8 Christmas budget killers and how to reign in your expenses
Having a dedicated Christmas budget is a great way to keep a tight leash on holiday spending. But even when you have a budget in place, it can be easy for all of the little extras to sneak in and push you into debt.
If your credit card and bank statements aren't matching up with the budget you set, see if any of these sneaky Christmas costs have drained your wallet.
You established your list of who you are purchasing for and how much you're going to spend on each person.
And then your brother tells you that he's bringing his girlfriend to the family Christmas party. Time to go out and grab a last-minute gift.
No matter how well you plan, there is always going to be that one extra gift you weren't planning on. White elephant exchanges, Toys for Tots donations, unexpectedly receiving a gift from a neighbor, etc.
It's just best to plan your Christmas budget with a little extra wiggle room to accommodate a low-cost last-minute gift.
All the gifts are bought, but the stockings hanging on the mantlepiece are empty. That's no good.
Time to raid the Christmas aisle at your local grocery store.
Even if you plan on stuffing the stockings with nuts and fruit, unless you are growing these items in your backyard, they are not free.
The more stockings you have, the quicker the costs will build up. A chew toy here, a gift card there, plus a bag of your favorite candy, and suddenly those cute little stockings hung by the chimney with care have cost you $50.
You have 8 well-labeled totes of Christmas decorations in your garage, clearly, you don't need to purchase any more.
And then you find out a squirrel has chewed through your Christmas lights and moths have devoured your wreath.
While most Christmas decorations are reusable year after year, they don't last forever.
You'll eventually need to shell out some cash to replace what you have, or you can always try making your own decorations to save a little money.
Even though that one time your uncle wrapped up a new soccer ball in old newspapers was kind of funny, you likely won't feel like recreating it.
So, you'll need to purchase wrapping paper, bows, gift tags, tissue paper, gift boxes, gift bags, and yards of scotch tape to make those gifts all festive and pretty.
Unfortunately, it's not cheap and you really only get to use it once. So budget accordingly, and try to reuse what you can.
Food is an often forgotten one on the Christmas budget list. It often gets lumped in with groceries and disappears under the umbrella of 'the holidays are so expensive'.
But if you are hosting dinner, it's best to set some money aside in your Christmas budget for food. While some items might fall under your usual grocery shopping, a Christmas ham and appetizers for 12 could eat up your entire grocery funds for the month if you aren't careful.
Shipping & Postage
If you are buying all of your Christmas gifts this year from the comfort of your couch, then you should plan for a certain amount of your Christmas budget going to the costs of shipping.
While you can try to avoid these costs by using a service (i.e. Amazon Prime) or trying to meet the minimum order total to qualify for free shipping, you probably won't be able to avoid all of them.
And even if you buy or pick up all of your gifts in person, you might not entirely dodge these costs. Mailing a gift to your sister in Canada or sending out Christmas cards featuring your dog wearing a cute elf hat, will cost you a pretty penny in postage.
Using third-party services to mail out cards and other items could save a big chunk of change on shipping costs.
Christmas shopping takes time and often leaves you physically and mentally exhausted. And you know what is not a fun thing to do when you're exhausted? Cook.
It is so much easier to swing through Taco Bell on the way home, or UberEats some pasta with a side of wine.
So, try to plan ahead with slow-cooker meals, ready to reheat leftovers, or even grocery store rotisserie chickens.
But also assume that there will be at least a few occasions where the call of takeout is too strong. If you can, throw some extra money into your holiday budget for takeout.
Credit Card Interest
The most insidious offender on this list is credit card interest.
Maybe your expenses were higher than you planned and you had to carry a balance for a few months.
Or maybe holiday closures screwed up your payments and you now owe a late fee.
Whatever the reason, credit card fees can easily cost you $100 plus a month. And this expense can linger well after Christmas is over.
How to Keep On Budget
Are you tired of blowing out your Christmas budget every year? Are you struggling to find a way to save some dough?
Here are some quick tips on how to keep control of holiday expenses.
Don't wait till the last minute to start saving up for Christmas. The earlier you start saving money for Christmas, the easier the holidays will be on your wallet. For advice on how to start saving money, check out my sinking fund article.
The same goes for Christmas shopping. If you wait till the last minute to buy gifts, you're going to end up with limited choices and higher prices. Start shopping early, to take advantage of as many sales as you can.
Add Wiggle Room to Your Budget
While you should try your best to remain below your Christmas budget total, assume that there will be a last-minute purchase that could send you over the edge.
To prevent this, include a little wiggle room in your Christmas budget. A good number to shoot for is 10% extra. So, if your Christmas budget is $500, make sure you have an extra $50 set aside just in case.
Track Your Expenses
As you buy items, you should be marking them off your Christmas list and recording their expenses. Cost of the gift plus any taxes, shipping, gift-wrapping fees, etc.
As you amount expenses, you can compare them against your budget. Are you sticking to your budget or are you off track? Realizing that you are heading off the rails early allows you time to modify your spending to get back on track.
Reevaluate for Next Year
When the holiday season is done and over with, take a minute look back on your Christmas budget.
How well did you stick to it? Did you have money left over, or did you end up in debt?
Knowing the details of your spending helps you better plan for next year.
If you feel you need to up your budget, then do so now while you have a full year to work on saving up that extra money.