There’s a lot to appreciate in fall, like the return of school days and cooler weather. Families love the traditions of fall, many of us revel in football season, and fall can also be called the season of giving. Fall and winter are full of moments to be thankful and spread generosity. Come October, the calendar is dotted with holidays and events. For most families, this season can be tough financially. Families with children know how costly Halloween and Christmas (and other family events in between) can be. This season isn’t cheap for even the best budgeters.
It’s never too early to instill good budgeting skills in your family members. Right now is also prime time to create household budgeting strategies, as we still have time before the holidays ramp up officially. Are there steps your family can take to ensure the next few months are kept on-budget and relatively stress-free? Here are a few ideas:
Chat with your partner to establish budgeting goals and boundaries.
Let your partner know you want to have a productive conversation regarding budgeting and spending. Schedule a time to talk without distractions and bring tools, like a computer with a spreadsheet, a notepad, bank records, and a calculator. During this conversation, look at both of your spending patterns over the past few months. There may be areas in which you both know you overspend; there may be wiggle room in others to which you don’t devote a lot of dollars. Candidly discuss where you can cut or add spending, and use free online resources like Dave Ramsey’s budgeting worksheets to plan (daveramsey.com). Once you have an idea of where you spend and where you save, you can create a ceiling or limit on your holiday spending for each month or even week. Even deducting a few dollars from each category (where you can) will add up. You’ll be surprised at how this can create its own savings for Halloween costumes or holiday travel or Christmas presents. Think about the expenses you usually have or have had before and during the holiday season, and budget realistically.
Keep your spending in line, and review it often.
Using budgeting worksheets to track expenditures helps you understand where your dollars flow. Tracking costs takes discipline and accountability, so talk with your partner about how you can keep each other on track. You Need a Budget is a fantastic online tool for seamlessly tracking and reviewing purchases. Even with this, credit purchases can be especially tricky to budget. Setting a separate overall budget for your credit card purchases is the best way to stay in control. Once you hit your budgeted number, put the credit card away for that statement period, and pay off the statement in full. Tracking your expenses will help you know when you’re getting close to that max number, too, so it’s important to revisit your planning sheets often.
Instill budgeting values in your children.
Halloween and Christmas are two huge holidays for kids and two expensive holidays for many families. Help your child understand the value of money and the benefits of budgeting by explaining its importance. Budgeting can help you save for important or exciting gifts. Get hands-on with your teaching to help them understand. Create a costume and candy budget for Halloween, or a gift-buying holiday budget with the kids. At the end of each week, track their expenses, allowance, or piggy bank fund totals to help them reach their goals. When you shop, bring their budget plans with you, and help them understand what they can afford while in the aisles of their favorite stores. Applying budgeting in real life will help them form their own opinions about the value of money and savings. While you’re at it, encourage them to see that donating to kids in need during the holiday season should be just as important as receiving their favorite toys under the tree. Additionally, homemade gifts can be more memorable than store-bought gifts. These values are sure to stay with them in their formative years.
Think of local families in need.
Holiday budgeting is a smart way to stay in control of your hard-earned money. Even after the New Year, you’ll have a financial plan to stick to. Perhaps you want to do something altruistic with your money this holiday season, and donate it to families less fortunate than yours. The holidays can be a great time to talk with your children about focusing on charitable efforts during the season of giving. Keep your eyes open for food drives around the Thanksgiving holiday (check feedmore.org), and find ways to donate Christmas presents to families in need (search Angel Tree or Toys for Tots online). You might start with a contribution to local churches, businesses, and other organizations, or search online for other charities that give back to children, military families, and individuals in need. Your family can spend time planning gifts or meals for these families, pick the items out together, and even deliver them to make a difference in others’ lives this holiday season.
Budgeting is not easy, especially during the hyper-consumer spending spree that happens between October and January every year. But it’s doable with online budgeting tools, discipline between you and your partner’s spending, and your children doing their part. When January comes along, you’ll have done much more than track your spending. You will have created financial morals throughout your family, accomplished savings goals, and perhaps given something back to your community. You can’t put a price on that.