Holiday Budget Hacks: Plan & Save for a Stress-Free Season (Free Template!)
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Seems too soon to say, but the stark reality is that as I write this article, the holiday season is only 4 short months away.
The good news is although it does seem a short ways away, at least we can still look towards the next 3-4 months to prepare for the holiday season. With the last several years we’ve all experienced, I'm anticipating a fairly large and eventful holiday season this year. I’ll pass on the eggnog though. I’m not a huge fan.
Do you find yourself unprepared for the celebrations when December rolls around and thus, charging everything to a credit card and purchasing last-minute gifts for friends and family? I know I’ve been there!
Instead, this week spend an hour on your budget and planning to figure out exactly who you’re buying for, what you’re going to spend on them, and how you’re going to pay for it. Eliminate the anxiety, and dare I say guilt, from overspending or racking up debt this season.
Intentionally plan your holiday gift giving
The first step with planning your holiday spending is figuring out exactly who you’re buying for and what you’re going to give them.
With the handy Quicken template that you can access below, you can start deciding on who you will be giving gifts to this year, as well as all the additional expenses that the holiday season seems to throw at us.
This is a great time of year to be intentional about who you want to be spending money on for the holidays. Maybe this becomes the year you rein in your holiday gift giving to only a handful of close friends or relatives? Maybe this is the year you want to really splash out on gift giving to make up for lost time? Or maybe you want to only do homemade gifts so you can pay off your debt? (I’ve definitely been there!)
Regardless of the path you take, sitting down and deciding who you want to give a gift to and what you plan on giving them is crucial to ensure a positive and focused shopping experience.
Figure out your budget
After deciding who is on your gift-giving list and what you plan on purchasing for them, it’s time to look at your holiday budget to ensure you will have the money in place to support it.
The worksheet above will give you an estimate of how much your totals will be for the upcoming holiday season. A wonderful thing about printables is you can adjust them to fit your budget as many times as you want!
We all start off wanting to give the world to our loved ones, only to quickly realize that sometimes the gifts we’re planning on buying are just out of our price range. Go back to your printable plan and adjust your expenses to make your budget work for you.
- Create a budget
- Save for what you need
- Spend with confidence
Start saving now with a sinking fund
What are sinking funds?
Simply put, sinking funds are either physical (think cash envelopes) or online accounts where you store money to save for a specific future purchase.
There are several ways to save money for a sinking fund, such as bi-weekly transfers, monthly transfers, or from larger one-time windfalls or payments.
How many sinking funds you have is completely specific to your situation. We currently have 17 sinking funds stored in 2 separate online financial institutions, which are easy to access when necessary but not easy enough to spend everything in the accounts on a whim. I track our sinking funds on a Google spreadsheet and update monthly because I’m old school like that.
So how does this work?
When you’re creating a sinking fund, you need to look at three factors:
- Identify the name and date of the future purchase (the target date). Get specific: write the date down, the event or holiday, and why you’re celebrating it.
- Identify how much you want to spend on the event. I always recommend analyzing the previous 2 - 3 years’ spending for that specific occasion and dividing by the number of years to give you a good average of what you historically spend. It may surprise you, but don’t be disheartened if you spend more than you think you do! This step takes time, but I find it's crucial to understand your spending habits before jumping onto step 3.
- Identify how much you need to save per paycheck (or week, month, etc.) to meet that goal by the target date.
Looking at the upcoming 2021 holiday season, let’s put this into practice with hypothetical numbers:
- Date and name of future purchase: December 1st, 2021 / Holiday
- How much historically spent on this event / planned spending: $1,000.00
- Savings rate: 3 months (September, October, November) = 6 paychecks (2 pay periods per month)
Now let’s do some fun math which is either illuminating or terrifying. Let's find out!
- $1,000 target goal / 6 paychecks = $166.66 per paycheck needs to be saved.
That’s $166.66 per paycheck from September 1st to November 31st that needs to be tucked away into a sinking fund to save for December 1st spending. Plugging your own numbers into this formula will give you different answers based on your spending habits, but the example is pretty sound.
What if you can’t find that $166.66 per paycheck to save for this year's holidays? Well, you do one of two things:
- You lower the budget for holiday spending and set a goal to start saving for next year’s holiday season in January to give yourself more time.
- You increase your income to make up the difference. Maybe that means taking on a side hustle like personal shopping, driving, or so many various other opportunities to pick up some extra cash. If you have your heart set on your budget, then you need to hustle to make that happen.
- Create a budget
- Save for what you need
- Spend with confidence
Ready to implement? Track using your Quicken budget to stay on track!
As you begin to purchase gifts this year, it is crucial that you track your spending to ensure you stay on track and on budget. Using both the printable provided to mark off purchased gifts as you go AND the Quicken software will prevent the inevitable “oh my gosh where did all the money go?!?” feeling.
Adding an additional spending category to your Quicken budget labeled “Holiday sinking fund” (or whatever you want to call it!) will be where you track your expenses related to your sinking fund spending.
So how do you incorporate sinking funds into the Quicken program? Simple!
In Quicken for Mac:
- On the main landing page, click on Windows and then scroll down to Categories. At the bottom of the categories menu, you will see the + sign where you can add your own customized categories. Simply click Add category and type in ‘sinking fund’ or a specific sinking fund name, and the system will add it to your category list.
- Move over to your budget view and locate Edit budget. Click, and from there, the yearly budget view will pop up on your screen.
- At the bottom of the screen, you will see Select categories. Click on that and search for your sinking fund name, add it to your budget, and you’re all set to go!
How about in Quicken Windows?
- On the main budget dashboard, select Tools, then Category List, then select New Category.
- Under Category Name, enter Sinking Fund or a specific sinking fund name. Select Save. Quicken will add Sinking Fund to your category list.
- Move over to your budget view and select Manage Budget Categories. Your list of categories will appear. Find and select Sinking Fund to add it to your budget, then select OK.
- Sinking Fund will now appear on your budget. Hover over the Sinking Fund and select Edit to add a budget amount.
As you make deposits into your sinking fund or spend money from it, remember to add the ‘sinking fund’ category to each transaction.
Based off the numbers from the above exercise, you can fill in your budget for the next several months with your new sinking fund.
Whether you choose to store your sinking fund in a digital bank, traditional bank, or cash envelope, be sure to find a way to track what has been saved in that account so you know where you stand as you work towards your goal.
You can do this! You can make this holiday season not only incredibly celebratory but ALSO incredibly calm and minimize the amount of stress (and debt!) that you may have felt in the past. All it takes is some planning and a dash of dedication to make this year the best holiday season yet.
Lauren Tucker is the creator of An Organized Life, offering practical, gentle, and effective homemaking skills to help you thrive and find joy in your home and in your life.