Follow these suggestions to make the holidays less stressful, more budget-friendly and the expenses less unexpected when they arrive.
Your holiday budget
Create an all-inclusive budget
Make a list — and, yes, check it twice — but leave no expense unconsidered. For instance, if you illuminate your home's exterior with holiday lights, consider how the additional power load may increase your electric bill, and factor that into your budget. If you're traveling, account for the cost of gas or airfare, lodging, meals, entertainment and more.
Want to safeguard your spending plan with a budget cushion? Consider adding an additional $100 to $200 to your budget.
Get an early start
Establish your budget for this holiday season as soon as possible. Then, track your purchases as you make them. After the holidays, review what you spent and use that to create a holiday budget for next year. Put that money in a savings account earmarked for holiday spending.
If there is less money in your holiday budget than what you planned on, adjust spending a bit. For instance, if you were intending to provide all the food and beverages for a holiday get-together, invite your guests to a potluck instead.
Use credit with caution
Paying with plastic? Deduct the transaction from your checkbook balance right after you make the purchase. That guarantees the money will be there when your credit card bill arrives. Don't take on any more debt than you can handle.
How to save with holiday shopping
- Search for discounts online before you buy. Many retailers post online special promotions and coupons that you can apply to purchases. Check what's available before you make a purchase online or head out to the store. Sites like RetailMeNot make finding discounts easy by listing coupon codes for dozens of popular retail sites.
- Redeem your rewards points. The bonus points that you accumulate through credit cards, airline travel and hotel stays can add up to a gift or two. Cash in your available points to "purchase" a gift for someone on your list.
- Seek out group discounts. Sites such as Groupon, Living Social, and others offer deals and deeply discounted coupons that help you stretch your dollar. Always read the fine print on these offers, taking note of expiration dates and other restrictions to make sure they fit into your gift-giving plans.
- Save on shipping. Don't pay for shipping if you don't have to. Plenty of online retailers will forgo shipping charges during the holiday season. They may also ship free to your local store and let you pick up your item there.
- Spread out the season. If you can't afford new hardcover books for every reader on your list, save a few dollars by giving someone a subscription to a publication that he or she will enjoy throughout the year.
- Take advantage of bonus offers. Buying perfume for a friend? If you get a free gift with your purchase, earmark it for the preteen on your list.
- Buy gift cards at a reduced rate. Shopping clubs and online sites such as CardCash and Card Pool offer gift cards for less than the full retail price. Give the cards as presents — or use them yourself to make your money go farther.
- Call on your smartphone. Rely on shoppers' apps to help you make good purchase decisions. There are many apps that help you compare prices, identify sales and review products — potentially saving you money before you buy.
Here's a bonus savings opportunity: when entertaining around the holidays, try buying together. Wine is often sold at a discount when you buy a case. Go in with a friend or two and you'll all knock a few dollars off the per-bottle price. Or split the cost — and the quantity — of a great entrée for your holiday meal at a warehouse club.
These tips from State Farm® can help you with budgeting at any time of year.