On Her Own

Budgeting for the holiday season

Not sure if you’re aware, but we are now officially under two months to American Thanksgiving. The holiday season is going to be hitting us fast and hard soon, and if you’re feeling as overwhelmed as I am about the way the year’s been going, then let’s start doing some planning so it will be a little less scary as we get into the thick of things. For me, part of the panic is about all of the different things that need to be taken care of, so I’m going to try to break down some of the different areas that we need to start paying attention to sooner rather than later. Even if you can’t sit down this week to figure it all out, you can at least have these categories in mind or listed out in a virtual or paper notebook to fill out over the coming weeks.

Budgets are a function of money and time. If we all had unlimited quantities of both, we could do nearly everything we wanted. The world, unfortunately, doesn’t work that way so we have to pick and choose. The limited number of weekends and free evenings are perhaps the hardest to manage, but dollars also aren’t easy to come by, especially since we usually need to put in time to get more of them. Together, that means the very first thing you need to do is figure out how much of each you’ll have to get you through the holiday season. The time side is easy: get your calendar out and fill in all of the pre-scheduled, non-negotiable events and activities you’ll need to take part in, including the stuff that is part of your normal, everyday life. Mark out the actual dates of the holidays you’ll be celebrating, and the days you know you will have off from regular work or school. Having it all laid out will help you not double-book yourself when the invitations roll in. The money side can be a bit squishier, but I’d encourage you to limit it to savings you already have on hand and guaranteed income. Then list out what you know you will have to spend on standard living expenses like your rent or mortgage, utilities, and the like. Be honest with yourself on where you might need to adjust if you lose your job or don’t get an expected bonus or gift. These are good exercises to do any time of the year, but here’s where we’ll jump in to the holiday-specific things.

Time is our most precious commodity, and we only have so much of it to spend with those we love. It’s even harder if they don’t live close by and we also need to budget time getting to them and back home. If it’s important to you to spend holidays with them, you need to consider now who you want to see. As with all things budgeting, I suggest starting with the broadest list of wants, desires, and obligations you can, and include everyone you must or want to spend a few hours or days with. After that, start narrowing down who you absolutely must see because of duty or just because you really want to, and consider who you might be able to group together into a single event or visit. Drop folks off your list if it’s clear that you won’t be able to carve out the time to see them, or even if you just really don’t want to. It might be better to decide now that you’ll have Friendsgiving in October, or have your annual reunion with old classmates or coworkers in January instead. Either way, start reaching out to everyone now – in order of priority – to see when your schedules will mesh, rather than wait until the last minute or after you have agreed to go to other gatherings. The nature of time is that we will probably never be able to grab the hours we want with all of the people we want, but we most certainly won’t if we don’t plan it out in advance.

Financial budgets for the holidays usually center around gift-giving. Certainly, it’s important to figure out who you’re buying for and how much you’re able to spend on each of them. Some of your gift recipients may be mandatory or expected, and you’ll need to include them on your list just like everyone else. If you’re really organized, you might even start the actual shopping or collecting up gifts you’ve bought earlier in the year but for now, it’s okay to just figure out how much you’re planning on spending for each individual or group. Before you finalize those amounts, consider everything else you might have to spend around this time of year. Are you decking out your home, and want to buy some fresh or new decorations? Have you checked prices on those recently? Is there some holiday activity you always have to hit, like a haunted house or a production of the Nutcracker? It’s not just finding a free day to go, but also buying tickets. If you’re throwing or attending any celebrations, do you know how much they’ll cost you to host or go? Feeding twenty can get expensive quickly. Might you need to include hostess gifts or potluck contributions along with more specific and directed gifts? Will you need to travel, and account for plane tickets, gas, tolls, parking, hotels? Do you intend on making charitable donations to help others enjoy their holidays and survive the winter? The order in which you prioritize these expenses is personal, but you won’t be able to do so accurately until you figure out all of the areas you want to spend in.

It’s a lot, and it’s hard when we’re pulled in all directions. The command performances and obligatory gifts are demanding, and can take away from who we love and enjoy the most. The latter are just as, perhaps even more, important, and we need to figure out a way to make sure we celebrate and spend time with them as well. And somewhere in there, we need to remember to take care of ourselves too, whether it’s by refreshing ourselves with the presence of our favorite people, giving generously to others, taking a few hours or days to rest and recharge from our responsibilities, or adding ourselves to this year’s gift list.

Hi, I'm Annette.

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