Joe Saul-Sehy, creator of the “Stacking Benjamins” personal finance podcast, shares his top tips to avoid draining your bank account this holiday season. Catch him Oct. 24 for a live show at Go Comedy! Improv Theater in Ferndale.
By Joe Saul-Sehy
Because of my podcast, someone asked me recently to share the best money-themed holiday story I ever heard. Mine starts with a car that wouldn’t start. When my friends Tim and Debbie took their 2006 Chevy to their mechanic in Livonia, they were horrified to learn the repairs added up to $2,400. That was money they didn’t have, but Tim needed a way to get to work. With nowhere else to turn, they maxed out their credit cards and dug in.
They had no credit, no money, and of course, because it was mid-November 2014, they also knew the most expensive season of the year was looming. Debbie had just lost her job.
Believe it or not, this is how my best holiday story starts.
Instead of focusing on gifts, that year they focused on family. Instead of spending lots of time at stores, they spent it with friends and their church. Instead of worrying about how they were going to pay for all the stuff they bought, they walked into the new year with no more debt, no regrets and intent on paying off their bills.
You don’t have to tee-total the holidays like Tim and Debbie, but their story can help you refocus your holiday spending so that not only a dollar lasts longer, but it’s spent on areas you won’t regret when 2019’s first credit card bills come rolling in.
Here are four great strategies for cutting down your holiday spending this season:
1. Start with a plan. Stores make around 30 percent of their money between Black Friday and Christmas, according to the National Retail Federation. They’ve spent weeks preparing for you, wouldn’t it make sense to spend an hour or two planning your own holiday strategy? Make a list and shop directly from that, including a budget detailing how much you can afford for each item. A friend once told me, “You’re taking the fun out of holiday shopping!” On the contrary, this makes shopping more fun, because having this list helps you focus on only great deals and, more importantly, get out of the store quicker.
2. Make your list early. By budgeting upfront, you’ll be able to spot deals and swap out expensive items on your list with sale items. Plus, you can save money from your paycheck into a holiday fund. Too late to save this year into a holiday fund? Start early for next year by saving right now. If you focus on how you’re going to save for next season, you’ll also be mindful about purchases this year.
3. Find community events instead of spending time shopping. Which would you rather do: watch outdoor tree lightings, sing songs and enjoy time around a fireplace, or lug packages through a mall? People generally prefer experiences to items, so spend time with friends and enjoy each others’ company. What if you organized attending a special community, school or neighborhood event with friends or family instead of exchanging gifts? Equally fun, how about planning a potluck party? You’ll be able to enjoy the holidays, and by sharing food, you can easily control the cost. Pro tip: Hire some local high school students to play at your party without telling friends they’re coming. Your party will go from good to great with that surprise alone. And also: Remind everyone to skip the gifts.
4. On that note, consider eliminating gifts all together. Here’s a big idea: What if you told everyone you weren’t doing gifts this year? What’s the worst that would happen? While that outrageous idea might not work for you, by at least putting it on the table, you’re in control of your money and the gift-giving narrative instead of the holidays owning your wallet.
If you have trouble keeping your money issues in check, listen to financial podcasts, read financial blogs and dive into money stories. Better yet, grab some friends and come to our live podcast show that some people have described as “the greatest money show on earth,” a circus of fun financial topics, friends and stories! That’ll kick off the holiday season with a bang…even before Halloween!
Joe Saul-Sehy will be at Go Comedy! Improv Theater in Ferndale Oct. 24. Tickets are $10, and will include a live recording of the “D Brief” podcast. Buy tickets at stackingbenjamins.com/tour.