Sticking to Your Budget Over the Holidays

The winter holiday season is fast approaching. For many, the coming months mean travel to visit family and friends, gift-giving, and preparation of traditional foods. All of these special occasions can be a challenge on monthly budgets.

“Some people set aside a little money out of every paycheck or shop sales all year to get ready for the holidays,” says Peggy Olive, UW-Extension/UW-Madison Financial Capability Specialist. “If the holidays have snuck up on you, there are steps to take now to prepare for the season and stay within budget.”

Money for holiday spending can come in many forms. If you saved ahead of time, then you know exactly how much you have in savings to spread across all your holiday activities. Without savings, then holiday spending either needs to come out of current monthly income or borrowed and then paid back, usually with interest, out of future monthly income.

If you plan to cover holiday spending out of your current or future monthly income, it’s important to have a budget. Use a free app or pen and paper to record your regular monthly income and keep track of your monthly spending. You will want to know how much of your income goes towards your fixed expenses, such as rent or a car payment, and how much of your spending you can tweak from week to week. Add up all small cuts you can make in your flexible spending to know what amount of extra holiday spending is realistic for your household.

After you have a better idea of how much holiday spending fits within your budget, then come up with a list of gifts, travel expenses, and special activities you would like to do. Next to each item on your wish list, estimate how much that item will cost. Add up all the expenses and compare your total to your personal budget – either from savings or cuts to your everyday spending. If your wish list total is higher than what you can realistically cover, then go back over your list to look for places to cut back.

“Holiday giving and gatherings are about expressing your love and appreciation toward others,” adds Olive. “Whether or not money is tight in your house, here’s your chance to be creative and put a personal touch on your holiday gifts.”

Prioritize your money to include gifts and activities that mean the most to you and the recipient. Also consider gifts that money can’t buy. Perhaps you are able to provide a home-cooked meal, dog-walking, snow shoveling, or a coupon for spring cleaning or a summer picnic. Many gestures, such as a handmade card with a personal note, really reflect the time and thought that was put into the gift. The holidays provide a wonderful reason to involve the whole family in coming together to make cards, gifts, and work together to provide a service to a loved one.

It can be challenging to stick to your budget as we get caught up in the holiday spirit. It can also feel awkward to be given a gift by a neighbor or coworker when you haven’t bought anything for them in return. Consider this an opportunity to practice being a gracious recipient as you thank the gift giver for their thoughtful gesture.

For more information on managing family finances, contact your local UW-Extension office at (920) 232-1973.

Authored by: Peggy Olive, polive@wisc.edu, 608-262-6766
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