I was shocked when I read in the newspaper last week that more people planned to set a budget for the holiday season this year than last year. What shocked me was not that more people planned to follow a budget, but that there were a significant percentage of people polled who either didn't budget before, or still were not planning to do so.
Call me a stick in the mud if you will, but that feels and sounds irresponsible to me. I'm no where near perfect when it comes to money management, but I do know that not setting a budget - or, at the very least, guidelines - is a recipe for waste and (potentially) financial disaster. And in these financially tumultuous times? Budgeting and financial care is even more important.
I love to give gifts. I do. It makes me happy to make someone else happy. But if I don't set a realistic budget, I'll go broke. Also, if I am going overboard, it makes others feel uncomfortable. And how much more stuff do all of us really need? All this tempers my approach to (year-round) gift giving is a very appropriate way.
Plan and organize
Because I so enjoy the giving gifts, I tend to plan fairly well in advance. Some people go out shopping looking for something in the right price range that they can give to a person, any person. I tend to go for the reverse: I figure out what I would like to give a person, then try to figure out how to do that within the budget. When I get a good idea for a person, I write it down. If I see something in a magazine or catalog, I tear it out and keep it in a holiday ideas folder.
Early in the holiday season - well, October - I review, evaluate, and compile my collected gift ideas into a spreadsheet to keep track of who, what, and how much. I can see what gifts still need some brainstorming, too. If some gifts have already been acquired, I note that. As I locate items, I use the spreadsheet functions to keep track of what is left to do, and how much is left in the budget. I can also use the spreadsheet to track when gifts to distant family need to be sent out, and whether they have been.
Just like when I go grocery shopping, when I am out shopping for holiday gifts I take a list. When I have a list I am less likely to choose a less than appropriate gift just because it's there and a good price - I am less likely to be tempted.
Discounts and coupons
A great side effect to starting early and staying organized is more effective use of coupons and discounts - and taking advantage of sales. On more that a few occasions I've managed to apply sales and discounts to get a really great gift at a really great price. Just about every corner of the family has benefited from this, even if they don't realize they do.
Remember what is really important
The old adage that it's the thought that counts really is the truth. The real gift behind each package opened during the holiday season is one of thought and consideration. "I thought of you, and I picked this just for you," is what each gift says - not, "It's really expensive but I got a great deal on it!" or something else. A more expensive gift does not mean I love the person more, nor does a less expensive gift mean I love the person less. My goal for each gift is choosing something appropriate for the person, with love, albeit within the budget.
Gift giving should be a joyous thing, and with planning and care, it still can be - even in stressful financial times. In addition, such care teaches kids by example about fiscal responsibility. That is a gift in itself! While it's rare, this level of planning has even helped me bring a couple of holiday seasons in well under budget - and that brings joy to the gifter as well as the giftee.