After a fun-filled summer, there’s a chance that your budget is looking a little sad. Maybe you booked that weekend girls’ trip that you weren’t planning on but it was totally worth it, or maybe you spent a little too much attending all of your friend’s weddings.
These things may have taken you off track a little financially and you’re ready to get back to some good money habits. But beware, the holidays are just a few months away, and it can be easy to find yourself falling even further off track with your money. According to a recent report, Americans found themselves in over $1,000 in debt after the holidays.
How can you indulge without starting off 2020 in debt? With just a few months to plan, here are some strategies to prepare your wallet.
Know what you want to spend
The key to not having a financially disastrous holiday season is starting with a plan. What do you want to spend on this holiday season? Make sure you think beyond just presents and list out anything else you might spend money on: parties, decorations, and events.
Once you have the things you want to spend on, you can start to estimate how much everything will cost. Are you planning to get a new dress for the holiday office party? Host a gift exchange and dinner? Buy presents for your new, adorable little nephew?
It may feel overwhelming — and expensive — to list everything out. But doing this can help you strategize where and how to spend your money so you can get the most out of every holiday dollar you’re spending.
Look for less expensive options
If you’re feeling sticker shock after creating your holiday budget, it’s time to fine-tune your estimate. That’s the great thing about planning ahead: it gives you the chance to adjust things before you go down a spending spiral. Looking for less expensive holiday options doesn’t mean you have to cut out all of the things you were looking forward to during the holidays. It gives you the chance to look for things that might be just as special and meaningful, but will be a lot lighter on your wallet.
Maybe you’ll decide to borrow, rather than buy, a dress. Or change the holiday dinner you were planning to a cookie baking party. Or give your sweet little niece one present, rather than the three you were eyeing.
Save money fast
If you haven’t been saving for holiday spending all year, it’s not too late; it’s just going to take a little more effort. But this little extra effort doesn’t have to be a bummer. Think about creating a money-saving challenge for yourself to see just how much you can save, quickly.
There are a few arguably fun ways I’ve tried to save money fast in the past:
A no-spend month
During a no-spend month, you stop any unnecessary spending. While you can still spend on things like your rent, groceries, and transportation, you cut out everything else (goodbye happy hour, SoulCycle, and lattes).
It’s a pretty straight-forward challenge, but it’s hard. Enlist a friend to join you so you have an accountability partner to help motivate you when you really don’t feel like packing lunch for work.
Cut something out
Less intense than a no-spend month, this is my go-to strategy when I’m trying to save a little extra cash fast (I do this all the time before going on vacation). Pinpoint one of your spending vices — for me, it’s eating out — and commit to not spending on it for a few weeks or months.
As a bonus, this may help reset your spending habits long-term. While I’ve used it to save in the short-term, once I realized how much I actually enjoy cooking at home and saw how much money I saved, I stopped eating out regularly.
Pause recurring subscriptions
If you have a number of recurring subscriptions, like Netflix, Audible, or Spotify, try canceling them or putting them on pause for a few months. Then, set up an automatic transfer to a holiday savings account to make sure that money gets earmarked for your holiday budget.
Sure, the charges may seem insignificant when looking at your holiday spending, but even making these small changes will help offset some of your spending. Plus, you’ll probably be so busy these last few weeks before the weather turns, you might not even miss them.
Earn a little extra
While saving challenges can honestly be kind of fun, earning challenges can be even better. Think about ways you can earn a little extra over the next three months. Reach out to a catering company to see if they need help during their busiest season. Start animal sitting for people who have to leave their pets during their holiday trips. Deliver groceries after work and on the weekends.
Earning money outside of your regular job can get a little addicting, and it may be something you continue into the new year. Doesn’t starting 2020 with a new side hustle sound appealing?
Start a sinking fund for next year
The holidays happen at the same time each year. Want to be more prepared next year? Start your holiday sinking fund in January. If you plan to spend the same amount next holiday season, use the budget you created and divide by 12. This will get you the monthly amount that you need to save.
Say you spend $900 this year and you plan to spend the same amount next year. Set up an automatic transfer for $75 per month to a holiday savings account. When next December rolls around, you’ll have the money ready to spend, without having to stress.
If you haven’t started planning yet, don’t worry, you’re not too late. Put these tactics into place and you’ll be able to confidently spend on the things you prioritize during the festive season.