Holiday | Personal Finance

5 tips for last-minute holiday budget planning

It’s less than two months to the holidays. If you haven’t started budgeting yet, these expert tips might help put some planning in place.

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Picture llustration of woman looking up at wrapped gifts and a calculator floating above her head.“Take some time to think about what’s really important, what are your true priorities for your financial and emotional resources, and let the rest go," says Anne Arbour, financial educator at the Credit Counselling Society

Eek! It’s almost the holidays, and all of those good intentions about budgeting seem to have gone out the window. But it’s not too late. We asked two financial experts for some tips on how to pull together a last-minute plan, and here’s what they shared.

1) BE REALISTIC

“Holiday spending is not a competitive sport,” says Anne Arbour, financial educator at the Credit Counselling Society. “Set a realistic budget that is in-line with your own means, not one to impress others.” Sometimes the best gift costs nothing—for example, a new mom might appreciate the gift of your time babysitting so she can have a break. Gift wrap some pretty vouchers, each good for an evening.

2) MAKE LISTS

Arbour is an advocate of lists—and not just for presents.

“Make lists of the outfits you’ll need for various events, and budget for anything new you or the kids will need as well as any repairs or dry cleaning (last year’s gravy still on hubby’s tie? Is the zipper on your favourite party dress still broken?),” she says. “Make a list of any travel plans you’ll need to make including extra tanks of gas and washer fluid. List all the dates you’ll need a babysitter and set aside the cash for them now.”

Independent consultant Mandeep Mann, CPA, suggests making a list of who you need to buy for and update it each time you purchase a gift to prevent duplicate spending.

3) SHOP SMART

It’s a great time to use accumulated points or cashback balances. But, Arbour cautions, the true value of these comes when you pay off your credit card every month so you’re not paying interest fees on top of your spending. “Shop with cash,” she says. “It’s too easy to go over budget when using a credit card.”

Use apps to track spending—check with your financial institution before using any third-party services, as disclosing your PIN or other account information may violate the agreement with them—and to compare prices and source coupons. Buy items (for example, chocolates or wine) in bulk and pre-wrap so surprise visitors or unexpected invitations don’t result in unbudgeted spending, adds Mann.

4) SECOND GUESS DEALS

Watch for sales such as Black Friday and Cyber Monday but be sure to price check the “deals”—some are nothing of the kind (merchants have been known to raise prices before one of these events so they can claim they’re offering deals). Also, be aware of counterfeit products when shopping on these days. Most importantly: stick to your list and resist the temptation to buy yourself a present at the same time as you’re purchasing gifts for others.

5) LOOK AHEAD

It’s never too early to start planning. Mann recommends sitting down after the holidays, reviewing all spending including gifts, food, entertainment, babysitters, décor and travel. Decide on an adjusted amount for the next year and then put aside one eighth of that amount each month from March to October, so the cash is in hand when the next shopping frenzy begins.

Finally, Arbour advises, “Take some time to think about what’s really important, what are your true priorities for your financial and emotional resources, and let the rest go. There is no such thing as a ‘perfect’ holiday and getting caught up in the retail onslaught to try and buy one is never the winning strategy.”

MONEY MATTERS

CPA Canada’s, A Canadian’s Guide to Money-Smart Living, will help you better manage your financial future thanks to its easy-to-follow action steps and self-assessment checklists. It covers everything from learning the basics to what questions to ask a financial expert.