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In both 2016 and 2017, the average American anticipated spending $660 on gifts for the holidays, according to NerdWallet's Holiday Shopping Report. I don't know about you, but I don't exactly have a boy band's worth of Benjamins doing choreography in my pocket.
(What's more: 27 percent of Americans who shopped during the 2016 holiday season did not even have a budget for their gifts. Don't be like them.)
To make sure the bits and baubles of the season don't end up bankrupting you, you need to budget smartly and find clever ways to squirrel away some extra spending money between now and the end of the year. So that's what we're going to do with today's Holiday Jumpstart assignment:
Make a budget and start a savings plan.
After making your gift list on Monday and spending some time on Tuesday thinking about your travel plans, you should have a solid estimate of how much you'll spend this holiday season. Today, we make a budget and savings plan, so sticker shock doesn't take over this holiday.
Here's how to do it:
- Add up your rough numbers for gifts and travel to estimate your total holiday spending.
- Count the number of days until the holiday.
- Divide your spending by the number of days to figure out how much you need to be saving every day.
Days until the first day of Hannukah: 39
Days until Christmas: 62
Days until Kwanzaa: 63
So if your spending this year is around $600, and there are 62 days until Christmas, you need to be frugal and stock away extra money to the tune of about $10 a day. You can then have that amount automatically transferred to a savings account using an app like Qapital. (Or skip this whole budgeting thing and try Digit, which analyzes your activity and automatically takes a "safe to save today" amount for your savings.)
Obviously this is inexact—most holiday spending happens weeks before the holiday itself—but this sort of forward-thinking should help you avoid a spending hangover come New Year's Day.
You can also decide to boost your savings with a little extra effort. There's no magic formula for pulling money out of thin air, but here are a few things that might help:
The 5-Week Crash Course
There are five weeks in November, so for just that month, commit to saving $10 or $30 or $100 a week—whatever you can manage. Every Friday, pull that amount out of your account in cash and stash it in an envelope earmarked for your holiday budget. When December rolls around, you can take your envelope out shopping for gifts, or add it to your Amazon balance (you can do this at any CVS store) for shopping online.
Save Your "Extra" Paycheck
November is one of those rare five-Friday months, so depending on when and how you get paid, you might have an extra paycheck coming. If that's true for you, it's a big budgeting boon. When you're used to living on two paychecks a month, for instance, that third paycheck is well-timed bonus cash, as far as your monthly cashflow is concerned. Take that extra paycheck and put it someplace where you can only touch it for holiday-related spending: Either in a separate account, as a gift card balance where you shop online, or go analog with cash in an envelope.
Count Your Pennies
There's never a better time to cash in on your piggy bank. Take ol' Wilbur to a coin-counting kiosk and turn your change jar into a stack of bills that you can use to buy a gift or three. You can use Coinstar's website to find a kiosk near you. These machines will usually take a cut (11.9 percent for Coinstar, which is steep), but sometimes bank branches have coin-counting machines without fees for customers to use. And in the case of Coinstar, you can avoid the fee by transferring your change balance directly onto a gift card. Or, you know, there's always the old-school option to count and wrap those coins at home before cashing them in at the bank (Pro tip: Most banks will give you those wrappers for free).