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MamaVoices: The Holidays On A Budget

From the super savvy to the simply practical, our Mamas have advice for Holiday budgeting, buying, giving--and avoiding a debt monkey on your back.

The Holidays are a time to give, give, give! But where the spirit is willing, the wallet is often weak. From the super savvy to the simply practical, our Mamas have great advice for budgeting, buying, giving and making it to New Year’s without a debt monkey on your back.


My strategy for navigating the holidays on a budget - my Christmas Spreadsheet.

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A column for the gift recipient, the amount of the budget allocated and gift ideas.

I create separate sections for each gift giving “group” (each side of the family, friends, neighbors, co-workers, etc.) to keep it all straight.

Not only does this keep me organized, but it keeps me on a budget because it’s easy to see the scope of the overall spending in one place.

My tricks for keeping the budget reasonable are simple:

-Set the budget early. I’m an emotional spender - I get swept right up in the season. If I set my budget early it takes the emotion out of it. Whatever I commit to this spreadsheet is law.

-I make my spreadsheet early in the year so I can also use it to keep track of gift ideas, which makes it easier to watch for those items to go on sale.

I save each yearly edition of this spreadsheet so I can look back and see what I’ve given over the years. (Plus, some of the best ideas can be recycled/repurposed for other people on your list.)

*Names and amounts have been changes because I’m cheap and I can’t bring myself to share the actual numbers. Yes, I budget for gifts for myself.

-Erin Oltmanns, Managing Editor

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Polish the holidays off in style while staying on budget. Here's how:

1.Determine your holiday budget(Jean Chatzky suggests 1.5% of your take home pay.)

1.Make a list of everyone you plan to buy gifts for and include a monetary budget for each person. During the course of holiday shopping, if you need to borrow from Aunt Peggy's budget to cover Uncle Henry's gift, do so. As long as the bottom line remains the same.

2.Include expenses for entertaining, wrapping paper, cards, postage, holiday pictures, EVERYTHING you do to prepare for the holidays.

3.Once everything is itemized, cut it! Just as construction budgets go over, so do holiday budgets. This will help you stay within the overall budget including any unexpected overages.

2.Determine your cash reserve-Know what cash you have available to spend on the holidays without impacting regular monthly expenses.

3.Use unused gift cards to supplement holiday shopping. Unused and partially used gift cards acquired throughout the year will help offset the cost of the holidays.

4.Go homemade! Blogs like Craft Gossip and Skip to My Lou list many free tutorials on how to make gorgeous homemade items. Blankets, kids toys, baby items, home decor, food, the list goes on.

5.Donate to a charity in lieu of a gift. Most charity's issue a gift card with the recipient's name while omitting the donated amount. Perfect for people who "have it all" plus you can easily stay within budget.

With any luck there will be enough cash left in the budget to splurge on a New Year's Eve dress!

Find other holiday tips, recipes, crafts, and more at Frugal Front Porch.

-Jenn Clark, blogger -Frugal Front Porch

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Holiday shopping on a budget doesn't mean you have to scrimp on holiday fun. Here are some tips to help you stretch your dollars and still have a wonderful holiday.

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1. Make a list and stick to it. It's easy to get caught up in holiday shopping and buy more than you planned. With a list, you can keep things under control.

2. Use coupons. Coupons aren't just for the grocery checkout. Retailers often post printable coupons online that you can use for in-store savings. Do an online search for the store and printable coupon and you might just come up lucky!

The same goes for shopping online. Always search for a coupon code to help you save on your order. If you find a discount that requires a minimum purchase, try to knock out a few gifts at once to maximize your savings.

3. Make your own gifts. Grandparents, family and friends would probably love to have something hand made—especially by little hands. There are many projects you can find on the web that require supplies you might already have at home.

4. Shop year round. Watch for deals year round and pick up things people on your list will enjoy when you see markdowns. Buying a little at a time also spreads out the holiday bills and keeps you from having to buy so many gifts all at once.

The holidays on a budget may take a little extra planning, but the end result is definitely worth it.

-Lana Boote, blogger -Bargain Hunting Moms

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How can you keep your holiday traditions if “The Grinch” of tight finances is breathing down your neck? Here are a few of my coping strategies this year so that my Susie Who doesn’t wonder who stole her Christmas.

Make a Budget: This seems obvious, but it helps identify which expenses may seem “extraordinary” when looking at the normal monthly cash flow. Include line items for all the extras like postage for holiday cards, paper for the homemade tags you want to make and increased head count for your menu now that your in-laws are coming.

Prioritize: What do you typically spend money on during the holidays that no one will miss? Cut it out. What tradition or item is a “must-have?” Give yourself permission to splurge on the important things, knowing you’ve cut out the frivolous.

Re-purpose & Re-use: Look around your house. Do you have the makings of a fun holiday craft with your kids, hiding in your recycle bin? Magazines can be cut up for paper chains or used for wrapping paper. The mate-less socks and popped buttons are new-found toys as sock puppets.

Build memories, not inventories: Look for free events during the holidays. Take your family to a local high school choir performance or to see the lights or shop windows of Downtown. Brave the cold and find a field for sledding and snowman building. Spending time together can be more rewarding than the “getting” of stuff.

-Amy Allen Johnson, COO

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I am not a Christmas shopping rock star. My budget is hazy, my list is scribbled on the back of an old grocery list and I am an emotional giver. In essence, I am the Mall’s dream come true at the Holidays.

In thinking of advice for Holiday Budgeting, here are some mistakes and solutions from my past.

-Don’t go shopping until you set a budget price for each person on your list.

-Don’t fall prey to the gift add-ons strategically placed near the register unless there’s still room in your budget for that person. If you’ve already spent your budget on a sweater, pass on the socks or necklace.

-Don’t shop for yourself while you’re shopping for others...unless you have a budget and have agreed to buy your own gifts.

-Don’t put many expenses on your credit card. You don’t want to start the New Year with debt stress.

-Do wear comfortable shoes and bring snacks and water when you shop. This will keep you physically and mentally strong.

-Do go in with other family members for big-ticket items.

-Do, as an extended family, forgo adult gifts and buy just for the kids.

-Do utilize a name-drawing system for extended family giving.

-Do agree as a family to buy fewer gifts, and instead donate money and/or resources to a charity or a family in need.

-Do buy wrapping paper, ribbon and gift tags for next year when they go on sale Dec. 26.

With a little planning and careful consideration, it’s possible to enjoy the true spirit of the Holiday without getting bogged down in the “What for Who and How Much?” madness. Happy Giving!

-Erica Fehrman, Production Editor


Jean Chatzky Bio 120

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