Have you carefully planned for your holiday expenses? Watch out for the unexpected. A report by Experian concluded that unplanned expenses account for an average of $288 around the holidays, and 31% of consumers handled this cost by putting it on their credit cards. Yikes! Some of these unexpected expenses are big-ticket items that can immediately put a dent in your budget. Most, however, are small expenses that you’ll cover without carefully considering them. The cumulative effect of these little expenses can bust your budget, though. By learning what expenses typically derail other people, you’ll be able to come up with a plan to prevent overspending.
A plethora of holiday activities are scheduled from November through the first week of January, and this goes double if you have children. Take a long, hard look at your schedule and the schedules of your immediate family and try to anticipate how much these events will cost you. You might think that most of the activities are free, but there are often hidden costs: For example, your town’s tree-lighting may be a free event, but you might need to pay to park. While you are there, maybe you’ll grab a hot chocolate to stay warm and some roasted almonds for a snack. Suddenly, this free event is costing money! Your niece’s holiday concert might not charge for parking, but it could have a small entrance fee and a table of students selling flowers for the performers. Ice skating in the park, festivals, and the like can all have these hidden costs.
To save money, start by eliminating food costs: Bring a thermos of hot chocolate and a tote bag with favorite snacks. Consider carpooling with another family to save on both gas and parking. Check out all of the events you plan on attending online, so you’re aware of any entrance fees or suggested donations. And for the little performers in your life, bring a card and skip the flowers.
Cards and Postage
People consider sending holiday cards to be an inexpensive tradition, but it can add up quickly. Get your own cards printed, as many people do, and you might pay around a dollar per card. That card will also cost you 55 cents to mail. That’s a total of $1.55 apiece. Multiply that by 20 and you’re at $31, and that’s assuming you don’t have a huge family to send cards to! On the other hand, you can usually buy holiday picture postcards for around 20 cents each, and the postage will only cost 35 cents, for a total of 55 cents apiece or $11 for 20. That’s an easy way to save $20 (or more)!
Shipping costs can also eat away at your shopping budget. Always search for free shipping promo codes. Sites like RetailMeNot and CouponCabin aggregate promo codes and discount offers so you can easily search for valid deals. You can also type the name of the store and “free shipping code” into a search engine. Also, stores that operate both online and brick-and-mortar storefronts often offer a “pick up in store” option. This is a great way to save on shipping fees! Just make sure that you don’t end up spending money in the store when you pick up your item.
Most people receive multiple requests for cash contributions during the holiday season. Did you know that 30% of all charitable donations are made during December? Beyond the person ringing a bell outside your local discount store, you can expect multiple requests on social media, in your inbox, in your mailbox, at the cash register at some stores, and person to person. Charitable giving is important and can have a beneficial impact on your taxes. Decide how much you would like to give to charity during the season, and decide what your charitable priorities are. Maybe you would like to focus on helping children in foster care, curing a disease, or supporting the arts. Once you decide how much you will give and to whom, stick with it!
It’s not just charitable contribution requests you should anticipate. It’s also common to be asked to pitch in for group gifts or parties at this time of year. If you have a school-age child, you can probably expect to be asked to contribute to a fund for the teacher’s gift. Some parent organizations also collect money to buy gifts for the support staff. You might also be asked to contribute toward a class party or send in treats for the whole class. At work, you might be asked to help pay for a holiday party or a gift for the boss. Plan out these contributions by looking at last year: What were you asked to pitch in for, and how much did it cost? Expect to be asked for the same this year. Budget accordingly, and don’t be afraid to say no if you can’t afford it or don’t wish to contribute.
Most people budget very carefully to buy presents for everyone on their list. But what do you do if you get an unexpected gift from a family member or friend with whom you don’t typically exchange presents? Say “thank you.” Seriously, that’s all you have to do. What you don’t have to do is blow your budget. If you don’t feel like that’s sufficient, send them a card and add them to your list for next year. You might also want to consider giving them an inexpensive, easy DIY gift in return.
The holiday season presents a lot of hazards for your furry family members. According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, holiday food, decorations, visitors, and travel all offer dangers for your pets. Plan ahead by identifying the nearest emergency vet to your home and anywhere you will be traveling. Also, be aware of which kinds of plants and greenery used in Christmas decorations are deadly for pets, and keep the ASPCA Poison Control Hotline number (1-888-426-4435) handy. Keep human food well out of reach of animals, and keep your pets in undecorated rooms when you aren’t home. Also, let visitors know you have pets, and make sure they know your house rules for your pets. And be sure to take precautions to keep your pets safe while traveling, too.
Unexpected veterinary bills can put a damper on the holiday season and add to the financial strain of a traditionally expensive season. Should an emergency arise, it is important to consider all of your financial options. For those who may not qualify for a traditional bank loan, alternative lending options, such as title secured loans and personal installment loans, may help make ends meet.
Many people in their first jobs have had this experience: It’s the holiday season, and they learn they’re expected to show up at the company party, but they’re expected to dress in cocktail attire and they don’t have any. Or maybe it’s been decided that since the family is together, it’s the perfect time for a family picture, with everyone in matching clothes. The rise of the ugly sweater party has also added an expense, as many party invitations come with the expectation that you’ll come in an appropriately hideous Christmas sweater. If you’re looking for party attire, try checking thrift stores or apps where people resell their clothes to find the pieces you need. As for the family photo session, ask if the theme can be broadened to include items already in your wardrobe.
Americans spend $2.9 billion annually on wrapping paper and gift-wrapping accessories. That’s a lot of money that basically goes straight into the trash. It’s also usually the last item people buy, which means it can trash your budget at the last minute. One easy way to save money is by seeking out cheaper wrapping paper. Instead of fancy gift wrap, buy less expensive paper at your local discount store. Or theme your present-wrapping after The Sound of Music and wrap your gifts in brown paper tied up with string. You might also try out some eco-friendly alternatives to wrapping paper.
Visitors are great, but they can also bust your budget. Along with increased food and beverage costs, house guests can run up your utility bills. Be frank with guests if you’d like them to pitch in some cash during their stay. Even small contributions can limit the impact their stay has on your budget, but it will still be cheaper for them than a hotel. If your visitors are just coming for a meal or the afternoon, let everyone contribute a dish, beverages, or paper supplies. A holiday potluck lets everyone share their favorite dish and removes a lot of the cost and stress from the host. You’ll also want to keep an eye out for sales at the grocery store, download your favorite store’s app, and take advantage of electronic coupons and loyalty programs. Buy food you’ll need for holiday meals and drop-in guests each week to spread the cost over several paychecks.