While it might feel premature when stores start hauling out holiday decorations in the middle of August, it’s never too early to create a budget and savings plan for the winter shopping season.
The average American spends almost $850 on gifts during the holiday season, with millennials spending the most ($1,034). Once you factor in decorations, candy, and more, you can see how that number could quickly become four figures.
With some smart budget tips like these, you can put the holiday spirit into your bank account.
Happy budget to all, and to all, a good night!
Americans take on some $1,200 in debt during the holiday season, with most people swiping their credit cards and expecting to pay for it over the next five or more months.
But holiday shopping doesn’t have to break bank.
Budgeting months in advance can be a big help. It’s likely you have a lot of family and friends to buy gifts for. Make a list of who you’re going to buy presents for — then determine how much you want (and can afford) to spend on each person.
The 50/30/20 budget rule is a great beginner’s guide to sorting your needs, wants, and savings. Can you pay for all your gifts using only the money allotted to your wants?
The earlier you start planning, the more time you have to set aside money for gifts. And come January 1, you’d probably rather have mistletoe than bills hanging over your head.
Plan early, spend early
The nice thing about the holidays is they can’t sneak up on you. Use that knowledge to your advantage by planning your gifts ahead.
For example, you probably know way in advance of the holiday shopping season that your significant other loves reading fantasy novels for hours on end. So, if you find a great deal on a special edition box set of their favorite book series, why wait to buy? There’s no problem with buying an item well in advance of giving it. (Although you may have to find a super-secret hiding place.)
Take note: a nice head start doesn’t always translate to an on-budget finish. Advance purchases mean you need to be extra diligent about tracking your holiday spending. And make room for miscellaneous costs in your holiday budget since last-minute shopping is bound to happen.
Just a sleigh (er, plane) ride away
The winter holiday season is a popular time to travel and see family, but those travel expenses can add up quickly, if you’re not careful. If you fly home for the holidays, book your trip early.
The best time to buy a plane ticket for travel during the winter holidays is between late September through late October. Last-minute shoppers can still sometimes find good deals, but available flight schedules might not work for you.
Interestingly, the opposite is generally true for hotels. Waiting to book until zero to six days out can save travelers 20 to 30 percent as hotels look to fill unsold rooms. But just like flights, selection might be scarce.
Find small ways to save.
Unused gift cards in your wallet? Credit card rewards you don’t know what to do with? Using gift cards, rewards, or points towards a new cappuccino machine for Mom can be a savvy move when on a budget.
Shopping online is the preferred method for more than half of Americans. Adding a coupon code browser extension (like Honey or Walla.by) that automatically searches for available promo codes can lighten the load on your debit or credit card.
And reducing your everyday spending, like the number of $5 coffees you buy, can save you more than $100 a month. Instead, put that money into a savings account that earns a competitive interest rate, and your wallet will say, “Thanks a latte.”
Your savings could snowball even more by scrounging underneath the cushions of your couch and in between the seats of your car for loose change. Round up all those unused coins and deposit them in your savings account — every penny earns interest, and you might be surprised by how much you dig up!
Don’t be naughty. Be crafty.
If you’ve got some creative skills (and we’re confident you do), consider D.I.Y. gifts. A quick run to the craft store and some sweat equity can result in some super cool (and super unique) gifts for friends and family.
Pro tip: You could even make money by selling your skillfully created gifts on websites like Etsy or Uncommon Goods.
Open a holiday-specific savings account.
One of the easiest ways to save for the holidays is to separate your holiday money from the rest of your money. A holiday-specific savings account can be the perfect move.
Commonly known as Christmas Club accounts when they first gained popularity in the 1960s and ‘70s, these short-term savings accounts allow you to make deposits throughout the year with the idea that you’ll withdraw it all around the holiday season. You earn interest on the cash you deposit, but there are fees if you take out money too early — which will help deter you from using the cash for unintended purposes.
Whether or not you opt for a so-called Christmas Club, opening a savings account can help you plan ahead. With no minimum balance requirements or monthly maintenance fees, our Online Savings Account can be a great way to save money. Plus, when you save for the holidays year around, you’ll be better equipped to make more financially-conscious decisions all the time.
By following these simple holiday budget strategies, you can keep your spending on track, instead of singing “all I want for Christmas is you” to every item in the store.
Start your holiday fund!