How to Stay on Budget This Holiday

Use these tips to help save money this holiday season

If you’re already living on a tight student budget, the holiday season can be tricky. You may want to decorate your home, travel to see family, buy gifts for family and friends, and attend holiday parties. These added expenses can push an already tight budget to its limit. But you can enjoy the holidays—it just takes some planning.

Just like the rest of the year, you need to create a budget and stick to it. You may make some hard decisions, but no one should go into debt over holiday spending. If you focus on spending time with friends and family and not on gift exchanging, you may find you are still able to express gratitude to all your loved ones. First you need to create you plan for the holidays:

  1. Make a list

Who do you want to buy presents for this year? You need to write a list of everyone you have in mind. You may not be able to afford everyone on your list—narrow it down so the most important people in your life are the ones who get gifts this year.

  1. Review your regular budget

To figure out the amount you can spend, you need to look at your monthly budget to see how you can adjust for holiday spending. Are there any expenses that can be delayed this month? Can you minimize your car gas bill by carpooling? Can you plan your meals based on grocery store sales? Can you make double batches of food and freeze some to lower food expenses?

  1. Create a holiday budget

Consider what you’ve done in the past. Have you spent outside your means and ended up with debt? To avoid debt this year, create a list of everyone you want to give a gift to. On the list you created, you need to think about how much you want to spend on each person. Also add in other expenses you may have this year, such as travel, decorations, food, or postage. Then, go back over your list a few more times and see if there are people you can take off the list (like your second cousin’s neighbor) or who you need to spend money on vs who you can send a holiday card to instead.

  1. Boost your income

If you can’t make ends meet when you review your budget, consider finding a temporary job. Over the holiday season, many retail employers are looking for extra help—you may even get an employee discount. Also consider decluttering and selling unused items on websites, like Thredup or Craigslist, for some extra money.

Now that your plan is in place, you can research your gift ideas. If you think outside the box this year, you may find new ways to economize so you can make the most of this holiday season. Here are some tips to get you started.

  • Give the gift of time

If you asked people what they would want most in life, many would answer more time. Time to themselves, time with their family, time to run errands, time to study. Chances are if you are feeling the pinch in your wallet, so are your friends and family. So, why not give them the gift of time. If you have friends you want to show your gratitude, tell them you will come clean their house for the holidays or clean up their yard. If you have friends or family with children, offer to babysit. Or if you’re handy, offer to fix something as a gift. These types of gifts will cost you nothing but time and are usually greatly appreciated.

  • Make homemade gifts

Homemade gifts often are less expensive than store-bought gifts and can be more meaningful. Do you have any talents or hobbies? Maybe you know how to make soap, a pretty floral arrangement, or homemade ornaments. Check out Pinterest for ideas.

  • Do a Pollyanna

Rather than buying gifts for everyone in your family, organize a Pollyanna, or Secret Santa gift exchange. You put everyone’s name and wish list into a bag and each pick a name. You are responsible only for the name you draw, so you only buy one gift. No one knows who picked whom, which adds some fun to the gift exchange.

  • Shop smart

This time of year, stores will entice you with lots of sales. Know what you are looking to buy ahead of time and wait for a good deal. If you prefer shopping at certain stores, take advantage of price matching. If you’re loyal to a store, you often will get extra savings or rewards with their loyalty cards. Be sure to sign up for email promotions.

  • Save on gift wrapping

Buying gift wrap can add up quickly. You can save by reusing gift bags, bows, and tissue paper. If you like to wrap gifts, you can make your own wrapping paper out of things you probably have around the house, such as grocery store paper bags or newspaper. You can decorate them with stamps, paint, or markers.

Holiday don’ts

Don’t fall into some of the traps that could bust your budget this season. Commit to your budget and avoid making impulse buys. Here are some other suggestions to keep you on budget.

  • Avoid credit cards

Credit cards make it easy for you to spend more than you realize and then you’ll be stuck with a large bill in January. If you use cash or a debit card and you don’t have the money, you won’t spend it. If you do use a credit card, make sure you keep track of all transactions, so you won’t be surprised when the bill comes.

  • Stay away from restaurant holiday parties

Going out with friends can be a great way to enjoy the holiday season. But when you’re on a budget, you should be careful where you meet. If parties are held at restaurants or bars, alcoholic drinks can ring up the bill quickly. See if your friends would meet for coffee and donuts, have people over for a board game night, do a fun physical activity, such as kickball, or volunteer together.

If you have children and simply can’t afford toys or food, seek out a local organization to help. You can sign up for a Toys for Tots gift for your children. And you can contact the local food bank for low or no cost items for the holiday. Once you get settled in your new career, you can always give back to the organizations that helped you.

Get creative this holiday season. It may lead to more fun, meaningful gifts, and less debt. We wish you warmth and happiness!

This post is part of the Branford Hall weekly bog where we provide lifestyle tips to support our students. If you are interested in our career training programs, please explore our options, request information, schedule a tour at one of our 10 campuses, or call a career advisor at  800-959-7599.