Christmas Planning

So it’s March. Why am I talking about planning for Christmas now? Well, because if you’re like me there isn’t always a lot of money coming in. And I don’t always know what the rest of the year will bring. So what I do is I put away a bit each month and start planning now. Yes. I start planning at least how much, in the first quarter of the year.
 

So what do I do?

 
Well, the first thing I do no matter what time of year it is, I make a budget. I always have a budget. I may have to fiddle around with it or rearrange things, but there is always a budget. No matter what.
 
The budget is essential to keeping our household running. It lets me know where we plan to spend our money. Besides, I track spending to ensure that I know where that money actually goes. This stops me from overspending or misspending money. I personally suggest having some sort of budgeting program or online app to help you. There are plenty of options out there. I’ve used mint and personal capital, but my favorite is Every Dollar.
 
 

Every Dollar

 
To give you a quick overview, Every Dollar is an online resource created by Dave Ramsey. He designed it for use with his Financial Peace University program. The site offers both a free and a premium version. I have tried both and currently use the free. I can’t justify spending money just to have my bank account linked to the site for convenience.
 
Regardless, I suggest Every Dollar as well as the Financial Peace classes. They are definitely worth it. I was quite lucky to get a scholarship through my local United Way. A reward for completing their Getting Ahead course.
I just like the program. It makes it easy for me to organize my budget into bite-sized sections. I can see how much I’m spending on debts, savings, housing, and my other bills. The site/app also allows me to input my purchases and link them to specific budgets. So if I buy gas I can put it in there and see how much I have left in that budget. And I just update it when I double check my checkbook each week. Something you should do regardless of using checks or not.
 
The site also offers a lot of free information to help you along your own path to financial independence. Including a checklist of the baby steps (great if you cannot afford the class). There is a lot of good budgeting information there.
 
My only complaint is the mobile app. I don’t know about the iPhone app, but the android one does not function as well as I would like it to.
 
 

What’s Next?

 
After you have your normal budget, I tend to make a list of who all I’m buying presents for. The example below isn’t my shopping list but it is fairly similar. My list also includes the extra budget for food and stocking stuffers because I like to do that separate
 

Who:

A Present for Valkyrie’s Daddy from her.
Mom
Dad
Valkyrie
Myself
Boyfriend
Boyfriend’s kids 1-4
Sister
Neice 1&2
Friend 1&2
Other 1-8
 
Food
Stocking stuffers
 

How Much?

 
Once I’ve figured out who I’m going to figure out how much I’m willing to spend. This is going to depend a lot on how much you can put back between now and then. It is entirely up to you. The main reason that I start saving now, is so that I don’t have to put myself further into debt using credit cards. I almost have those things paid off. I don’t want to add more to the balance.
 
By planning and saving ahead of time I minimize that risk. Of course, I did have one year where I had no choice due to a roofing repair and several other things breaking at once. However, I do everything I can to avoid using the cards. To live within my means even if I know the plans may slightly change.
 
If nothing else, it gives me a starting point.
 
 

Who:                                         How Much:

Valkyrie’s Dad                          20
Mom                                          40
Dad                                            40
Valkyrie                                     100
Myself                                        40
Boyfriend                                  40
Boyfriend’s kids 1-4                20×4=80
Sister                                         40
Neice 1&2                                 20×2=40
Friend 1&2                               10×2=20
Other 1-8                                  10×8=80
 
Food                                          50
Stocking stuffers                     50
 
Now total all those numbers up.
 
For my example, I need 640.
 
The next thing I’m going to do is figure out how much I need to save each month to achieve that goal. So right now I have about 10 months until Christmas. So I’m going to divide 640 by 10. In this case 64 dollars per month. The earlier you start the lower your monthly savings will be.
 
For example, if you started in July your cost would be higher. 640/6 = 106.66 per month. By saving earlier in the year I make the saving easier on my budget.
 
The other option is to cut down on your list. Which I have done in the past.

Adjustments

 
Once I have The amount I’m going to save each month I make sure that the amount makes sense. Maybe someone gets a cheaper gift than I planned. (It is the thought and effort that count after all).So maybe my list changes to look something like this:
 
Valkyrie’s Dad 10
Mom 30
Dad 30
Valkyrie 50
Myself 30
Boyfriend 30
Boyfriend’s kids 1-4 20×4=80
Sister 30
Neice 1&2 10×2=20
Friend 1&2 5×2=10
Other 1-8 5×8=40
 
Food 40
Stocking stuffers 30
 
For a total of 430. And I’ll divide that again to get about 43 dollars per month. And I know I can afford that.
 

Checking it Twice

 
So first we set a budget. Then I figured out how much I was going to save. Now, I’m triple checking that I can afford to put that much aside. Then I’ll put the list somewhere safe.
 
Somewhere I won’t lose it because I don’t want to do all that math again. I’ll add the amount I’m going to save and do that for the next several months.
 
There may be a crisis or I may come into some money. Either way, I have a budget to work off of. I have a plan. And I don’t touch that money unless I deplete our emergency fund. (Which has yet to happen *knock on wood*).
 
For the case of this example, let’s say that I came into some money. Maybe mom needs a new walker. So I can up that amount to get her a larger present. The same thing works in reverse. It’s all about trying to live within your means. Again, I suggest avoiding credit cards. If you would like to know why to check out this article on Dave Ramsey’s site.
 
Now, I’m going to leave that list alone until around October. Normally, as soon as I’m doing making Halloween costumes, I start planning what I will buy. I may even go ahead and order some of the stuff to avoid price gouging.
 
I always attempt to have my Christmas shopping done before Black Friday. This way I avoid the rush and I can anticipate changes in the plan. Like a little one’s preferences changing (keep your receipts!). She will likely be the only person I buy presents for after that point. The only other budget items that wait till after Black Friday are stocking stuffers and food.
 
It also means that I’m never in a rush to buy everything.
 
For our example, my list may no look something like this:

Who                                  $$$$                      What

 
Valkyrie’s Dad                10                          Steam game 
Mom                              100                          walker and book
Dad                                  30                         Book and toilet paper (a running joke in our family)
Valkyrie                            50 ???                   (I’ll decide in December)
Myself                              30 ???                   (I’m slow at this if I buy myself anything at all)
Boyfriend                        30                         Nerdy shirts
Boyfriend’s kids 1-4       20×4=80              Gift cards 
Sister                               30                          Restaurant gift card
Neice 1&2                       10×2=20               Gift cards (Usually they want Starbucks)
Friend 1&2                      5×2=10                 Steam game on their wishlist (they love indi games)
Other 1-8                         5×8=40                I will get the same thing for everyone in this group.
 
Food 40
Stocking stuffers 30
 

Sit By The Fire & Relax

 
Now I can start buying. I already know how much I’m going to spend. The gifts are all mostly planned out. There are only one or two people I may have to wrack my brain about.  I don’t have to worry about having enough money.  Best of all, I have time to replan if something goes wrong. The key here is to stick to the plan once you have it. That is the hardest part of the whole thing.
 
If you can stick to the plan it will save you a lot of grief. Just imagine how magical your Christmas could be without the average holiday freak-out. No more worrying about how you’re going to buy this or forgetting to buy X for Aunt Mary Sue. It cuts out on the holiday stress and lets you focus on what’s important. Your family.
 
I hope that my method helps you figure out your Christmas plans this coming holiday season. If you have any questions or comments, as always feel free to leave them below. I do my best to get back to everyone on the weekends. It’s a bit hard given everything else I have on my plate. So I apologize if it takes a bit for me to get back to you.
For more financial tips and tricks, check out my Financial Independence pages.
 
Either way, hope your spring is bright and full of fun.
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