Christmas gift giving for my immediate family will be light since we are diverting some Christmas funds to our trip next summer. I have a few things for my girls, need a couple items for my son, and each will get a little spending money. We took my mother in law to the arts Gala last week, as part of her gift. Though last year we had given her a shopping gift card and were to take her out for dinner and shopping for items for the cabin, and never did have that evening. She also never spent the gift card, so that is still in play. We took her out for other things, mothers day, her birthday, just because, but not the "gift" as planned outing. Overall though, while I wish I could get some of the extended family gift giving down, I believe I an a pretty good shopper and gift giver, not buying crap, and thinking of the person when I purchase, and keep my eyes out for the bargains. I generally stay or even go under my planned Christmas budget.
The holes that seem to drain our cash in December are all the extras this time of year. I'm not exaggerating when I think last year we racked up $400 more in incidental spending the last two weeks of the year, above our regular budget. Movie theater nights, extra lunches out when DS was home, grabbing lunches and coffee out with friends and my sisters and daughters since we are off school and work, more gas in the tanks for running around, convenience foods for meals on the go, extra beer in the house. I tried putting away a few dollars here and there to draw from. I was robust at first, then several times DD2 needed cash for something for school, and I raided the can. There's a few dollars still in it, maybe enough for a couple Christmas movie rentals from Redbox and some snacks for a movie night.
Now that we are more than a week into November, it is truly time I make a plan. Last year on the Friday after Christmas, I wrote a brutally honest post Frugal Friday and Other Jokes on all my spend thrift ways. It can be a great motivator to look now for ideas to plan ahead.
Last minute gifts: I didn't realize it until I looked back that I did some last minute "extra gifts" not in the budget. This year, I will buy a few extra boxes of chocolates when they are on sale, plus utilize my wine stock if appropriate and not spend on the fly.
And speaking of alcohol: Just a little "good" beer, and then just the routine. Not a huge savings, but if my son and husband are fine with Coors the other 11 months of the year, it will work in December as well. Also, I think I'll make up Sangria, using wine I already have, as special drinks.
Coffee and lunches out: I need to make sure I am taking advantage of old gift cards and my various perks and points. A small bit of extra planning can lesson the expense.I might also suggest McDonald's for coffee out rather than Starbucks-two dollars is two dollars.
Movie theater: I have some value still on a gift card from last year. There are specials right now and I need to be looking into them to see if we can reduce our annual movie outing. I'll plan to have a crock pot full for dinner when we come home instead of yet another meal out, or convenience food. This should reduce the need for too many over priced snacks.
Freezer Meals: My class last week gave me four meals for the freezer. I've never been one for making freezer meals, but this has been a big time help and the recipes are more elevated than I tend to make on a week night. Even if I do not take another class, I want to prep ahead 2-4 "fancy" meals. Both my older kids like home cooking, probably better than restaurant meals as with their work they often eat out a lot. With the prep all done, all we'll need to do is set, then clear the table, and plop dirty dishes in the dishwasher- faster than we could drive to a restaurant. Eating out for five people is a huge added cost, so if we reduce this by just one meal when my older kids are home, we'll have saved a bunch.
Hopefully between all these little strategies, December will feel as special as ever, I'll still have a break from the kitchen and have good times with my family and friends, and I'll have saved a few hundred in my checking account. How do you save money for special times?