Financial Planning: Create Your Holiday Survival Guide

5 min read
November 20, 2018

Create Your Holiday Survival Guide


If you haven’t started counting down yet, Thanksgiving is this week. That means the holiday shopping season is just around the corner…followed by Chanukah, the winter solstice, Festivus, Christmas, Boxing Day, Kwanzaa, and more in December. Whatever holidays you celebrate and no matter how you celebrate them, they can get expensive. Are you ready for the 2018 holiday season?

With a financial survival guide in place, you could be.

According to National Retail Federation survey results, “Consumers say they will spend an average $1,007.24 during the holiday season this year.” That means, if you’re set on getting through the season debt-free, it’s time for some good old financial planning. But just like a 401(k) isn’t a financial plan, preparing to fight the crowds and your internet speed to shop the deals on Black Friday and Cyber Monday doesn’t constitute a holiday survival guide. In fact, it’s important to spend the year planning for the holidays — but even if you haven’t been adding to a Christmas Club account since January, this guide can help. Simply follow the steps to create your holiday survival guide and — most important — stick to it.

The Holiday Budget

Do you keep a budget? If not, how can you know much you have to spend over the holidays without going into debt?

Avoiding debt year-round is the reason many create budgets to begin with—and why you should begin yours today. So get your bank app or checkbook out, find your calculator or a budgeting app, and get planning!

Start by looking at the amount of money you have today and estimate the amount your remaining paychecks through the end of the holidays will bring in. Then subtract amounts for your needs through then, including funds for your rent or mortgage payments, utilities, groceries, your phone bill, and so on—but don’t subtract the money you’ll need for the holidays quite yet.

Next, set aside the amount you’ll need to save to meet your goals. Whether you’re stashing cash in your savings for a new car or saving income in your retirement account for a comfortable future, you don’t want your holiday spending to disrupt how quickly you achieve your long-term goals, so remove savings from your spendable balance.

What do you have left? Your spendable holiday budget. You’ve done it! And, as you can see, it fits well into your overall budget.

The List

The next step in surviving the holidays is making sure your holiday wants fit into your holiday budget. So do your due diligence: Make your list—and check it twice!

When you start with a list, you can avoid spending too much of your budget on any one item, event, or individual—and also avoid having to revamp your holiday plan to take care of the rest. Plus, the list acts like a guide for your holiday shopping so you can reduce the risk of forgetting about the people in your life you want to purchase gifts for or an event you just can’t miss.

You can begin by listing out the names of individuals you’d like to give gifts to, the places you’ll be traveling to, the events you’ll attend, and the decorations you’d like to purchase. Be sure to cross-reference with your calendar and address book to ensure you’re not missing anything or any person. Also, consider who you’ll see at the events and come in contact with during the season to reduce the risk you’ll miss someone.

Then, break each of the areas you’ve covered into subsections. For people, think of the amount you’d like to spend on each, and add a gift idea that fits in the price range if you have one in mind. For places, consider gas prices, lodging costs, and what you’ll be spending to bring along in terms of food and gifts. For events closer to home, think of the price of attendance as well as the amount you may spend on seasonal outings, drinks, or meals. When it comes to decor, consider individual item costs and the expenses that can come along with your festive decorations — like higher utility bills for those “250 strands of lights, 100 individual bulbs per strand, for a grand total of 25,000 imported Italian twinkle lights,” Clark Griswold.

Add it all up. Does it fit within your budget?

If it does, great! You can research to find the best prices to save even more and maybe even treat yourself to something special.

If it doesn’t, you have a comprehensive list to work from to see where you can cut costs. Could you craft homemade gifts or wrappings to reduce expenses? Or maybe do a potluck with friends or extended family instead of gift-giving? You should also research to see if you can find gifts at prices lower than the estimates you included in your list.

Speaking of your all-important list, don’t forget to bring it with you when you shop so you can use it to track your spending and cross items off as you go. Stick to it and let it help you reduce temptations along the way that could send your holiday spending spiraling out of control.

The Plan

Now that you’ve right-sized your holiday budget and itemized your proposed seasonal expenditure, you understand that your holiday list must fit into your holiday budget to avoid overspending and the stress it can bring during “the most wonderful time of the year.” You also know your holiday budget must fit into your overall budget to stay out of debt during this season and year-round. But with the holidays governing your seasonal list and holiday budget, what drives your overall budget?

Your financial plan.

Just like the holidays, it’s as simple as understanding your budget, setting goals, and sticking to the plan to achieve them. Plus, when you’re ready for year-round financial stability, you can plan for the holidays even further in advance, reducing frustrations and worries along the way.

Just don’t wait—or you could end up on Santa’s naughty list.


#XYPNLIVE2021_ContentSession_JasonSpecinerAbout the Author
Jason Speciner is a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ professional, Enrolled Agent, and founder of fee-only firm Financial Planning Fort Collins. He is also a member of XY Planning Network and the National Association of Personal Financial Advisors (NAPFA). Since 2004, Jason has served clients of all ages and backgrounds with unique experience working with members of generations X and Y. You can check out his background on FINRA’s BrokerCheck and/or the SEC’s Investment Adviser Public Disclosure website.






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