Well we made it through yet another holiday season. All the shopping, wrapping, cooking, and traveling made the whole holiday feel like an exhausting marathon. Don’t get me wrong, it was a lot of fun and I enjoyed every minute of it (well maybe not the minutes I spent standing in line at the store). But now that it’s all over it’s time to sit back and take a breather. And now is as good a time as any to look back and see where we made some financial mistakes so we can plan ahead and get back on the right track.
If your family is anything like mine, Christmas can easily get out of hand and turn into an overly expensive affair. We bought a real tree this year and ended up spending more than we had planned, though it did look beautiful in our home. We also went a little overboard with gift-giving compared to previous years, though I can justify that a little bit because we’ve really cut back in recent years and 2011 was a very good year for us financially. So we splurged a little bit more than we should have, but not to the point where it will seriously hold us back from meeting our goals.
One thing I learned was that we should have been putting money aside all year long in anticipation of the holidays. I’m not really sure why we haven’t done so before. We have various ING savings accounts set up for our house fund, emergency fund, tax fund, vacation fund, and more. I find it is easier to save money when you have specific goals in mind and you compartmentalize your savings into separate “buckets” for each goal. With ING I can set up as many sub-accounts as I need and transfer funds from one to another freely. I think it is time for us to add a new account called Holiday Savings so we have a dedicated place to pull money from.
Another thing I learned is that we need to be more organized and keep track of what we’re buying and for whom. We usually start shopping pretty early and just store everything in plastic bins inside our garage. Toward the end of the season we went through everything to make a list of what we had and we realized that we had bought double presents or that we had spent more than we had budgeted for a few people.
It’s not the end of the world if you’re like my wife who keeps all her receipts together and can easily run back to the store to return unwanted items. But if you’re like me and you just shove your receipts into your pocket, in the car glove box, or your desk drawer, finding those receipts can be easier said than done. For some stores (like Home Depot) a receipt isn’t needed and I can still get store credit if not a cash refund. But not all stores are so generous, so in a few cases we ended up with extra stuff that couldn’t be returned.
All in all, it was a good holiday and we didn’t go as overboard as we could have. But there’s always room for improvement and the only way to improve is to take an objective look in the mirror.
How did you do this year? Did you overspend or underspend?