Celebrating Christmas in the standard North American way can be expensive. My family does all the usual things: exchanges cards, gifts and holiday baking, attends Christmas parties and entertains. The one thing that may separate us from many of our neighbors, however, is that we aren't still paying for our holiday purchases six months later. It's impossible to pull off a great budget-conscious Christmas without a lot of advance planning. As my family has grown, I've started a little earlier each year. Now I follow a twelve-month plan. As a result, the holidays have become considerably more manageable financially. They're also less stressful from a time-and-energy perspective. Here's what my annual countdown now looks like:
January: Review the recent holiday season to make note of what worked and where we may have overspent. Buy wrapping paper, Christmas cards and ribbons at clearance prices. Buy discounted ornaments, decorations, dishes, etc. for hostess or teacher gifts. (They also make good wedding gifts). Review all the reward programs I belong to: airmiles, credit card rewards, grocery "points" clubs. I collect points all year long and cash them in for gift certificates and/or merchandise towards the end of the year. This is one of my key Christmas-savings strategies.
February: Make a tentative list of people I want to give gifts to in December. Thinking about gift giving early allows me enough time to plan for and make many of my presents.
March through August: As garage and rummage sale season gets underway, watch for "new" gifts like small appliances still in their boxes or nice items of clothing with their sales' tags still intact. It's amazing what you can find when you keep your eyes open. Collect stocking stuffers: cosmetic and perfume samples for my teen daughters, whatever freebies or novelties come my way.
September: Once the kids are settled in school again, it's time to review what I've collected and what I still need. Continue crafting in earnest, and begin looking for specific items to finish my list.
October: Check rewards program balances and see what "matches" I can make with my kids' wish list (by now I have a good idea what they want for Christmas), as well as the other people still on my list. Watch for and buy holiday baking supplies as they come on sale. Choose a good family photo from sometime during the year, and get multiple prints made for free (as introductory offer) or when photo developing goes on sale.
November: Make double batches of holiday cookies over several evenings, and freeze in ice cream tubs to serve/distribute later. Mail cross-border packages at cheapest rate in time to arrive before Christmas. Buy turkey and non-perishable trimmings as they come on sale. Make wreaths and swags for our own home and as gifts from backyard greenery.
December: Mail out cards with family photo and annual letter. Decorate the house, put up the tree, finish wrapping presents, and enjoy the season!
Follow your own twelve-month plan, and with any luck, you'll be able to avoid the packed stores in December and nasty bills in the New Year.
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