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It’s Not Too Late for These Quick Holiday Budgeting Tips

Keep your holidays special without increasing your financial stress with these quick holiday budgeting tips. It’s never too late to put them in action!

At the risk of stating the obvious, the holidays are coming up! This year may offer more of a challenge than ever if you’ve experienced a job loss due to COVID-19, reduced income or another financial setback this year. 

However, it’s possible to budget for the holidays — let Tiller Money partner with you to do that.

How to Budget for the Holidays

You may be no stranger to a budget if you’ve had a rough year. It can be extra tough when you want to make the holidays special this year. Check out the steps you may want to take to budget for the holidays.

Step 1: Know how much you have to spend.

How much can you afford to spend on holiday gifts? Do you know how much is coming in versus going out? Put it all down on paper or a spreadsheet and decide how much you have to spend so you have that amount in concrete numbers. 

It’s a simple matter of addition and subtraction. Now, it’s possible that other things come up throughout each month (they always do!) — car heater breakdown, refrigerator repair, etc.

However, get an idea of what it’s like on a regular basis, when things are normal in any given month.

Step 2: Decide on an amount to spend on each family member.

Does it seem that every year, one member of your family manages to corner the market on holiday gifts? Especially because everywhere you turn, you think, “Ohhhh, so-and-so would love that beautiful anorak,” or, “I must get that rainbow bean bag chair for her, too.”

Or whatever it is. Try to avoid doing that this year. Decide on an even amount to spend on each family member and stick to that. It will really help you when you’re shopping — you might even end up done earlier!

Step 3: When all else fails, ask for more work. 

Does your budget look like it’s 2020? Is it a total disaster? Ask for more work. Your boss might be happy to pay you extra to complete an extra project, write a proposal, do other things you know has been burning the back of his brain for years. 

Ask to take on that task — but make sure it comes with a benefit! 

You could also hustle for more work if your boss doesn’t seem to like the idea of paying you more. What skills do you have to offer? Sewing? Illustration? Writing? Walking dogs? 

You have a wonderful skill set within you — everyone does! Use that to your advantage. You never know, you just might make a full-time living off of it.

Step 4: Budget your bonus.

Think your boss will give you a bonus because it’s been the company’s best year of revenue so far? Don’t necessarily bank on it if you’re not sure, but if you do get one, take your bonus and squirrel it away to save for holiday spending. Even better — save half of it and spend the rest on holiday gifts. That way, you haven’t spent the whole thing!

Step 5: Be honest with yourself. 

How much can you actually afford to spend? If you can’t afford to spend $1,000 on gifts this year, don’t. It’s a matter of living within your means, boundaries and budget. If your child asks for a Power Wheels Jeep but you can’t afford to spend that much, don’t put yourself through the stress of trying to get it for him, then keeping that $200 purchase on your credit card — along with other purchases you couldn’t afford.

Keep your budget top of mind and know what you can and can’t do with your money.

Step 6: Get creative.

You’ve heard the old adage: Homemade gifts are better than store bought gifts. But you know why it’s an old adage? It means it’s true. Think about the last time you got something that was truly thoughtful and truly meaningful — it might have been a homemade gift! A scarf from your sister, a crocheted blanket from your mom. A potted plant from your grandma’s 50-year-old jade plant. Pottery from your aunt. 

Not creative? You are! Look into a step-by-step and give your loved one the gift anyway. He or she will be so appreciative.

Step 7: Do some simple addition and subtraction. Or get a budget app.

There’s only one way to figure out what you have coming in and going out! You use a pencil and paper, a spreadsheet or a budget app. You can apply these simple skills using three simple steps.

  1. Add up recurring expenses. You know, fun adult things like rent, utilities, car insurance, recurring prescriptions, etc. — all of those things you get to tackle each month.
  2. Add up your complete income. How much money do you make from all of your income sources, including your job, alimony, side hustles, etc.
  3. Subtract expenses from income. Figure out exactly how much generally goes out and comes in. Remind yourself that yes, extra expenses seem to show up every month (a fender bender insurance deductible, basketball fees for your kids, etc.) Don’t get overwhelmed by the extras. If you really want to track every last penny, tap into an easy to use, super intuitive budgeting app like Tiller Money.

Bonus Quick Tips for Budgeting During the Holidays

If you’re game for a few quick tips, here are a few good ones!

Tip 1: Understand the difference between “needs” and “wants.”

Start applying this now. “Needs” should only include necessary items, like rent, utilities, groceries and more. “Wants” include coffee runs, entertainment and expensive jeans. It’s a really crucial lesson for certain family members during the holidays! 

Finally, apply these “needs” and “wants” to what your family members need during the holidays. If your son wants a guitar but actually needs jeans (desperately), give him the jeans and money toward a guitar. Encourage him to save up himself for the remainder. You’ll be kicking yourself if you buy him the guitar, then have to run out right before New Year’s to buy jeans! 

This year, you might need to get family members what they need and less of what they want, especially if you faced a job loss or reduction in income this year.

Tip 2: Consider giving experiences instead.

There’s something powerful about going to a holiday show instead of spending money on iPads and gaming systems. And it could be cheaper! 

Here’s an example: We had a little theatre in my hometown, called Player’s Workshop, and one year, they performed “A Christmas Carol.” I was probably about eight years old and do I remember what I got for the holidays that year? Nope. I sure do remember that performance, though!

Tickets were a whopping $10. It’s about sometimes inexpensive experiences!

Now, this may be a bit different this year — your ability to go to performances and other types of activities like this is a little less accessible. Think of things you can still do — go ice skating, attend a socially distanced sporting event and more. 

Also consider future experiences. If you have a dedicated amount you plan to give to someone, you could write a check for your grandchild’s college books or put money into a college savings plan for your daughter.

Tip 3: Choose to do a grab gift back or one-person gift exchange.

’Tis the year for creativity. Maybe you want to implement all white elephant gifts this year or draw names for one gift for each person — the adults, anyway. This year, there’s no need to buy gifts for aunts, uncles, cousins and grandparents. You can streamline your numbers with a simple drawing or randomize a list using Excel, then send out each name to each person. 

Tip 4: Think past the holidays. Don’t forget about saving during New Year’s!

You may find yourself saving all your pennies during December. Let’s say you do a great job of organizing your finances. You devote less money toward each family member’s gifts and still have a great Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa or other holiday celebration. 

What happens once December 31 rolls around? Don’t blow it with one botched-budget (read: expensive) New Year’s party. Instead of abandoning your end-of-the-year stick-to-it-iveness, you could opt for staying in and opting for a much smaller (and safer) crowd.

Get Your Best Budget Hat On

Even if you’re not even close to being an accountant or can’t balance a checkbook to save your life, you can still successfully manage your money! 

Sometimes all it takes is a little creativity. What other ways can you make sure you’re watching yourself? Can you save money on the food for the holidays? Can you go potluck-style this year instead? Can you get all your decor from the dollar store? 


Melissa Brock is the founder of College Money Tips and Money editor at Benzinga. She loves helping families navigate their finances and the college search process. Check out her essential timeline and checklist for the college search!

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Melissa Brock
Melissa Brock is the founder of College Money Tips and Money editor at Benzinga. She loves helping families navigate their finances and the college search process. Check out her essential timeline and checklist for the college search!
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