Now, I know. I get it I really do. Because to be honest, I thought the same thing when I thought up what to write about this month. So just stick with me, and I promise not to be “that guy.”
Neither you nor I want it. I definitely don’t want to write it. And frankly, I can’t write it because I’m 30,000 feet in the air without WiFi.
This will not be the moment where I spout off statistic after statistic about the crippling debt millennials find themselves in or rant about how bad our generation is with money. Because that doesn’t help you, and it just makes me feel bad. Christmas is around the corner, and I’m going to be happy about that no matter what!
But the reality is that as millennials, we do have a lot of financial challenges. A lot of us have a heap of student loans or other debts hanging over our heads. Telling this reality in an article isn’t enlightening, especially because rarely do articles offer any remotely helpful tips. And I know for me, Christmas adds a whole other layer of financial stress. We’re adults now, so mom and dad don’t finance the presents for the siblings, grandparents, or cousins. We have jobs with starting salaries, and there’s that awkward moment if you’re married where you wonder if you should set parameters for Christmas presents, or if you should just hope you’re on the same page. (I don’t recommend this, but I bought my wife a pair of running tights last year because we were going to take it easy. She bought me a drone. Not my best.) On top of that, we want to see our families during the holidays, so that oftentimes mean flights or at least gas money for the journey. The costs start to add up, and if we’re honest, it’s a little bit stressful. Because we don’t want to miss any of the magic that comes with the end-of-the-year holidays.
However, I made the mistake of not planning for this my first year out of college, and on January 1, I went, “Oh no!”
The years since, both my wife and I have done our best to come up with a game plan so that January 1 of whatever the next year doesn’t come with that back to zero or worse feeling.
So that’s what I want to talk about today: some of the things that we’ve done to make the holidays feel joyful and not stressful. They’ve allowed us to check out with our family and not be checking our bank account every whip stitch.
So here are my 3 holiday money hints. And truly, if you keep these up, I think they can apply throughout the year, as well.
1. Make a list and check it twice.
It’s pretty simple, really. Look at the people in your life and decide who is worthy of a present, and who is worthy of a nice card saying, “Try again next year.” Bam. Savings.
I’m just kidding, don’t worry. But the list part, I am serious about. Sit down long in advance and give yourself some guidelines on what would be wise to spend on each gift. Give yourself actual numbers, so when you start knocking down doors on Black Friday, you know where to stop. If you have actual numbers in front of you, you won’t have any “Uh oh” moments when you see the grand total. That grand total only happens because of how each purchase comes together.
Pro tip: Keep that list of numbers to yourself. No one needs to see the budget you’ve set for them, and the intention isn’t to “rank” the people in your life. The intention is to simply be prepared and be smart.
2. Christmas comes only once a year, but every year.
I know, it’s hard to believe, but Christmas (and Thanksgiving and New Year’s) come only once a year. And for many of us that’s sad news. But the good news is you already know exactly when to expect it next year and the next year, and yes, even the year after that. There’s no reason you can’t plan for that. You might not live with a ton of extra cash floating around, but even $5 here and $10 there can come together to pay for a flight home or for a nice gift for mom (Hopefully I’m not the first to tell you this, but homemade isn’t quite as cute anymore, and your tree has about four too many paper cup Rudolphs already).
Ask any financial guru, and they’re probably preaching the importance of savings. You may even be listening to that, which is awesome! But having a spot where you’re saving specifically for the big holidays and trips will help ensure they don’t sneak up on you. Because they aren’t sneaking up on the calendar. Stop right now and put notifications in your phone. Christmas is December 25, 2019. Thanksgiving is November 28, 2019. Have one less margarita this summer and put that $7 aside. It’ll add up, I promise.
3. The best way to spread Christmas cheer is being on the same page about it.
I alluded to this earlier, but I fear few things more than being out-gifted. I take pride in being a pretty stellar gift giver. And I never want to be uncomfortable when exchanging gifts, whether that be because I went over the top and did way too much, or I was on the receiving end of that, thinking I look like a cheap skate. Those moments are uncomfortable, which is one reason it’s important to be on the same page about how you’ll exchange gifts with your spouse. All that money is most likely coming from the same account, so you don’t want to be surprised when you take the two totals and add them up. My wife have done everything from settling on a dollar amount to deciding this year that we weren’t going to do gifts but exchange experiences we could do together like date nights and weekend road trips.
Being on the same page isn’t just about exchanging gifts, though. Both of you need to be on the same page about all aspects of the budget. In our relationship, I’m the spender, and my wife is the saver. It leads to a moment here and there of tension, but we ultimately balance each other well. Landing on the same page about our budget each month, especially when we need to cut back or have extra expenses, is incredibly important to make sure we don’t get to the 20th of the month and run out of money.
It’s easy enough to read these, and I truly believe these are all fairly doable. But the real test is when you want that guac at Chipotle or when all of your friends are going out to dinner and you know you shouldn’t. It’s all about finding that balance between living your life and being able to live after you’ve lived your dreams.