It's that time of year again! While there no snow falling (it was 80 here in MA the other day) and singing Jingle Bells is forbidden until Thanksgiving, Christmas is coming. It tends to sneak up on us as if the date changes every year like Easter. This year I am going to be ready. This year I have a Plan.
In the past, I have had semi-plans and done OK. Last year, we were just beginning our debt payoff and managed to pay for Christmas totally in cash. A huge accomplishment, but still disorganized. Using that as my basis, I have developed the Plan for the holidays this year. Without further ado, here are the steps I took to formulate my Plan.
1. Write down everybody you are exchanging presents with. Categorize them as definite, possible and expendable. Sounds harsh, but do you really need to get a gift for everyone you talk to/work with/pass on the street? My definite people include my husband, our parents and our siblings (in-laws included). That's it. Grand total: 11 people.
2. Determine your total expenditure. I did this by looking at last year's Christmas spending and our current financial situation. Obviously, we're in debt payoff mode, so we're not going all out, bu we're not giving just cards, either. Somewhere healthy in the middle. Definitely all in cash.
3. Divide the total budget amongst your gift recipients. This may take a few iterations, and be sure to leave a cushion.
4. Find the money. In a perfect world, I would have been putting money away all year for Christmas. And I would live on a tropical island sipping pina coladas all day. Back in reality, some budget adjustments have to be made to account for the extra outflow. At the beginning of 2007, I saw that November would be a three paycheck month for me. That's where most of our Christmas money is coming from.
5. Make a gift list. Don't rush out to the mall with$50 in your hand, searching for the perfect gift for your brother. Chances are, you won't find it or it's not $50. Plan ahead by paying attention now to what gifts people may want - or just straight out ask them.
6. Consider alternatives to traditional gift-giving. Next year we're (99% likely) going on vacation with my in-laws. For Christmas this year, we're not exchanging gifts. We're putting a deposit on the trip instead. Other ideas include donating to charity or doing a Secret Santa swap to minimize costs. For other recipients, food gifts can be frugal and festive. My sister's mother-in-law (got that?) makes ginormous cookie platters every year for her periphery gifts. She loves doing it, and the time and effort in making them is priceless.
I think having this plan in place will make Christmas more enjoyable for me this year. I am also going to try and get the shopping done early so there's no last minute rush. Except for the rush for the eggnog.