Hey Taylor: Every year, I feel my anxiety levels shoot up at the beginning of November. Any tips for surviving Thanksgiving and Christmas without going broke? — Gwen
Hey Gwen: I sympathize completely. We want our holiday seasons to be full of joy, and yet this time of year is absolutely treacherous when it comes to finances. You have to bite the bullet on certain expenses, but you can find a few ways to cut costs and come out ahead. Here are the three main areas of concern.
■ Travel. If you fly to see family for either Thanksgiving or Christmas, you can’t really escape the price of plane tickets. Thanksgiving hosts the two most expensive travel days of the year — the Wednesday before and the Sunday after — so avoiding those days will make at least some difference.
Christmas isn’t much better unless you choose to fly on Christmas Day or Christmas Eve.
The best solutions are to travel on unconventional days, rack up miles during the year, and buy your tickets about one month before you fly. When it comes to sales sites, I really like CheapOair.com. I’ve had success finding cheap flights all over the country with this site, even during busy travel times.
■ Gifts. Do you make a list of who you need to buy for before you create a holiday budget? If so, you need to flip your process. Figure out how much you can spend and then break it down to see how much you can afford per person.
If you have a lot of debt, it might require less gift-giving than you’re used to, but that’s the only way to turn things around and stop feeling the financial dread you’re currently experiencing.
You can also shop wisely — using 2-for-1 deals and homemade gifts that help you save. Generosity is a wonderful thing, but you can’t let it put you in the red.
■ Incidentals. Most people don’t realize how much unnecessary spending happens as a result of all the necessary holiday purchases. After a trip to the mall, you’ll be well aware of the $300 you spent on toys and electronics. However, the $20 you dropped on coffee and lunch might slip out of your brain.
With all the time off from work and disruption to your routine, you can drop $500 on food and gas and movies without blinking an eye. If you can fight these spending urges, you’ll save a ton of money over the next two months.
I’ve got a few more tricks for holiday savings in my Thanksgiving post at GoFarWithKovar.com. The more you plan ahead, the less terrifying the holidays will be.