The holidays are here (where in the world did this year go?!?) and you might be finding yourself swept into the hustle of gift shopping, holiday planning, travel prep and general seasonal chaos. What is dubbed the “best time of the year” can turn into “the most expensive time of the year” faster than you can say “Christmas wish list”. While the merriment is contagious this time of year (and it is so easy to get lured into the seasonal promotions and gift list requests)….lurking in the back of our minds is likely the gigantic bills that we are going to be facing in January (and for months after).

On average as of 2016, Americans face a debt amount of over $1,000 on New Year’s each year as a result of their holiday shopping excursions. Add this to the average $5,700 dollars of credit card debt that the average American family holds before the holiday season…..and it’s no wonder that January is a very stressful time of year for most Americans. “Ok”, you might think. “$1,000 doesn’t seem like that big of an expense for a great holiday!” According to CBS News, for the average American household, an unexpected expense increase of $500 in a month could put families in financial crisis mode. Twenty-one percent of families interviewed reported that they would have to put an unexpected expense on a credit card to cover it. Another twenty percent said they would have to cut back in other areas in order to make ends meet that month. Eleven percent said that they would have to take a loan from a family member or friend to cover the expense.

Considering that the holidays are one of the largest income generation time of the year for retail markets (yes, that’s why you started seeing Christmas decorations our around Halloween), it’s no wonder that people feel pressured to spend massive amounts of money during this time of year. However, with some smart planning, you can hit your wish list……and stay on budget.

1-) Make a list (and check it twice). Take a moment to write a list of everyone that you will be buying gifts for this season. Consider making categories such as “co-workers”, “teachers”, “friends”, and “family”.  This will give you an overview of the volume of gifts you are shopping for and will give you an idea of your budget for each group.

2-) Shop ahead. Once you know who you are shopping for and what category they fall into, assign a budget amount that you are going to spend for each person. This will allow you to shop ahead for meaningful gifts for each person on your list. A great trick is to purchase items after the holidays when everything goes on sale and store them for the following year to keep as easy gifts for co-workers or teachers. Examples could be candles, seasonal hand soaps or other items that will last all year and can make great gifts. It’s also a saving trick to purchase gift paper, bags and other gift accessories after the holidays when everything is steeply discounted.

3-) Make it personal. In the age where Pinterest projects rule our social media feeds it is easier than ever to come up with creative ideas for gifts. For teachers or co-workers, consider making personalized coffee mugs with gourmet hot chocolate, tea, or coffee mixes. Seasonal decorative hand towels with a festive hand soap can also make a great gift. If you are feeling more festive, consider making a recipe jar for cookies, brownies or hot cocoa. Check out some fun, festive ideas here.

4-) Less can be more. Typically, we focus on volume when we buy presents for the holidays. We fanaticize about trees packed to the base with presents and stockings overflowing with goodies. If we are honest…how many of these items were purchased merely to “fill a space” and create more packages to open on Christmas? Often, we don’t even remember the items we received and the endless holiday return lines at most department stores are proof that many of us don’t even use the gifts we are given.

Instead of focusing on how many gifts are purchased, consider purchasing or making two or three items that hold meaning to or meet a need for the receiver. Kiddos follow the tone that parents set for the holidays. Instead of purchasing mountains of toys that you’ll be tripping over for the rest of the year, consider taking the time around the holidays to teach your kids about budgeting and personal finance. Set the tone and show them the value of having and sticking with a budget. Ask for their top three wish list picks for the holidays. This gives them the opportunity to be intentional about what they want as well as teaches them invaluable financial skills that they’ll need down the road.

All The Best,

Kelley Carter, CPIA

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The Choice Insurance Agency’s mission is to help you get from where you are to where you want to be financially by planning, achieving your plan and protecting your plan from unexpected events.  In the process, our goal is to deliver insurance services in a manner that exceeds your expectations.  See what The Choice Insurance Agency can do for you today. Give us a call at 757-416-5100. to speak with one of the licensed, professional members of our team or request a contact here. The Choice Insurance Agency. We’re on YOUR side. 757-416-5100..