Budget Tip: Christmas in September

There’s nothing like trying to find ways to save money when you don’t make much money. These budget series posts were created out of the desire to share what I have learned about alleviating some of the soul-crushing stress of living paycheck to paycheck – and the things I’ve learned that have helped me move away from that life. Please note that I am not, in any way, a licensed financial professional. None of these tips are guaranteed to make you money or save you money; they’re simply different ways of thinking about and using money that one person who doesn’t make much has learned over time.


Christmas in September

I love Christmas. I love twinkly lights and freshly baked cookies and laughing with my sisters so hard we cry and giving presents. I want to give all the presents in the world.

Last year, D and I went in 50/50 on presents. With five parents, nine siblings (including brothers-in-law) and six kiddos we adore, 50/50 still added up to a whole bunch really fast.

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We set different price caps based on how our families work, or what parents would prefer for their children. This year, I went the homemade route for my sisters and mom to save some cash. I made them personalized hand towels and hot pads that match their kitchens. I really prefer this, and will be doing it again this year.

 

For everyone else, though, we bought from the store.

So why bother talking about this now? Because I bought my first Christmas present in July.

Yep.

Tip #1: Shop Early & Often

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D and I had certain things we knew we wanted to get for folks – things like a nice set of towels, or classic, wooden toys for specific age ranges. So, every paycheck, we either buy something or set aside money for when we figure it out. That way, it doesn’t feel like we’re suddenly bleeding a ton of money, we don’t have to rush to the stores during the crazy holiday season, and we can spend our time doing things for others, like taking on an extra dish for a family event so our moms don’t have to, or planning a family service trip. Which leads me to my next tip:

Tip #2: Plan it Out

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There’s an (a) and a (b) to this idea.
(a) When it comes to time, start writing down your Holiday events as soon as you find out they exist. You can use an electronic or paper calendar. But make sure you include time for things like getting ready, driving to and from (especially if there’s snow) and rest. For goodness sake, make sure you allow yourself space and time for rest. Write it in now, as you’re reading this even. Maybe I’ll do a post with more details about how I plan this out in the future. Would that be something you’d enjoy?

(b.1) I have been using this holiday gift tracker from IHeart Organizing since it came out a few years ago (six years? Maybe?).

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I print it out at the start of the year and as I think of a gift, I write it down. For example, D and I went to Florida in March and saw something we just know his nephews will love, but it wasn’t Florida-y enough for us to buy as their trip-gift. So I wrote it on here so we wouldn’t forget.
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(b.2) The gift tracker is amazing because it doesn’t let you spend too much. I actually keep the “budget” and “actual” columns filled in as the year goes along. But, I keep a running “presents” lists on Amazon too. This has things like the nursery rhyme book is always get for babies, and things that could work well for a birthday party for a coworkers kid that I don’t really know. I also pop Christmas presents there.
In the case of the Florida gift for D’s nephews, I added it to this list while we were looking at it.

Tip #3: Plan to Wrap Away!

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So, this is going to sound nuts, but I actually bought wrapping paper in August. And March. I love cutesy paper for kiddos and will probably do that forever, but for my family – which doesn’t have younger children – I usually go with some kind of Hallmark swirly, classy, beautiful paper (like the top photo). So when I find a coupon or see a sale, I grab some up.

This goes for bags too. The Christmas themed ones are adorable and I definitely buy them. But I also buy the five-pack of brown gift bags and add embellishments in the same colors as my papers.

I also buy the cutesy paper at the start of the year, usually, when it all goes on sale. I’ve done that paper different ways and always end up needing to buy extra of it, so I just try to account for it in the budget.

One of my sisters wrapped all her presents in butcher paper for many years, and spent her money on ribbons and dried flowers. Her gifts always look gorgeous. I had a year where I bought a bunch of white tissue paper at the dollar store and then hand-made my gift tags with brightly colored construction paper. Thinking outside the box is another helpful way to save.

I write gift wrapping into my planner on the day after I plan to have all my gifts bought and I put on a cheesy Christmas movie or some music and wrap all in one session. It’s like a backwards Christmas surprise when I wake up the next morning to a tree full of presents for other people – exactly the kind of gift I want to give myself!

What kinds of things do you do to save money at the holidays?

A. Rose (1)

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How to Budget When You’re (Close to) Broke

Ahhhh… Money. Everyone’s favorite topic, right?

Ugh.

It’s one of my least favorite things to talk about. But as I’ve been writing these posts, I’ve realized how much of my behavior is dictated by trying to save money in these little ways. So I thought it might be helpful to write these things down. Maybe make a little series of it.

Here’s the thing though: I’m not a financial adviser or banker or accountant. I’m just a young person who has mostly worked in education and has only managed to make over $11 / hour in the last two year years. If you need serious financial counsel, I highly recommend you consult a professional. But if you just want to learn how to not be freaked out about money all the time, these tips might help.

Copy of Christmas in September

There’s a lot out there on how to make a little side money, and things that people will tell you (like turning off lights in the room you’re not in) to pinch pennies and legit – those things are great and I definitely recommend that you do them.

But there’s this other piece that people don’t know about, I think: how to not feel afraid when it’s time to pay the rent; how to purchase groceries in a way to make sense; and how to still be able to go out with your friends everyone once in a while.

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I’ll be real honest: its taken me almost six months to write this because the topic of money stresses me out so much. So we’re in this fear together. Let’s start with the real game-changer: actually making a budget.

What’s a budget?

A budget is a detailed list of expected income / expenses. Your income and expenses should match. Start by listing every expense you can think of. For me this looks something like this:

Rent
Utilities
Cable & Internet
Credit Card
Medical
Gas
Food
Fun
Fun food
School Book Money
Misc.

Note: You always want to have a “misc” category – that’s where things like birthday presents come from.

Then, add in the “fixed” rates. So let’s say we have $1000 to work with (because that’s easier). Fill-in what you know isn’t going to change:

Rent: $400
Utilities
Cable & Internet: $80
Credit Card: $25
Medical
Gas
Food
Fun
Fun food
School Book Money: $10 (I know I’ll need X amount of money each semester, so I set a small amount aside each month)
Misc.

That’s $515, so you have $485 left over. Next, overestimate each of your monthly bills.

Rent: $400
Utilities: $50
Cable & Internet: $80
Credit Card: $25 (minimum payment)
Medical: $50
Gas
Food
Fun
Fun food
School Book Money: $10
Misc.

Notice the things that aren’t bills. Those are the things you can flex and challenge yourself to bring down.

So now, we’re at $615, meaning we have $385 leftover. I typically do gas before food, because gas gets me to the job that lets me buy the food. I also have a lengthy commute. If you don’t, or if you have a family to feed, you might need to do food first. Estimate how much you think you spend each month on those things:

Rent: $400
Utilities: $50
Cable & Internet: $80
Credit Card: $25 (minimum payment)
Medical: $50
Gas: $60
Food: $100
Fun
Fun food
School Book Money: $10
Misc.

So now we’re at $775, meaning we have $225 leftover. So, that looks like a lot of money to have fun with. Except we’ve only listed expenses. We haven’t listed savings. Month-to-month, my Fun, Fun food, and Misc category change.

There are seven birthdays in the first two weeks of August, so July has a pretty big Misc. section, but Fun as like, $10 in it because I spend so much time just being outside (which is free).

You can do this two ways: you can decide you’re going to save a specific amount and the remainder goes to fun, or you can decide you’re going to spend a specific amount and the remainder goes to savings.

Giving you the option is really counter to what literally everyone says about money, including my dad who taught me how to make a budget.

What I’ve learned over the years, though, is that you will never stick to a budget that isn’t honest. For most of my life, my Fun Food category was four times the size of my actual Food category because I hated cooking. It didn’t feel “grown up” to have things arranged that way, but it did keep me in check.

Those are the basics. What do you think? What about this is scary or feels good or is both at the same time?

A. Rose (1)