By: Marissa Russo
Holidays are meant to be a time of happiness and celebration. For some people, especially college students, it can be a time of financial stress. Budgeting and careful spending for the loved ones on your holiday list may not be enough. Sometimes, careful planning also involves other factors that are often overlooked during the holiday season. Luckily, there are numerous tips and ideas on careful spending.
The first step in saving in any financial situation is creating a budget. Start by making a list of those who you will be shopping for. Then, make a list of how much you can spend, depending on your financial situation and earnings. Most of the time, people forget to include themselves in the budget. This leads to extra, unaccounted spending. Include holiday parties, food for large amounts of guests, or decorations. These small expenses tend to add up quickly.
Most banks also have “Christmas Club” accounts. While it may be too late this year, holders can open this account, and a certain amount of each deposit will be held in the account until October or November. By this time, there could be hundreds of dollars waiting for you, depending on how much you put toward the account.
Also, it is important to keep track of your spending, with or without a budget. Write down how much you spend on each person, and how much that gift may take out of the initial budget. A budget also helps in avoiding impulse buys. If you know what gifts you want to buy each person, stick to it! It may be easy to deviate from the list, especially with all the pressuring sales people who flock to the mall during the holiday season. Bringing cash to the mall may also shrink the chance of impulse buys. Therefore, leave the credit and debit cards at home. Once you’re out of cash, the shopping trip can be over.
But who says gifts have to be purchased? College students can save money by making gifts for friends and family members. The holidays are supposed to be about meaningful gestures, not expensive ones. Websites like Pinterest and other DIY sites provide plenty of gifts that can be handmade at an affordable price, for anyone on your list.
Around the holidays, there are sales in just about every store, on every item. The trick is to not be fooled by the sale signs. Clark Howard, a consumer expert, says, “You’re going to see signs everywhere. Unless you know the relative value, don’t be fooled. Just because it’s on sale, doesn’t mean it’s a bargain.” Don’t feel pressured by all of these seemingly large sales. Also, check the fine print on the flyers and signs as well. Some stores offer discounts on certain models of items, and not all. Another way to take advantage of sales is to shop after Christmas. If you may not see a family member on your gift list until New Year’s, there’s no harm in shopping during the days between. Stores, both online and in the mall, offer huge savings and sales on the days following Christmas.
Maybe gifts aren’t necessarily your “thing”, that doesn’t mean you can’t make a difference to loved ones or the community during the holidays. Volunteer your time over the break to local soup kitchens or nursing homes to spend time with those who may not have families. To help your loved ones, maybe help your parents or other relatives with chores around the house, and give them a night off. It doesn’t sound like a lot, but it could make a big difference.
If you plan on travelling for the holidays, make sure to include airfare, car rentals, or any hotel accommodations into the budget for more accurate results. The best way to save on travel is to book transportation early and efficiently. Airlines offer less expensive tickets in advanced, as opposed to last minute. Driving to your Grandmother’s may take 13 hours, but a 4 hour flight may be more expensive. Ultimately, you want to pick the method of travel you feel more comfortable with, but keep in mind the costs and fees.
Holidays can be stressful on a person’s wallet and time management. Budgeting and careful spending can help reduce the stress, and make holidays carefree and joyful. Luckily for college students, there are plenty of ways to make a difference during the season, without breaking the bank.