Enough already! If I hear one more holiday song about spending money, I think I’m going to stroke out. This year, according to PNC Financial Services Group, if you went out and purchased every item mentioned in “The 12 Days of Christmas,” you would be out $27,673, a 1 percent increase over last year (at least inflation isn’t blowing the roof off of Santa’s workshop).
What we need isn’t another spending song, but rather a song on holiday savings tips that won’t carry us through just December, but all year long.
Since I haven’t sung anything remotely melodic since 5th grade glee club, I’ve decided to pen only the lyrics. I’ll leave it to you to attach a catchy jingle to it, if you like. Here goes:
On the first day of Christmas, a wise man said to me: ‘Create a budget.’
Set a spending limit for the holidays and stick to it.
There are all kinds of ways to save. Instead of dropping $20 1-pound boxes of chocolates on your friends and family, get in the kitchen and pound out dozens of holiday cookies. Another savings tip, rather than grabbing that 8-foot Noble fir, downsize to a 6-foot Douglas fir. The Douglas will be cheaper and smell just as good.
For next year, don’t be caught off guard by the expense of the holidays. Prepare for it as you should for all categories of spending. If you’re old school, put the necessary amount of money you need to cover expenses in 10 different envelopes (or however many envelopes you need to cover your different spending areas), and when the envelope is empty, that’s it: No more spending.
If you’re computer savvy, use a budgeting tool like Mint, which automatically pulls all your financial information into one place. It’ll also update and categorize your information automatically, and even suggest ways to save.
If you start finding yourself with money left over each month, start a savings account. Ally’s account is worth checking out because you can set up different sub-accounts under one master savings account. So you could have different savings funds for vacation, gift-giving, home repairs, etc.
On the second day of Christmas, a wise man said to me: ‘Get a part-time job.’
Sometimes, instead of cutting corners to make your budget (how many cans of tuna can one eat?), just go out and earn a little extra money to outrun the bill collectors and get a little breathing room. During the holidays, lots of employers are looking for extra help, from retailers to delivery services. Try to work for a place that’s different from your “day” job, so you won’t feel completely burned out. Variety adds spice and is a good antidote for boredom.
Better still, try to work for a place you like that also offers big, fat employee discounts. If you’re clotheshorse, try Gap, Old Navy or the Banana Republic. If furniture’s your favorite, try Pottery Barn. A foodie? Trader Joe’s offers all employees a 10 percent discount.
On the third day of Christmas, a wise man said to me: ‘Spread the cost of hosting your holiday party.’
Potluck it. First off, it doesn’t mean you’re a cheapskate. It means you’re creative. Indeed, a potluck is a great way to get people invested and involved in your party.
Shortly, after your guests arrive, they’ll be ogling the cheese balls, garlic roasted mash potatoes, and holiday chex mix crowding the table and swapping recipes with complete strangers. That’s the holiday spirit.
For the non-cooks, tell them to bring the ice, libations and paper plates.
On the fourth day of Christmas, a wise man said to me: ‘Entertain yourself.’
Instead of running out to see the latest over-hyped Christmas movie release, bring your entertainment home. Hold a home “lighting ceremony,” complete with holiday music and snacks. Build a snowman out in the yard. Share holiday stories huddled around the fireplace. Rehearse a family Christmas carol and take your communal talent to a senior citizens center or retirement home which will applaud your visit and overlook the squeaky notes.
Hold a film festival in the family room. No holiday season is complete without viewing such classics as “A Christmas Story,” “It’s a Wonderful Life,” “Home Alone,” and “Miracle on 34th Street.”
On the fifth day of Christmas, a wise man said to me: ‘Ship it for free.’
If you’re doing your shopping online this season, why not get it shipped for free? Many online retailers offer free shipping if you spend a minimum amount, or you can always turn to your Amazon Prime account.
On the sixth day of Christmas, a wise man said to me: ‘Decorate for less.’
As it tempting as it might be browse shops online like Bronner’s Christmas Wonderland, The Christmas Place or The Vermont Christmas Store (if you’re into country), discover the little treasures that could be lying around or near your house.
Scoop up some acorns, pine cones, leaves and vines on a nature walk and turn them into a wreath or centerpiece.
For another decorating touch, make your own popcorn cranberry garlands instead of draping your tree in tinsel.
If you must go out and buy holiday decorations, shop after the holidays when prices are typically slashed 50 percent to 75 percent.
On the seventh day of Christmas, a wise man said to me: ‘Save on holiday travel.’
If you’re not a believer in “staycations,” and really feel you must fly home for the holidays, plan well in advance. Save money on baggage fees by using an airline credit card that offers free checked bags.
As for the best days to jump on a plane, Dec. 25 and Jan. 1 typically offer the best discounts. You may arrive a day late, but you won’t be a dollar short. And besides, day-old stuffing tastes as good as day-of stuffing.
If you decide to stay home and not battle with rain-slickened highways and snowbound runways, learn to Skype, which enables you to make voice calls, chat, message and video conference over the Internet for free. Skype is the next best thing to being there.
On the eighth day of Christmas, a wise man said to me: ‘Clean and recycle.’
If you start cleaning out a room or a garage or a shed, chances are you’ll come across stuff you set aside and forgot about or used once before losing interest.
Now’s the time to dig it out, dust it off and use it or sell it: vinyl records, coins, pins, dolls, cards, videos, DVDs, tools, jewelry, stamps, toys, retro clothing, etc.
If your valuables are taking up space and not doing much else, convert them to cash.
On the ninth day of Christmas, a wise man said to me: ‘Put technology to work.’
You live in an age when technology is exploding and offers multiple pathways to saving money. There’s an app to solve almost any problem nowadays. If you need help with finding cheaper gas for your car, hop on Gasbuddy.
If you need a lift across town, jump on Uber or Lyft. Need inspiration for stretching your holiday leftovers into extra meals, summon DinnerSpinner. If you’re addicted to your smartphone and coupons, give CouponSherpa a spin. If you want to avoid paying more than your share of a group bill after dining out, use Venmo. Need a digital notebook, to capture your professors’ important lectures when you return back to school, tap into Evernote.
On the tenth day of Christmas, a wise man said to me: ‘Stop wasting energy.’
Wasting energy costs money and adds to global warming, so don’t let the Christmas lights glow all night. Unplug little used appliances, too. Put on a holiday sweater, then turn down the thermostat. Better yet, invest in a programmable thermostat, which after learning what temperature you like, will turn itself down when you’re away. It also will tell you exactly how much energy you’re using, so you can find ways to reduce your energy use before getting hit with a big utility bill at the end of each month.
To keep heat from escaping your home in winter, weather strip your windows and insulate your attic. Plug these energy leaks and you’ll start plugging money needlessly seeping from your wallet each month.
On the eleventh day of Christmas, a wise man said to me: ‘Save your holiday bonus.’
Don’t blow your bonus by increasing the gift limit for everyone on your shopping list. Simply stick it in a bank CD or invest it in a safe, low-cost mutual fund that will earn enough to supplement next holiday season’s spending.
Consider your bonus a gift to yourself. You earned it, now let it start earning for you.
On the twelfth day of Christmas, a wise man said to me: ‘Don’t try to outdo the Joneses, the Smiths or the Garcias.’
The holidays are your time, it’s your family’s time. It’s not a time for competition — to show off your spoils and riches on Facebook or Pinterest — but rather a time for reflection and a rejuvenation of the spirit that only the holidays can bring.
Sing that tune!