Survive the holidays — on a budget

This was originally published on Monday, October 16, 2017, in the Pacific Daily News.  Click here to subscribe to the PDN.

I saw holiday decorations in stores as early as Sept. 25. It’s October and starting next month the holidays will be upon us once again. Unfortunately, for many, the most wonderful time of the year has become less about spending quality time with loved ones and more about overscheduling and overspending.

The hustle and bustle can cause anxiety and stress as we search for the perfect gifts, party attire, and festive decors, especially if money was tight before the holidays started. But you can survive the holidays and not completely break the bank.

  • Start early. There’s no better time than the present to start putting money aside for the holidays. The earlier, the better. Open a holiday savings account that you can deposit money in all year round. You may not be able to use it this holiday season, but it will be ready for next year’s holiday shopping.
  • Spending plan. Decide how much you can afford this year and stick to it. This should include gifts, food, party plans, wrapping paper, décor, postage, extra fuel for running around and energy costs. After you decide on your budget, start making your list of people you will be buying gifts for and how much you intend to spend on each of them. Don’t forget to purchase a few small gifts for surprise visitors and last-minute parties. Keep this list with you to help you stay on track while shopping.
  • Shop early. Don’t wait until the very last minute to buy presents or you may end up unintentionally overspending or buying items you don’t necessarily need. Having extra time to compare prices is especially helpful when buying big-ticket items such as electronics or even a new bicycle. There’s nothing worse than buying a gift at full price, only to see that another retailer is selling it cheaper.

Before you hit the stores, do your homework and compare prices for the gifts you know you want to buy. From newspaper ads to online shopping that offers free shipping and other holiday deals, do your research and create a “plan of attack” to help your money work harder for you.

  • Don’t forget about you. Why not? You earned it. While out and about, take some time to splurge on you. It could be a little something you have been eyeing for months — a new party dress, a moment of peace at the movies.
  • Pay cash. Take out a set limit from your account and use it to make all your holiday purchases. Once you run out, that’s it — the money is gone and your shopping time is done.
  • Credit cards. If you do use your credit cards, think of it as a short-term loan that you will pay off in a month or two. Use the card with the lowest interest rate. Keep track of what you spend so it’s easier to get caught up on holiday spending.
  • Shop online. It’s fast and easy, and you can easily comparison shop. By ordering from the comforts of your own home, you also resist extra temptations like eating out or making impulse purchases.
  • Get creative. Handmade gifts can be a special treat in this age of store-bought presents. Incorporate your own talents like baking cookies, creating a photo album or decorating a picture frame, knitting a blanket or scarf. If your skills don’t translate into a gift basket, create a holiday coupon for a free oil change, lawn cutting, house cleaning or car wash. My kids gave me “certificates” such as these for Father’s Day. I thought it was a great idea and it was much appreciated.

Michael Camacho is president and chief executive officer of Personal Finance Center. He has more than 20 years of experience in retail banking and at financial institutions in Guam and Hawaii. If there is a topic you’d like Michael to cover, please email him at moneymattersguam@yahoo.com and read past columns at the Money Matters blog at www.moneymattersguam.wordpress.com.

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