Coming Soon to Your Neighborhood: A Four Month Spending Spree!

Brightly colored scarecrows crowded by pumpkins, yummy pie recipes featured online, holiday lights displayed in local stores, it's that time of the year: the holidays are upon us!

It can be a wonderful time of the year to catch up with friends and family, and enjoy the changing seasons. But with first Halloween, then Thanksgiving and winter holidays, all the way to celebrating the New Year, it can be a four month spending spree! How can we avoid spending more than we're comfortable with when the holidays roll around so quickly?

First, keep in mind that research has shown that experiences are more likely to make people happy than material purchases. If you keep this in mind, it might help the next time you're bombarded with commercials that urge you to go out and buy, buy, buy! Plan some low-cost, fun events during the holiday season and resist browsing online or in stores.

Second, plan your spending. I relish choosing gifts for my family but I shop with a plan. My plan includes who I will give gifts to and how much I can spend for each person. And, it includes a plan for all the other expenses of the season too. Having this plan in place makes it a lot easier for me to resist those impulse purchases that I will later regret.

Does planning for four months of holidays sound overwhelming? Start with something easier like budgeting for Halloween. According to the National Retail Federation's survey, the average person celebrating will spend about $74 this year for candy, decorations, costumes and more. Do you know how much you spend? To estimate your expenses and make a spending plan, you can download from University of Illinois Extension's website, the Not-So-Scary Halloween Spending Plan.

Involve your children in your plans. Often parents ask for ideas about how to teach their children about money. Planning a holiday budget together is a great activity: the spending occurs over a relatively short amount of time and many of the expenses are flexible and allow for choices to be made. And, it makes it easier when shopping with children for items like Halloween costumes to be able to say, "if we spend $XXX more than we discussed on your costume, then we will need to cut back our spending on something else (like buy a smaller pumpkin). Which would you like to do?"

The age of your children will determine how much detail you want to discuss with them. Start simple while they're young, and by the time they're teenagers they will be able to manage their own budgets!

Creating a spending plan is essentially three steps.

  1. List all the types of things you might spend money on.
  2. Estimate how much you'll spend for each category. Total your estimated expenses. Are you comfortable with the total? If not, now is good time to consider alternatives BEFORE you start shopping.
  3. Track your expenses and compare them to your estimates. Did you spend more or less than planned? What does this tell you that may be helpful the next time you create a holiday budget?

Often it's the estimating expenses step that is particularly difficult. It's easy to forget about expenses, especially during the holiday season when they're not routine expenses. Did you remember Halloween cards, pumpkins or tickets to a haunted house when you thought about your costs?

Winter holidays like Christmas, Hanukah, and Kwanza can be more expensive. U of I Extension's Control Your Holiday Credit Card Debt features a detailed list of holiday expenses that may be helpful to you too.

Being mindful of my spending during the holiday season means I'm not as stressed during and after the holidays!  What do you do to manage your holiday spending?