What to organize now to stay out of debt this Holiday

Do you love the holidays but dread the financial hangover that follows them? Overextending yourself is very easy to do, and almost guaranteed if you approach them wielding plastic but lacking a plan. Organization is your key to financial freedom this holiday. I know, October may seem a tad bit early to start thinking about the season, but if you organize some essentials now, you increase the likelihood of getting through October, November and December without overspending.

Here are eight things to organize now that will help you stick to (or even come in under) your holiday budget.

1. Organize a Worksheet Exclusively for Holiday Expenses

Holidays mean parties, decorating, buying fancy clothes and, of course, lots of gifts. The average American budgets about $710 for Holiday spending, but nearly half will blow past that budget by about $100 because they don’t have, well, a clear budget. Use a tool like Buttoned Up’s free printable holiday budget sheets or create a worksheet of your own. Write down every holiday expense that you’re likely to incur and place a reasonable amount of money next to each item. Add it up and compare it to the actual budget you have. If you’ve learned anything from past experience, you will add “miscellaneous surprises” and allocate a decent amount to meet this expense too. If you’re over your budget, now is the time to brainstorm some ways to spoil the people you love without digging yourself into a hole. As the holidays go by, track your actual spending against this plan and adjust the budget allocations to stick to the target.

2. Sell Your Clutter on eBay and Craigslist and Save the Proceeds for Your Holiday Expenditures

We all have items that are perfectly useful but that we no longer need, use, or want. This month, sell those items on Craigslist or eBay and allocate the additional income to your Holiday budget.

3. Go on a Financial Diet This Month

Challenge yourself and anyone else you live with to tighten the purse strings this month. Give up on luxuries that you enjoy on a regular basis, like going to the movies or eating out. Every little bit counts; cutting out a $3-a-day latte habit will yield an additional $120 for your Holiday kitty. Give it a try, we bet you’ll be surprised at the total amount saved up by the end of the month.

4. Stock Up on Gifts Early

Who says you have to wait for the holiday season to pick up gifts (unless it’s something to be eaten)? Whenever you come across some item that is perfect for one of the people on your list and reasonably priced, pick it up and store it carefully. We recommend using Evernote to keep track of your early bird gift purchases and where you’ve stored them.

5. Arrange Gift Swaps

If you’ve got a big family or a large friends’ circle, buying each of them a thoughtful and useful gift is a mental and financial nightmare. If none of them have mentioned a gift swap before, be bold and put forth the idea yourself. Each person will receive only one gift and will have to buy only one gift as well, not necessarily for the same person. Arranging a gift swap takes good organization and co-ordination skills to ensure that no one is left out. Sarah’s very large family has been doing this for decades and everyone prefers giving and getting one nice gift to giving and getting lots of junk.

6. Don’t Go Sale Shopping Alone

Sales can be quite hectic because all the good stuff is picked up in the blink of an eye and you can’t be in multiple parts of the store at once. Why not take along one or more friends, who love shopping just as much as you do. Get organized by reviewing your lists in advance, so that each of you can cover a different area of the store and get your hands on the sale goodies before they are gone.

7. Organize Gift Cards, Loyalty Cards & Points Before You Shop.

Gift cards, discount coupons and other special offers are great…if you actually use them. But more often than not, we don’t. Experts place the amount wasted on unused gift cards at $2 Billion this year (yes, that’s Billion). Do you have one or two floating around your wallet, purse, or junk drawer? Set aside 20 minutes on one Saturday this month to empty all the wallets and handbags you own and go through the drawers in the house and organize any gift or loyalty cards in one spot and put together a plan to use them.

8. Put Boundaries on Holiday Décor.

Although it is tempting, there is absolutely no need to go overboard in decorating the house. Not every room needs to look fancy and festive; just concentrate on areas that guests are most likely to see and leave the rest of the house untouched. High impact spots for decorations are: the front door and porch, living/family room, and powder room.

9. Schedule Time to Make Gifts

Homemade gifts are a wonderful alternative to expensive, store-bought goods…if you organize yourself and aren’t rushing around at the last minute. In early October, take a few minutes to peruse Pinterest (if you need an invitation, email Sarah at GetButtonedUp dot com) and make a short list of potential gifts you can make. Then, before the month is out, make a list of the base items you need to get, go purchase them, and – most importantly, schedule the time to whip up your creations. {image & recipe for biscotti via: farm flavor}

How much did you spend last Holiday season? Did you go over-budget? If you did, did you have a plan or were you disorganized?