Originally published 7/2014, we decided this is a good one to bring back today. Enjoy!
According to the weather reports, today is supposed to have a heat index of over 100 degrees. Perhaps you like this ridiculously hot weather, but it is not for me. As for the summer, I love highs in the upper 70’s, maybe breaking 80 on the hot days. Days like today just make me want to sing. No, not sing for joy. Today you just might hear me singing “I’m dreaming…..of a white…..Christmas”. There might even be a little Bing Crosby flavor in there. But that’s usually the point my wife rolls her eyes at me.
Christmas in July? Sure, there are some who do a little with the idea. I think there are a lot of us who would be better off, at least financially, if we were thinking “Christmas” in July. As of today, we have almost exactly 5 months to Christmas. That may be a ways off chronologically, but it will be here before we know it. Then, if you are like I tend to be, you will be doing the mad scramble shopping to get everything done. And then the bills hit.
Statistically, mid-January has the highest rate of suicide in the United States according to some reports that I have seen. Sure, the cold and lack of sunlight play a role in that. But most researchers also include the arrival of credit card bills as a contributing factor. People are simply overwhelmed by what they ended up spending.
While we can’t change the weather, we can all be more financially proactive in making sure January isn’t such an emotional drag. By taking just a few simple steps now – in July – we can make December and January so much more enjoyable.
Here are a few Christmas shopping steps to start on now:
- Have A Plan – This is so much more than your Black Friday timetable. Know who you are shopping for and how much you want to spend. Make a list of each person you will be giving a gift to. Be as all-inclusive as you can and include co-workers, teachers, friends, and even those ‘acquaintances’ you will only give a gift to out of guilty obligation. Set an amount that you want to spend on each individual, but then add it all up to make sure it is within your ability to spend. Now would also be a good time to come up with specific gift ideas for each person (more later).
- Pretend To Spend – How big of a total did you come up with in the last step? Now divide that by 5 and that is how much you need to set aside each month, starting now. Even if you aren’t shopping yet, take it out of your budget and set it aside as if it is already spent. You have already decided that these expenses are mostly non-negotiable, so act like it and protect the funds you need. By saving enough each month and sticking to your plan, your post-Christmas-shopping credit card bill could be $0.00. It’s like a delayed Christmas gift in January.
- Couch-Shop – No, I’m not talking about buying new furniture for yourself. Since you already know what you want to buy each person, start watching for the sales. Buy a Sunday paper and go through the ads (only looking at what is already on your list). Get on the computer and watch for on-line deals. Since you have 5 months to shop, wait for a good price. Find good enough prices and you may actually be able to give them more for Christmas than you planned while still staying within your budget.
- The Forgotten Ones – As always happens, there will be those individuals who are either new in your life between now and Christmas or, let’s just admit it, you simply forgot about. When setting your goals back in the first step, do not max out your income on your Christmas spending. By allowing for an overall budget cushion (emergency savings), you will still have some money available for those forgotten people or the other life events that inevitably will happen between now and then. As excited as you may be for Christmas, don’t forget that the rest of life still happens.
- Be Outside The Box With What’s In The Box – If you have had children, or even children-at-heart, you have seen the gifts that are opened on Christmas and by New Year’s are on a shelf never to be used again. Some of my most cherished gifts are gifts on which people spent very little money. Being a hobby photographer, I once framed a couple of my photos for a present to my sister. Last time I was there, I saw them still on display. Those photos have made more than one move with her. Or learn to crochet. Those little crocheted animal hats are all the rage right now. While you are learning to crochet, you have a hobby to distract you from spending your Christmas savings on other things (not to mention literally being tied up in knots for a while).
Thinking Christmas in July really isn’t that bad of an idea. A little planning, a little saving, and you can eliminate much of what gives us heartburn around the holiday season. Granted, I can’t control whether or not they will like your gift. That one is up to you.
Follow the steps above and there is a pretty good chance you will get a belated Christmas present of your own – a Christmas-present-free credit card bill. That means no delayed payment in January, no interest, and no additional fees for what you spent on Christmas gifts. Just be sure your Christmas spending plan doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice your other financial responsibilities.
Even if you aren’t in financial trouble, the Center for Financial Resources can help you be proactive. We can help you walk through your income and expenses and help you set a plan for your Christmas. Helping people with budgets regardless of their financial situation is like Christmas for us. We won’t even ask to be added to your gift list.
If you do start your Christmas shopping soon, keep an eye out for me. I will be the guy standing just inside the big glass windows at the front of the store, gazing out over the parking lot. If I squint my eyes just right, the combination of the outside view and inside air conditioning almost makes it seem as if I can enjoy the outdoors without sweating through. I might even be singing as you go by.
“I’m dreaming……of a white……Christmas…..”
written by Breck Miller
images courtesy moxymag.com and freedigitalphotos.net, respectively