10 Money Goals You Should Set for the Holidays


The holidays are here today, gone tomorrow — and it's easy to get caught up in a tinseled tornado of financial distress if you're not careful. Avoid that fate this season with these self-imposed goals on how to better manage your holiday budget. It'll help you start the New Year financially fresh and fancy-free.

1. Stop spending money on gifts people don't need

When planning out your holiday gift list, think long and hard about what those people on your list may want or need. Don't be afraid to ask them, either. I always ask friends and family if they have something specific in mind — and I staunchly believe in getting what they'll love and use, so long as it fits into my budget.

Sometimes they provide solid ideas, and other times I get the ol' "I don't need anything" routine, even though they know good and well I'm going to buy them something anyway. (Way to help, Dad.) If you're unsure about a gift, or you feel like you're buying something just to buy it, think again. There's no reason to spend your money on something that will go unused, or even worse, be regifted.

When in doubt, a gift card to a favorite store generally works well — and you should take advantage of the ubiquitous "Spend $X in gift cards and get a $X gift card for free" promotions that many retailers and restaurants offer during the holidays. Stretch that cash every way you can. (See also: Save on Christmas Shopping With This Clever Gift Card Strategy)

2. Stop spending money on people who don't need gifts

Does everyone you know need a gift? Will you even see the recipients this holiday season? Are you disproportionately spending money on the people you do buy for? If money is tight and you're stuck in a pattern of buying gifts because you feel obligated, stand up for yourself and put a stop to it.

Several years ago, my brother, cousin, and a few of my best friends started churning out children left and right. I had to make the tough decision to cut the adults off my list. I couldn't afford to buy for everyone, so I chose the kids instead. I've never looked back on that decision with any regrets. I get to be the cool uncle who always gives the best presents — all while being able to save money despite that distinction.

3. Select, make, and "buy" gifts from stuff you already have

There's only one rule to regifting, in my opinion: Make sure the regift doesn't end up anywhere near the person who gave it to you in the first place. Bad form. Otherwise, please, regift items that were given to you that you haven't used (so long as they're still unopened and/or haven't expired). The same goes for unused items that you bought for yourself throughout the year (like clothing with the tags still on). Gift them to someone you think will appreciate them to help keep more money in your pocket.

I'm also a big fan of making gifts by hand. For instance, I'm hosting a small dinner party in December, and I'm making my guests a little take-home gift consisting of a festive homemade body scrub, a hand-poured holiday candle, and a bottle of wine I've recently made from a kit.

Simple, inexpensive, thoughtful — that's the name of the game. (See also: 25 Gifts You Can Make Today)

4. Concentrate on eliminating existing debt before racking up more

One of your top money goals this time of year should be focusing on debt you already have instead of racking up more buying gifts. That's not always easy to do during the holidays, but the due diligence will pay off.

If you have existing credit card debt, try your best not to make only the minimum monthly payments. Instead, begin paying a bit extra toward the principal starting with the card with the highest interest rate. This repayment strategy (otherwise known as the debt avalanche) will save you the most money overall on interest payments. High interest rates are what's keeping you in debt, and the faster you reduce or pay these cards off, the better. (See also: The Fastest Way to Pay Off $10,000 in Credit Card Debt)

5. Make a list of gift recipients and assign a budget per person

I like to plan out my gift buying to the tee, because I know how bad I can be with impulse purchases around the holidays. You know what it's like: You plan to get your mom a nice perfume set, but then you see this great piece of jewelry on sale — and your entire budget unravels before your eyes.

To combat this habit, I make an itemized list of what I'd like to buy for each person and assign a top-line budget based on the advertised retail price. And then I get to work. Before I make the final purchases, I scour my apps for cash-back deals, search the internet for promo codes, cash in my retailer rewards, and try to plan my in-store shopping around major sales. It helps that I get just about every circular and marketing email known to man — so I'm always abreast of what deals are going down — but you'll find equal savings with your own resourcefulness and research.

The point of all this extra legwork is to drastically come in below the gifts' retail prices so you cannot only stay under budget but, in fact, walk away from the holidays a solid winner. (See also: Avoid These 5 Common Holiday Budget Pitfalls)

6. Pay for gifts strictly from your holiday-spending envelope

Once you've made your itemized list of gifts and determined the overall budget, take out the cash from the bank, stick it in an envelope, and use only that money to buy gifts. There is no other alternative; this is all the money you have to spend, and you need to stick to this plan. If what you want to buy is online, consult your budget to make sure you're on track, then use your debit card. Then, immediately replace the deduction by making a deposit into your checking account so everything balances out. Yeah, it's old school — but it works.

7. Put any cash gifts you receive into savings or toward bills

Plan to put any holiday cash you receive from family members straight into your savings account or toward bills. This savings tactic isn't any fun — I understand — but you'll likely receive plenty of gift cards that you can spend instead that will help quell your urge to blow everything before the holidays even come to a close.

8. Shop with a buddy to keep each other away from impulse buys

I like shopping alone for several reasons. For starters, I don't have to wait on my companions and they don't have to wait on me, which, when shopping together, can really zap the relaxation out of my leisurely pace. Furthermore, I don't like people's opinions of my purchases or their comments about whether I really need this or that. It's my money, and I'll buy what I want.

Except around holiday time.

This is the time of year I like to employ the buddy system when shopping for the sole purpose of keeping each other focused on our lists and away from impulse buys. Because if my bestie can't smack my hand in public and tell me no, who can? That's what friends are for.

9. Lay the groundwork for 2018 and the future of your finances

There are a million things happening during the holidays, but that doesn't mean you can't look ahead and prepare yourself financially for the New Year. In fact, you owe it to yourself.

Kevin Driscoll, VP of Advisory Services for Navy Federal Financial Group, agrees.

"If you're not already doing so, begin contributing to your 401(k)," he says. "Make 2018 the year of financial freedom in retirement by saving now. Check out the retirement plan your employer offers, and if they offer a match, be sure to take advantage of this."

Also worth considering is investing in an online investment platform.

"You'll find that there are many sites that allow you to make minimal contributions to buy a portion of a stock," Driscoll continues. "This is a great way to get your feet wet with investing and hopefully make some extra money, too. Additionally, these platforms are generally low maintenance, and don't require any prior knowledge of the market or investing."

10. Find ways to spend and save even smarter

Every year, one of your top resolutions should be to stay on top of your finances and to improve your own money management. How do you do that? That's really up to you, but it will require due diligence on your part. It could be as easy as subscribing to personal finance blogs so you'll receive the latest financial self-help articles in your inbox, or maybe you can enroll in a local course that will help you better understand your money and your relationship with it. Both of these tactics combined would be great, too.

The point is, you should continue to educate yourself about how to spend and save smarter so you can achieve your goals and live a life free from the burden of debt. Easier said than accomplished, but people just like you do it on a regular basis. Invest in yourself and it will pay off eventually. (See also: 10 Financial Resolutions You Can Conquer Before New Year's)

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