Christmas cheer kicked in when I returned from my vacation and decorated my house. I emptied my Post Office box into a bag, then onto my table. Christmas cards (I scribble on a notebook some addresses before the envelopes disappear), bills (none unexpected), a couple of coupons, and junk mail galore. While booting my budget machine I re-muttered my mission to save forest upon forest by outlawing junk mail. My budget for December, as I read through, included Christmas Expenses. Really? Every month there is a birthday or another gift-giving party-throwing holiday, yet I still include extra cash for the end of the year. I challenge myself to a 12-step reduction program, or as I so dorkily dubbed it: The Twelve Funds of Christmas.
I carefully divided my expenses for the holiday. Since I was trying to keep all my costs low, it works out best to see what exactly was costing me money. My list includes specific categories for postage, a phone bill, and a gift for my husband, but yours might have Christmas Eve dinner, Lights and Electricity, or Travel to see relatives. Once everything has been categorized, I can start to figure out ways to disperse the cost into other months or absorb the impact in other ways. For each of my Twelve Funds, I include a rating and a solution. Here’s how I did:
For my gifts, I knit a 2 hour project 26 times, and in combination with my husband’s work, gifts are done. (Okay, it took all 27 days, but they did get done.) I used yarn bought as a souvenir on vacation (spun from Navajo wool), so about $40.
Rating: At less than $2 a gift (on my end) I think this is a screamingly good deal. Plus, I got immediate gratification from my special wool.
Solution: I think I did this one right. Design and early purchase is my way to go.
For cards, after a light bulb pinged in my memory, I rummaged my crafts, wrapping, and a box of hand-me-downs for sufficient blank cards I already owned. Cost: $0.
Rating: Obviously Perfect 10
Solution: Unfortunately, I can’t do this again next year; I’m out of cards! I will try to freecycle for some, and will check some second-hand stores. Finally, if all else fails, I’ll print some up.
My letters — well — I have a tendency to ramble, so I decided a photo chronology of my kids and some of my husband’s photography with a brief hundred word summary would do. It did, but the photo letter became, after hours of browsing, editing, and arranging, a five page affair. The ink to print was $40, it took 6 hours to perfect and print, and I only printed half of what I thought I needed. I forgave the rest and packaged the 16 I had done. Total cost:$60.
Rating: doesn’t even rate.
Solution: I have a 4×6 printer, and I’ll choose and print 4 per sheet every two months or so, thus my photo chronology printed in chronology. The cost will be deferred over twelve months, and the ink for this printer is cheaper.
Postage and shipping got its own fund because most of my family lives far away and I made gifts for them, remember? Even after using free boxes and recycled wrapping paper, this total still came to $138.
Rating: Six of ten.
Solution: Smaller boxes, air pillows (I get a lot of these), and maybe I’ll split cost sending to some recipients with family in my town who send to the same people.
Santa! I love being Santa and to tell you the truth, I didn’t even pay attention to the totals. It helped all my daughter wanted was a whistle, some bubble gum, and a school quiz game. The boy? Large trucks, a clock and a pen. Santa did better than that in the long run, but with the gifts from Santa and the gifts from Mom and Dad the total was still only around $150.
Rating: Nine of ten. (Free is perfect.)
Solution: I think I do a pretty good job keeping my kids in the realistic range of things to expect as gifts. Will this change in a year? We will see.
A gift for my husband. After a brief season of brainstorming, his total is still undetermined. Last year, his gift came after we bought a new house and had room for it, but before you scowl at me, know that we don’t do a lot of gift-giving to each other. If something is wanted or needed, we work out a way to get it. Thus: $TBA
Rating: About an eight.
Solution: No money now, so the money is saved from the holiday budget. It’s spreading the impact of the holiday cost perfectly.
Phone bill. If I lived in the same state as most of the family I’d like to call on a holiday, this wouldn’t even apply. But instead, I rang up a few dollars on long distance. Bill: $10
Rating: Not bad.
Solution: I’ll look into a good long-distance package for the cell phone (or maybe I’ll invite them here!).
After Christmas Sales. Really, I couldn’t help myself this year. With holiday reduction and inventory reduction, and even a closing sale, I had to fill in a few gaps where necessity lay, or fun. New jeans, Amazon bargains on TV DVDs, and a couple of candy desserts and we’re putting on credit $350.
Rating: About a four, unless…
Solution:…I consider these “spreading the cost” of other budgeted events. We needed new jeans. I purchased for the kids’ ornament craft for next year. We buy TV DVD every month, so we’ll skip a few months to catch up.
Thank you cards were a snap this year. I grabbed some 4×6 index cards and printed a black and white photo of a touching moment I had just taken of my kids in the snow. Do this once per giver, post with a postcard stamp, and I came in under $5.
Solution: If this cost can be cut, I’ll find a way. I’ll package the cards with the gifts I send out and hand-deliver the in-town ones.
So while all this End of the Holiday stuff is happening, New Year sneaks up. Heck, it’s only a week after Christmas, and I really wanted to go out. Hair, clothes, a babysitter, some good music in a decent bar…that I couldn’t find in town…so we stayed home, making this expense -$200.
Solution: As a parent who doesn’t get out much, I’d love to feel guilty about this expense. I’ll throw my own party if I have to.
There’s a birthday in the family on New Year’s. The girl got a slew of character lip gloss, some fun stationery, and a magazine subscription for a whopping: $30.
Solution: Take advantage of After-Christmas sales could help more, but the magazine subscription is great for making a gift last all year.
Not-so-coincidentally, my 12th fund is for my son’s birthday which falls on the 12th day of Christmas. A Saturday at the kiddie arcade and pizza joint at the mall was out of the question, so I held a quiet dinner while my son played with his cousins loudly in the next room. Total cost of train set shipped overnight because the toy store is phasing it out: $85.
Solution: Did I say take advantage of After-Christmas sales? Shopping way before his birthday will make shipping nil since we use Amazon Prime. Plus, picket for more toy stores. Competition is healthy.
So, when all is tallied, I came in under my budget by a measly $32. Looking back at how to beat the budget next time around is an efficient tool for some of the most expensive times in our lives. I learned from this careful tabulation of my holiday mess that Christmas is worth starting in the summertime. Trying to save money “right now” is a challenging prospect, and with the stress that comes with these times of great expense, saving frequently gets swept under the rug. List in hand, I’ll sketch on my free, city-issued calendars some deadlines, pop some to-do lists into my email box from my virtual calendar, and make sure I have the appropriate supplies to make everything run smoothly well in advance of the Holiday Rush.
What will my list show next year? Will your list help you for next year? Only time will tell.