5 Tips for Financially Surviving the Holidays

Greg Johnson, author of Zero Down Your Debt, has written a new article for Club Thrifty on how to be smart with your money during the holiday season- take a look.

5 Tips for Financially Surviving the Holidays

Thanksgiving is almost here and the December holidays are right around the corner. If you’ve got kids like we do, it’s an always an exciting time of the year. It’s also a dangerous 6 weeks for your bank account, especially if you’re just getting on track to begin with.

As you already know, this time of the year is filled with financial landmines. There are holiday gatherings, work events, and – of course – gift giving. Everywhere we turn, we’re bombarded with pressure to spend! Pressure from friends. Pressure from family. And even pressure from ourselves.

Sometimes, when the pressure gets to be too much, we cave. We toss our budgets out the window and vow to get back on track once January rolls around. Unfortunately, that attitude buries us under mountains of bills that can take months to correct.

But you can’t be a total Scrooge, right? You have some holiday “commitments” that need to be met. So, how can you deal with the holiday season without breaking the bank?

Fear not my frugal friends! Club Thrifty is here to help navigate the holiday spending minefield ahead. Hold on, buckle up, and check out these tips for surviving the holidays in the black.

Start a Budget… and Stick to It

Yep. The budget is back. Even the constant pressure of the holidays can’t contend with the power of utilizing a monthly budget. This simple tool can help you put presents under the tree while keeping money in your wallet.

Now, don’t just throw a number out there and plan your spending around that. Create a category for “holiday spending” on your monthly budget and plan for it like everything else.

Need extra money for your Thanksgiving meal? Write it in the budget. Saving money for gift giving? Stick it in the budget.

Every expense you have should be accounted for in your budget! And don’t forget: Your budget should balance to the penny. Then, promise yourself you’ll stick to the plan!

Track Your Spending

I’d love to say that the holidays are just like every other time during the year, but we all know they’re not. You’re almost certainly spending more than usual, which makes tracking your spending more important now than at almost any time of year.

With all the events and gift giving, it’s easy to spend more than we intend. But, by keeping a close eye on what you’ve spent, you won’t lose track of where you are on your budget.

Better yet, compare your expenses to your budget a few times a month. You might even want to check-in a couple of times per week. That way, you can see exactly where you stand before and after you’ve done your spending. Using one of the best budgeting appscan be a great way to stay on track and survive the holidays with some cash still in your wallet.

Save the Cash

Thinking about putting your gifts on credit and paying them off later? If you remember nothing else, remember this: Don’t do it.

Seriously, don’t. Don’t do it, don’t do it, don’t do it, don’t do it… just DON’T.

Only make purchases you have planned for in your budget AND that you have the cash to buy. Charging gifts can lead to overspending and serious money problems down the road.

So, how do you buy what you need without going into debt? Easy. Save up the cash.

Although it may be too late this year, try starting a “holiday savings fund” next year. There is a simple trick called a “sinking fund” that can help.

Here’s a quick primer on how it works: Throughout the year, save a few extra bucks each month in an account specifically marked for holiday gift giving. Have it automatically deducted from your paycheck and deposited into this special account. The money will pile up all year long without any effort on your part and without you even noticing. When the holidays roll around, the money will be there when you need it.

If you still choose to use a credit card, at least use one of these great cash back credit cards to earn some cash back or points. Then, pay it off every time you make a purchase.

Seriously, go shopping; then, come home and pay it off. This helps keep your spending in check, keeps you out of debt, and ensures that you aren’t spending more than you realized.

Limit Gift Giving

Look, I love generosity. I think it’s admirable. But, if you want to get ahead, you can’t give what you don’t have…and if you do, you’re setting yourself up for a world of financial pain.

If you don’t have the cash, consider giving fewer gifts this year. Cut down on both the number of gifts you give and the amount you spend, even when it comes to your children. They probably won’t even notice, and I promise that they’ll love the season all the same.

Stop giving to other adults – including your friends, siblings, and parents if needed. Tell them that money is tight this year. They’ll understand, and if they don’t – well – it’s not their money or their debt!

If this hurts, that’s good! Use that pain as motivation to get on track and do a better job of saving for next year.

Learn to Say “No”

When trying to get your money straight, one of the most important things you can do is learn to say “no.

During the holidays, people invent all kinds of creative ways to spend both their money and yours! You’re expected to purchase loads of gifts, attend expensive events, and shell out big bucks in the name of having “holiday spirit.” Many of these holiday expectations are placed on us by friends and family, a opening the door to strained personal relationships if we somehow muster  the courage to decline.

Sure, saying “no” this time of year can be exceptionally difficult, but you’ve gotta do it. Many of these worries are inventions in our own mind. Most people are too wrapped up in their own needs and schedules to even care. And again, if they do, it isn’t their money to spend or their mess to clean up.

If it isn’t in your budget, you must learn to say “no” so you can get ahead – even during the holidays. “No, I can’t participate in this gift exchange.” “No, I can’t use credit to buy gifts I can’t afford.” “No, I can’t buy a new dress for this event.”

Remember, most people are in debt up to their ears so why should they care about yours? Learn to say “no” so you’re not one of them any more.

Surviving the Holidays in the Black

How you handle the holiday season can prepare your finances for a whole year’s worth of success. By sticking to your budget and staying ahead of the game, you’ll start the new year with the positive bank balance most people only wish they had. While others are recovering from their holiday spending hangover, you’ll be primed to destroy your and continue moving toward a financially fit and happy life.

Yes, staying disciplined during the holidays isn’t always easy, but surviving the holidays in the black can give you the head start you need to crush it next year. You can do it! Just remember what you’re working toward, and don’t give in to the pressure of the holidays.

What are you doing to stay on budget this holiday season? Let us know in the comments!

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Co-author Holly Johnson appears on Fox Business News as a money expert. • Holly Johnson is a staff writer at Get Rich Slowly, The Simple Dollar, Frugal Travel Guy, and U.S. News and World Report Travel. Holly also landed her very own weekly column in the Indianapolis Star! She will cover a range of money and lifestyle topics aimed at helping middle class families stretch their dollars further. She’ll be answering questions and providing commentary every Sunday in the “Lifestyle” section of the paper. • Greg and Holly Johnson’s work has been featured in The Wall Street Journal, Fox News, Forbes, Lifehacker, Yahoo!, and many other online publications. • Club Thrifty is one of the most popular self-help budgeting sites with dozens of classes, tips, seminars, lessons and advice to help readers achieve financial freedom. • With over 20,000 subscribers to their blog, a well-trafficked website, the ClubThrifty brand is accruing thousands of loyal fans and followers in many social media platforms.

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