I found myself in a Scrooge-like mood several Decembers ago. We seemed to have the perfect storm of end-of-year costs coming at us — flights to visit my family, gifts for the holidays, flood insurance renewal, annual homeowner’s association fees — and it sucked the fun right out of the holidays. I was so stressed. I hated that all this “adulting” was ruining our winter.
This is a pattern for us that repeats each December, too. Bills always skyrocket at the end of the year, right when we’re supposed to be merrily hanging mistletoe and joyfully giving gifts to our loved ones. Luckily, in the midst of my Scrooge-ness, I woke up to the fact that I could change the holiday season (or at least future ones) for us by planning better.
The three following holiday money-saving strategies are ones I’ve experimented with over the last five years, and ones I can confidently say have changed our holidays for the better.
Strategy No. 1: Shop Year-Round
Confession: I start shopping for next holiday season in the after-Christmas sales. I’ve been doing this for years, and it means instead of scrambling around in early December, trying to fulfill gifts for over 25 loved ones in my life, I get to leisurely find the “right” gifts for them throughout the year.
Usually, by the time December rolls around, I just have a handful of gifts left to purchase, instead of a sleigh-full. I can’t tell you how much stress this one strategy has taken off of my plate.
Strategy No. 2: Change Our Retirement Account Strategy
Since the last two months of the year for us stretch our cash flow to its limits, I decided to give us some much-needed relief by prepaying our retirement contributions.
Each year, my husband and I contribute the full amounts (currently $5,500) to each of our Roth IRAs for a total of $11,000 annually. But, instead of spreading that out over 12 months ($11,000/12 months = $916/month), I spread it out over 10 months ($11,000/10 months = $1,100). This gives us two months of breathing room, where an extra $1,100 is sent back into our cash flow. Talk about an infusion of cash when we need it the most.
More on Switching Things Up: 11 Unorthodox Retirement Strategies That Actually Work
Note: Look into dollar cost averaging before you decide if this is the right shift for you to make.
Strategy No. 3: Use an Automatic Savings App
I was skeptical when I first heard about automatic savings apps. Like, really skeptical. I can be a bit of a control freak when it comes to my money, and to be honest, it worried me that an app would be taking money out of my account in denominations I didn’t pre-approve.
Still, I decided to give it a go a few years ago when we still had an infant and carving out time just to plan our savings was overwhelming. And the best thing happened: In the span of just a few months, the app had sent a “surprise” $509.97 to my savings account. Wow! It worked out so nicely that I continue to use the same app today.
Test drive just one of these holiday money strategies, and I guarantee you that your holiday season at the end of this coming year will be much more enjoyable. And if you start using all three? Well, you’ll be surprised just how smoothly your finances can run.
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This article originally appeared on GOBankingRates.com: Simple Strategies I Use to Make the Holidays Financially Stress-Free