Stick to Your Christmas Budget without Guilt
Making a Christmas budget seems to be one of those challenges that “sneak up” on us every year. It certainly used to be true for me. Even though we know its coming, we never seem to quite be ready for it.
There you are at 2 a.m. in the morning, realizing you forgot a present for Aunt Edna, and you’re already “overdrawn” on your Christmas budget. Or you’re worrying that your better-off-financially friend is going to get you a better present than you got her AGAIN this year and you are going to feel embarrassed again.
It doesn’t have to be this way. While it may not be easy to change in just one Christmas season – change almost always starts out uncomfortable – it can be done. You CAN change your Christmas budget and feel good about it.
Let’s take it one step at a time.
What is Your Christmas Budget?
Christmas is the season when you buy this year’s gifts with next year’s money.
Don’t let that quote apply to you!
First, start with deciding exactly how much money you have or will have available to spend for Christmas. Don’t think about all the things you need or want to spend it on right now. This is simply how much money is going to be available in your budget to be divided among all your Christmas expenses.
What do You Want to Spend it On?
Here is where you begin to manage your Christmas budget differently than you have in the past. Instead of listing all the things you “ought” to spend money on this holiday season, start by thinking about what is important to you. Maybe you love to entertain and it wouldn’t be Christmas without your annual open house. Or maybe you like to travel at the holiday – to see family or to get away from them (I know – it doesn’t sound nice, but sometimes it is reality).
Here are some categories to get you started:
- tree and decorations
- house decor
- special events – concerts, ballet, movies
- meals and special baking (that fruitcake can really set your budget back)
- special clothes
- activities for the kids
- charity giving
- school activities
- utilities if you have Griswold tendencies to light up the whole city from your front yard
- family photos
Now that you’ve got your list, prioritize it. Put the things YOU care about on top and work down from there.
Now Start Plugging in the Numbers
Start at the top and estimate how much each category is going to cost. If you get all the way to the bottom of the list and you still have budget left over, its time for a celebration.
But let’s face it, that’s not likely to happen. At least it never happened to me until we scaled our Christmas budget way back. WAY back.
And Reconcile the Difference
If you didn’t make it to the bottom of your list with money left over, welcome to the majority. Almost no one makes it to the end of their list with money left over. (I know, that didn’t make you feel any better, did it?)
This is where the work begins. You have decisions to make. Because you are committed to your budget number (and you should be), then you must adjust the numbers somewhere. Either spend less on something at the top of the list or eliminate something at the bottom.
You may decide to find a way to come up with more money and that’s OK, too, but I’d advise you to make a Christmas budget you can live with from what you KNOW you have rather than add the stress of trying to make the budget bigger in what can be the most stressful season of the year. Don’t make this harder on yourself than it needs to be.
Sticking to Your Christmas Budget
As tough as the decision about what to prioritize and how much to spend on each item was sticking to the budget may be even more difficult.
To manage it successfully you need to understand where the pitfalls are and put resources in place to avoid them.
Recognize Your Danger Zones
First, recognize your danger zones. Where are you more likely to spend outside your plan? Is there a particular store you need to make off-limits or be sure you have someone with you when you shop there? Are you more likely to over-spend online or at the grocery store?
Plan Your Solo Coping Strategies
Second, plan your solo coping strategies. These are things you can do on your own to distract yourself if you feel an unplanned spending spree coming on. Take a walk. Read an inspirational book. Take a break for a cup of tea. Meditate for five minutes. Make your own list here. What strategies and tools do you use to re-center and remind yourself of your commitments?
Enlist Your Support System
Third, identify and enlist your support system. This could be a friend or a family member, or it could be a Facebook group. It’s a good idea to have more than one person as your support system so you increase your chances of someone being available at the moment you need support. Also, remember, your support system is only as useful as your willingness to reach out to them.
Put Up Roadblocks
Lastly, put behavioral barriers in place. These are a stop-gap measure, but they are very important in the first stages of change. A behavior barrier is a road-block you put in place to keep yourself from veering off course. My Impulse Spending Prevention Kit is a set of behavior barriers that interrupt you as you are about to spend money or prevent you from visiting shopping sites you specify. Think of it as parental controls for your budget.
Managing Your Emotions
I’m going to start with the bad news. If you are a person who tends to feel guilty you probably won’t change the pattern over the course of one Christmas season. Look at it this way – you probably ARE going to feel guilty at some point over the holidays.
Either you will spend off your budget and feel guilty about that or you’ll stay in your budget and feel guilty about that because someone didn’t get a gift or as nice a gift as they got you. Or some other comparison or expectation or rule will start rolling around in your head. As a result, you’ll start to feel guilt.
“Negative” Emotions are Normal
The first step, then, is to accept that some negative emotions are normal any time you make a significant change. They will probably all come up – fear, anger, sadness, guilt, maybe some shame thrown in for good measure.
The way I see it, if you are going to experience these negative emotions you might as well feel them because you are honoring your own needs and decisions rather than feeling them because you are honoring someone else’s and abandoning your own. Accepting emotions goes a long way to neutralize them, as counter-intuitive as that sounds. So, acceptance is your first power tool in neutralizing guilt.
Write it Down and Neutralize it
Journaling can be a powerful medium for expressing your thoughts and feelings. The Impulse Spending Prevention Kit includes a daily money journal that provides a structure for processing challenging situations and emotions. You can complete the daily journal in the Impulse Spending Prevention Kit in about 15 minutes or less a day. It also includes a space for affirmations to remind yourself of your values and your commitments as well as your worthiness of celebrating the holiday in a way that honors them. Journaling is your second power tool in neutralizing guilt.
Use Your Support System
Finally, your support system can also help you manage your emotions. Sometimes you just need someone to listen without judging or trying to fix anything. Emotions are not wrong! They are a sign that you are a normal human being.
You Can Do This!
Imagine . . . It’s December 26th. The big day is over and you’re able to look back and congratulate yourself on a holiday season you thoroughly enjoyed and a budget that didn’t suffer because of it. You bravely faced the challenge of making a Christmas budget that felt right to you and honored your values and didn’t undermine your other financial goals. You put barriers in place and used your support system to stay on track.
Above all, you paid attention when the negative thoughts and fears about other people’s expectations and reactions came up. And you journaled and talked your way through them. You reminded yourself that emotions are normal. Most noteworthy, you made it through.
Certainly, it is time to celebrate your success!