FORT CAMPBELL, Ky. – It’s mid-July, and while most people have summer vacation, barbecues, sports and the outdoors on their minds, Brett Ives, a personal financial readiness specialist with Army Community Service said it’s not too early to be thinking about the annual Christmas buying frenzy that somehow catches us all by surprise at the end of the year.
Whether shopping in stores or online, Ives shared some tips for how to prepare for this Christmas season early to avoid the frustration and financial headache that comes with overspending when gift-giving.
Start saving early
According to Ives, the earlier people can plan for the December holiday shopping sprees the better. A good place to start to plan how much to save is to compare spending from previous years.
“What I encourage people to do, is starting right in January, if you spent $600 last year for example, start saving now and putting $100 a month away so by July you have that money,” Ives said.
Planning ahead helps prevent overspending and can lessen the amount of stress and anxiety that some might feel if stretched for cash around Christmas.
Plan and budget
Ives said it’s important for Soldiers and Families to make a detailed plan when preparing for Christmas and the best way to start is by taking an honest look at the bank account to see where money is flowing.
“Create a spending plan or a budget to see what’s coming in and what’s going out,” he said.
Once a comfortable amount is settled on, the next step Families can take is deciding who they will buy gifts for, how many gifts each person will receive, and Ives said it’s important to be very specific about how much they are willing to spend on each person.
Once a certain amount is determined, set a cap and spend within the amount of funds allotted for each person. This helps to prevent impulse buying around the holidays, he said, because it’s easier to limit spending outside one’s means if a predetermined amount is set.
And for those who are still concerned about overspending, there’s always the option of shopping with cash only so that once the money is spent, shopping is over.
Budget for decorations
While planning for buying gifts to put under the tree, it’s easy to forget to include one of the most symbolic parts of the Christmas season in the budget – the tree and all the decorations to dress it up.
This is an important aspect of holiday spending to include in the budget when laying it out because if not using the same decorations from the year prior, after lights, tree ornaments, the tree skirt and any additional house decorations, the expense adds up quickly, Ives said.
Families also should remember to budget for any other miscellaneous items associated with Christmas such as gift wrapping, tags, packaging and postage if mailing gifts and cards or other items they may spend on in addition to the gifts themselves.
Do the research
Another element to take into consideration when looking for Christmas presents is to look at the same gift at different locations to get the most affordable price, Ives said, especially if the Family already has in mind exactly what they want for each person.
Families should remember to check to see which stores price match in the event they find an item that is less expensive elsewhere while in the store, and Families also should consider using military discounts and buying gifts at places like the Exchange where shopping is tax-free, he said.
“Everywhere you shop or dine you should ask if a military discount is offered,” Ives said. “Many retailers will not offer these discounts unless you ask, and you may be surprised to find small businesses or those away from military installations may offer a discount just because you asked. Take advantage of these discounts – the business has decided to offer a discount and you deserve it.”
Planning ahead and knowing what to budget for when getting ready for the holiday season are great ways to prepare for the expense. Aside from lessening the impact to the wallet, proactively planning for the amount of money spent during the holidays can reduce the amount of anxiety and stress Families experience at the end of the year by having enough money saved up for it.
ACS is available to help Soldiers and Families plan for the holidays as well as any other financial goals they may have. To schedule an appointment, call 270-798-5518.