It’s that wonderful, expensive, miraculous, stressful time of year again. The countdown to the winter holidays has begun:
- Dec. 6-14. Jews celebrate Hanukkah , the eight-day festival of lights.
- Dec. 26 – Jan 1. Kwanzaa is African-Americans’ winter celebration of family and culture.
- Dec. 25. Christmas commemorating the birth of Jesus, is celebrated by 92 percent of Americans; that includes not only 96 percent of Christians but also 81 percent of non-Christians, according to the Pew Research Center.
Time is the ally
Remember the promise you made yourself last year about keeping stress out of the holidays? We’re here to help you keep it.
Time is your ally in this — time to plan, to save, to shop sales, to make a few simple gifts and to spread the work over the weeks to come. If you start doing a little now and spread your preparations over the coming weeks, you can avoid a last-minute jam.
The single worst source of holiday stress is out-of-control spending, say 65 percent of people polled in “Survey: Spending on Gifts Is the Biggest Source of Holiday Stress.” Money Talks News has lots of ideas for holiday savings. Links to many of them are below.
9 tips for a saner season
Here’s wishing you a joyful, sane season, filled with time with the people you love and the magic of this time of year. Here are nine steps to getting there:
1. Make a simple holiday budget
A rudimentary budget is the foundation of a sane holiday. “Let’s be clear: A hazy idea is not a budget,” says Money Talks News’ Maryalene LaPonsie, in “6 Steps That Will Stop You From Blowing Your Holiday Budget This Year.” A few tips:
- Follow Maryalene’s steps for creating a holiday budget and stick to it by tracking your spending.
- Decide early on the total amount you can spend. Divide this money among all your expenses, including gifts, food, decorations and travel. Watching money fly out of your wallet without knowing if you can afford to spend it is a recipe for stress.
- Check out Huffington Post’s clever points system for deciding what to spend on each person on your list.
2. Shop for travel deals now
Holiday airline tickets are likely to drop a bit this year from last year, predicts flight-research site Hopper. Here’s Hopper’s thinking:
Typically, after prices drop sharply at the end of the summer they begin to stabilize as holiday travel demand replaces summer demand. By December, most holiday tickets are purchased, causing prices to decline again. Since prices so far this year have been cheaper than last year, we expect fall and winter prices to remain cheaper than usual.
Although late summer is the best time to save, you’ll also find good deals in the week of Nov. 2 to Nov. 8, writes The Washington Post.
Be ready to pounce. Set up email or text alerts for the route you want to travel. Two sites that will send automated alerts: Kayak and Skyscanner.
These Money Talks News articles have many more tips on holiday travel savings:
- 5 Tips to Secure a Free Last-Minute Holiday Flight Using Airline Miles
- How to Find Cheap Last-Minute Holiday Flights
- 12 Ways to Save on Holiday Travel
3. Use Black Friday strategically
Plan your shopping like a general plans a battle. Here’s a secret: Despite the Black Friday hype, the best deals last year were earlier in November (“Shop Before Black Friday to Snag the Best Holiday Deals“). Watch for these early holiday sales and promotions while keeping an eye out online for deals that may not hit the stores.
Bargain maven Donna Freedman says, in “What You Need to Know to Score a Year’s Worth of Gifts at Rock-Bottom Prices“:
Deal-finding sites/apps like BFAds.net, FatWallet, Retail Me Not and Savings.com let you sort by categories and by price. If you plan to shop online, access your stores of choice through a cash-back shopping site.
4. Do a savings sprint
Dedicate an envelope or a savings account to holiday shopping and see how much you can stuff in there over the next two months. Start with the change in your pockets or purse. “11 Easy Ways to Raise Holiday Shopping Cash” has tips for now and more for getting an early start on 2016 holiday savings.
“How to Save $500 for Christmas Shopping” also tells where to find shopping money and how to stretch your savings with lay-away plans and an intriguing concept called “gift IOUs.” “20-Plus Tips to Make the Most of Holiday Clearance Sales” explains how to make the most of those gift IOU savings.
5. There’s still time to make gifts
Smaller gifts — for the teachers, neighbors, co-workers and service-providers in your life — can be dealt with affordably right now with some handmade gifts. No need to be crafty to put together the baking mixes, bath salts or movie night in the list below.
Here’s a trove of inspiration for homemade gifts:
- Maryalene Laponsie has ideas for “10 Awesome Yet Affordable Teacher Gifts.”
- Real Simple gives directions for 14 easy gifts, including muffin mixes, fragrant bath salts, candy and hot chocolate mix.
- Martha Stewart, of course, posts tons of ideas. A few: handmade gifts for her, for him and for kids.
- At Huffington Post some of the cleverest DIY gift ideas and instructions include an embroidered shower curtain, Instagram cards, monogrammed soaps, embellished dish towels, a classy cocktail ring and a felted take-out coffee cozy.
- My favorite DIY gift collection, assembled by Buzz Feed, includes DIY instructions for Instagram coasters, tea towels, cork coasters, handmade soap, coffee mugs and gold-leaf paper mache bowls.
6. Snag every discount available
“10 Ways to Get a Discount on Every Online Purchase” from using cash-back sites to safe sources for discounted gift cards and to wily tips on snagging discounts like chatting up customer service or strategically abandoning a full shopping cart.
Discounted gift cards can be a good source of savings but shop for them carefully because some sites can ensnare you in gift-card fraud. Read these tips on avoiding gift-card fraud.
7. Plan to tip affordably
Tipping is a way to express gratitude to people who’ve made our lives easier and more pleasant all year long. Money is a great way to do that — if you have it. If you don’t, you can find another way — a thoughtful note of thanks, homemade cookies or another simple handmade present. “Should You Tip Your Garbage Man? 9 Rules for Holiday Tipping” has many ideas and this advice:
How to tip affordably:
- Decide what you can afford to spend on tips and gifts.
- List everyone you want to tip or gift.
- Prioritize the people on your list.
- Allocate how much to spend on each tip or gift.
- Stop when you’ve hit your budgeted limit.
- Plan how to thank those remaining without using money.
8. Rein in out-of-control gifting
If your gift list has gotten out of control, here are ideas for reining it in:
- Prune it. Sit down with your list, a pencil and a cup of coffee for 30 minutes next Saturday morning and prune it. “5 Tips to Pare Down Your Christmas List Without Looking Cheap” tells how. Two possibilities:
- Substitute a handwritten card.
- Find allies at work to help in rethinking the annual office Christmas party.
- Eliminate it. Maybe it’s time to stop exchanging expensive gifts. Did you know that 1 in 10 U.S. Families Has a No-Holiday-Gifts Policy?
- Try judicious regifting. You have to be careful with regifting, but it can be done beautifully in some circumstances. Donna Freedman tells how: “8 Secrets to Being a Great Regifter (Without Getting Caught).”
- Cut across the board. Make your gift budget smaller and stick to it by following these “9 Tips to Slash Your Spending on Holiday Gifts by 20 Percent.”
9. Avoid holiday debt
If you don’t routinely run up credit card debt from holiday shopping, give yourself a pat on the back and keep it up.
Otherwise, if you make just one change this year, make it this: Take on no new debt over the holidays. This one change is the best possible gift to give yourself.
“3 Steps to Avoid Debt When Holiday Shopping” explains:
- How marketers play on our emotions during the holidays.
- How family competitiveness and love fuel overspending.
- How to know what’s sane and what’s not when it comes to gift-giving.
Is it worth putting your financial well-being at risk over (as Donna Freedman puts it) “a single morning of wrapping-ripping?”
What’s your approach to the holidays? Share your thoughts in the comments section below or on our Facebook page.