Nothing makes a holiday season more joyous that the peace that comes from knowing you won't face the effects of overspending come January. While good old-fashioned saving and planning ahead are still the best way to manage your holiday finances, that doesn't always happen.
There are plenty of things you can do right now to keep holiday expenditures under control. Carrie Rocha, founder of PocketYourDollars.com and author of Pocket Your Dollars (January 2013, Bethany House), says spending motivations are multi-faceted, drawing from physiological, emotional, social and spiritual components.
That doesn't mean we are powerless against them.
Love to shop? Blame it on chemistry. There are drug-like compounds at work during the holidays, and we're not talking eggnog. "Physiologically, buying something new makes us feel good," says Rocha. "The body releases a chemical called dopamine when we surround ourselves with new things and when we make purchases, especially purchases on plastic (credit or debit)." Rocha says generosity creates feel-good emotions, too. "It's like a dopamine double-whammy that creates a short-term high and some very impulsive decisions." Be strong.
If your holiday plans include visiting far-flung family, take care not to incur extra costs associated with too much luggage. They're family; they can stand to see you in the same jeans a few days in a row. While you're at it, pack a lunch. (Remember you'll still have to buy beverages.) A family of four easily can burn through $50 on a not-so-satisfying airport meal. Or, you can inspire envy with your homemade picnic. Bonus: You'll feel better and have more energy when you get off the plane than if you'd opted for fast food.
Get free shipping from hundreds of online retailers by ordering on free shipping day: Monday, Dec. 17. Many brick-and-mortar retailers also offer free "site to store" shipping. Target comps shipping on all online orders (and 5 percent off) when you use its REDCard. Amazon Mom and Amazon Student accounts are free, and if you have not had an Amazon Prime account in the last 13 months, you can sign up for a free one-month trial. Free shipping all around!
Rocha suggests CamelCamelCamel.com for price history information. "At a glance you can see the highest, lowest and average price that an item sold for at Amazon.com." She also advocates using coupons for items you plan to buy anyway. Don't forget price matching, Rocha says. "Some retailers will even give you a price adjustment if they offer a lower price in the days after you've made a purchase."
It's not just about gifts. This time of year is full of extra expenses. Hosting family meals or holiday parties, cards, postage, and pricey baking ingredients all stretch the budget. Rocha advises drafting a meal plan early. "Include what you plan to bake, so you can cherry-pick the best sale-priced items from the grocery store throughout December." Look at holiday spending holistically-and trim strategically. Nobody wants you to scrimp on the fudge!
Set limits, says Rocha. "Whether you limit who you buy for, how much you'll spend or how many things you'll get, you need to set a boundary." She also warns against trying to get everything on your list in one day.
If none of these ideas sound good, it's time to get a part-time gig for the holidays. The extra income will keep holiday expenses in check. If you're lucky, the employee discounts can be applied to your gift list.
Just make sure you budget for earplugs; non-stop holiday music won't hurt your budget, but it could do permanent damage to your mental health.
See more of Lela's stories here.