoy the process!!! This year, meet your holiday goals of frugality and fun, by simplifying your approach, and freeing your spirit of lastminute-itis.
Think like a Minimalist
Your goal is to spend the least amount of money that will connect you to the meaning of the season. Just because you're starting early doesn't mean you should get fancy! Reduce stress by limiting your lists (no need to include every person you ever met), and shrinking the scope of the projects. A pot luck holiday party is easier to pull together and takes less time and money than a soup to nuts home meal you assemble yourself. Remember the point of these gestures in the first place- it's a chance to express love, reconnect, or extend social decorum.
Conquer your Holiday Card List
Decide now if you want to send ecards (earth-friendly, easy, and least expensive); store bought (for the personal touch) or home-made cards (only for the super-experienced). Gather names from a variety of sources: your cell phone directory, email history, and last year's envelopes (if you happened to save them) provide the best clues. Address the envelopes in batches, A-D, E-H, etc) over a couple of weekends or evenings, and everything will be ready to send by Dec 1st!.
Simplify Gift Shopping
Make a master list of everyone you want to buy for, including notes about each person's interests, sizes, style, etc. Before you do an ounce of shopping, scour your favorite hiding places for gifts you tucked away, (ditto for leftover wrapping paper and ribbons); chances are you can check off at least 25% of your list immediately. List in hand early, you can miraculously get all your shopping done with barely an effort while browsing gift shops on long Fall weekends, at craft fairs, or even pouncing on advertised sales at local stores or via the internet.
Book Holiday Travel Early
Take out your calendar now and figure out if you'll be visiting friends or relatives (or just escaping the madness) for the holidays. Then, make your reservations or sign up for fare alerts for discounts on airfares and hotels at your destination. Consider cashing in miles or points from your credit card early, to help ensure YOU are the one who gets to claim those limited seats and rooms.
Make it easy to keep track of spending
Keep excellent records of your expenses, making it as easy as mincemeat pie. The low tech way is to save all receipts into a single folder, and tally the dollars on a weekly basis. For even more control, you may want to think about setting up a special Holiday bank account, fund it with your designated budget, and pay 100% of your holiday expenses out of that (getting a bank card to make it easy).
Remember, there's more to the holidays than cards and gifts...it's a time to build relationships and relish the joy of the season. So no fingers-crossed on your promise this year! Keep it simple- leaving yourself enough time to stop and smell the gingerbread.