Your Fall Holiday Money Plan: Prepare Now or Pay Later

I first published this article last September, but I think that the earlier you can plan for your fall expenses the better. October kicks off the big 3 months of fall holidays, and it will be here sooner than you expect. Now’s the time to start planning your budget and ramping up savings to pay for for Tricks, Treats, Thanksgiving and Christmas travel, presents, and maybe even a New Year’s blowout. 

It came in the newspaper, and Little Bit gleefully grabbed it...the Party City Halloween circular. 

She is planning Halloween already.

Little Bit spent at least 3 hours pouring over the flyer this week picking out her ideal costume. She also picked out her ideal costumes for Jon and me, because this year, she wants us all to dress up for Trick or Treating.

I’ve tried to explain that parents only dress up in sitcoms, but she saw one group last year and she doesn’t believe me. Never mind that the full ensembles she imagines run $40-50 bucks per person, or that her Hermione costume from two years ago actually fits better now than it did then.

Nope, she wants us to all dress up as the Incredibles. Or Zombie Pirates. Or possibly flappers and gangsters.

Fall gets expensive, particularly when you have kids. Back to school shopping may have come and gone, but Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas are approaching fast.

Don’t believe me? Just look at 2015’s average costs for each of the big holidays.

  • Halloween-$156.55 for costumes, decorations, candy and a pumpkin or two. (Not even accounting for the obligatory parental post Trick or Treat libation!)
  • Thanksgiving-$50.11 for a traditional dinner for 10. Travel (and a host of favorites like pecan pie) not included.
  • Christmas-$882 in gifts for the average adult. Doesn’t include trees, decorations, or holiday treats.
  • New Year’s-It may not cost anything to stay home and watch the ball drop, but a night out can cost you a pretty penny even without hotels and cabs.

Tack on a corn maize, a flight or a night out for New Year’s with babysitting and you’re looking at some serious bucks. If you haven’t made a fall holiday money plan, you could be paying for your celebrations well into the new year.

Now maybe have your plan and you’ve budgeted for all of this, or have a lot of “discretionary/miscellaneous” wiggle room. But if not, that’s an extra $1000 or more over the next three and a half months. Make a plan.

You have time to make a plan to figure out what you want to spend and then fund it. You can increase your income, bulk up your savings or reduce your holiday spending.

Regardless of which approaches suit you best, you still have time to put a holiday money plan into action.

Putting Together a Holiday Money Plan

To set up a holiday money plan, you need to do two things. You need to figure out how much you will spend, which will tell you how much extra money you need to have. Once you know, you can start working toward funding your holidays.

To have more money available for the holidays, you need to increase your cash reserves. You can make more or save more (or both) to accomplish this goal, and there are numerous ways to do this.

Find the ones that work for you.

You don’t even necessarily have to do them for that long. A few changes here and there can pay off big time in the few months between now and the end of the year.

You may even pick up some new habits that will free up money to pursue financial goals into next year.

The Budget Part

Identify your Holiday Needs

Let’s start with a question: What do you need to do to celebrate the holidays? 

Do you need to fly across the country to visit family? Throw your annual Halloween costume party? Buy presents for a bunch of people? Buy really nice presents for one or two?

Don’t just think about what you did last year. Think about what gives you joy. What are the absolute holiday essentials for you?

That’s your starting point. 

What have you been spending on that you really don’t need? We determined last year that we could cut back on Christmas cards, gift cards and our gift list. That cut our Christmas spending by hundreds! If you can cut back your holiday spending to just the things you value, you can save a lot of money.

Estimate the cost.

Once you know what you need to celebrate with joy, start estimating the cost.

You can look at what you spent last year if you have records, or you can investigate prices online or in stores. Or you can just set a “reasonable” amount.

Once you do that, stick to it. Track your spending, and if you see yourself overspending one place, shift elsewhere.

Work the Plan.

For instance, I have no desire whatsoever to spend an  $150 on Halloween for my daughter’s perfectly coordinated trick or treat fantasy. I will, however, be willing to dress up if we can get everyone festively dressed for $50 or less. $50’s my limit because $50 should allow us to enjoy the holiday fully.  Little Bit will get a fun costume, and I will take adorable pictures. I’m willing to spend some money on a pumpkin and buy some candy.

Decorations? Nope, unless we make them with the construction paper and glue already on hand. Halloween Party? Nyet. Trick or Treat Bag? Nein. Halloween for us means letting the kid dress up, going house to house, and giving out treats.

My Halloween budget total? $70 or less. If we spend a bit more on the costumes (and I don’t see that happening) we’ll just eliminate the pumpkin. I love Jack o’Lanterns, but half the time we don’t get around to carving the dang pumpkin.

Now for the funding part:

Increase Your Income

To have extra money in your holiday money plan, you can spend less, make more, or do a combination of both. Let’s address a few ideas to increase the amount you have to spend, period, before moving on to ways to free up cash both before and during the holidays.

Pick up a seasonal job.

Every place I’ve shopped lately is already asking for seasonal applications. If you want a seasonal job, now’s the time to apply. I’m seriously considering applying somewhere I can pick up some hours and a strategic store discount. While a lot of people automatically think retail, caterers and delivery services also need extra help.

Or start a side gig.

Lots of bloggers laud the side business, and you can make good money putting extra skills to work. But even if you don’t feel up to starting your own consulting business or worry you don’t have valuable skills, there are still ways to pick up a little extra on the side.  Willing to do a little babysitting? Dog walking? House cleaning? Leaf raking? There are all kinds of ways to pick up a little extra without it becoming a big commitment.

Put credit card rewards to work.

I have an Amazon credit card that currently has a reward balance of $195. We should be up around $225 by Christmas, That covers Santa Claus. Jon also gets gift card rewards from his credit card, which can be given away or applied toward presents. I’m not advocating picking up credit cards if you don’t use them, but almost 1/3 of accumulated credit card rewards don’t get used. Check to see if you’ve already earned rewards you can put to work!

Earn other rewards.

I’ve increased my usage of Swagbucks, which is a great way to earn gift cards to be applied to holiday spending. I also just got a $10 reward from World Market (Halloween Candy, paid for!), and have about at $21 saved up at Ibotta. In past years, our usual grocery store has run a reward program where spending a certain amount each week leading up to Thanksgiving nets you a free turkey. You have plenty of time to pick up a few gift cards or other rewards for searching the internet, taking a few surveys, and buying things you already buy.  

Sell some stuff.

If you have unused stuff laying around, sell it! Whether you choose eBay, Craigslist, Amazon, Facebook groups, a yard sale or a reseller, you can turn those things you don’t want into items you can use.

Bulk Up Your Savings

You can save money on your actual holiday spending, but I think you have opportunities for greater savings if you look at the places you might be able to cut back on your overall spending for the next few months.

Try a no-spend month.

Last October I did a no-spend month, and it worked wonders for establishing a more frugal lifestyle and freeing up cash. We spent less, cutting way back on grocery spending and eliminating impulse buys, eating out and entertainment spending. it was a great way to reset some bad spending habits and examine why we were spending.

We spent a whopping $700 less on food and entertainment than we did in September. That alone added a lot more room to spend on other stuff. Plus, we ended up carrying several habits into the rest of the year.

If you don’t already have frugal habits, are you willing to way back on your spending for a month to help pay for Thanksgiving and Christmas? Try a few weeks of saying no to all of your extras. Set some rules for extreme saving over a finite amount of time, and then go for it.You can fit in things you really want, like Halloween, in your initial rules, but stick with it and you might find yourself really close to meeting your goals with just one thing.

Cut back discretionary spending.

What little things eat into your budget? Take out? Vending machines? E-books? Pumpkin Spice Beer Lattes? Target? (All of it. Every aisle.)

At one time or another, I’ve had to scale down each of these temptations. I still enjoy all of them…occasionally. But these are all discretionary, and I don’t really need to spend money on them all of the time.  Can you cut back on some of your discretionary spending for a few months? Even if it’s just one or two types, how much will you free up?

Trim the grocery fat.

Some people have strict grocery habits and a reasonable budget. Others spend a more than they should because “food is a need.” While that’s true, most of us probably don’t examine our grocery spending for savings opportunities as aggressively as we can.

When I look at what we used to spend on groceries versus now, I see that we went from spending about $800 a month to $500. While that’s still plenty of money on groceries, we’ve freed up a lot of money each month. Jon and I tracked spending, bought less produce (which led to less waste), and kept a better inventory. We increased the number of house brands we were using and started shopping at Aldi more often. We cut out our warehouse club trips and started making more choices.

Even accounting for Thanksgiving dinner and holiday treats, you may find getting more careful in this category nets big savings.

Reduce Your Holiday Spending

My holiday money plan discussion has to include things about the actual holiday, right? If you can reduce the amount you need to spend on your holidays, you reduce the amount you need to free up.

Prune your list.

Check that list of the things that bring you joy in your holiday. Did you add more extras than you thought? Can your extended family or circle of friends draw names this year instead of buying each person a Christmas present? Can you get by with budgeting a little less for certain categories?

Every dollar less you spend on the holidays is a dollar less that has to come from somewhere else. Make sure your budget still reflects what you actually will spend (approximately), but see if you have room to notch it down without compromising your joy.

Employ your DIY skills.

Last year, I did Little Bit’s Halloween costume for a few dollars worth of yarn. She was Honey Lemon from Big Hero 6, and all she really needed was a helmet, purple clothes and some boots from her closet (not a problem), a pair of old sunglasses with the lenses popped out, and a few old splash balls from our pool stash.

What can you make? Decorations? Presents? Christmas cards? In years past, I’ve knitted scarves, hats and mittens to give as Christmas presents. My stepmother requests home made cheese balls. It takes time to make things and it’s not free, but it can cost less than buying everything ready made and has that custom, homemade touch.

Crowdsource your feasts.

If you’re having a big crowd for Thanksgiving or Christmas, have everyone bring their favorites. Potlucks spread out the cost and the labor. Plus, potlucks mean everyone brings their most delicious dish!


Do you really need new decorations? Or will last year’s do just fine? Most of us have all of the holiday decor we need. (If not, look to those DIY skills!)

What about regifting? Do you have perfectly nice new things you’ve never used that someone else would love? As long as you don’t give it to the person who gave it to you, I think you’re good.

Buy used.

Not everything has to be new, and you can often get used items for a significant discount. Littler kids won’t notice. Bigger kids can understand that they might get more when you can spend half as much. With 3 months, you have plenty of time to be picky about the condition of your gifts as you look for Christmas presents.

Look for bargains.

Take advantage of time. You have 6 weeks to prepare for Halloween, and 3 months for Christmas. You have time to look for good bargains, particularly for holiday travel and Christmas gifts. Start looking now, and take advantage of sales and coupons to get what you need.

Track and adjust.

Once you get into the holidays, you need to make sure you stick to your holiday money plan.

The only way you can do that is to track your spending as you go. Watch what you spend, and if you find yourself overspending in one area you’ll need to marshal your resources in another.  That means you either kick in extra money (earn a bit more) or cut back spending somewhere else. You can decide where to make your adjustments, but you need to make them, whether it’s buying fewer presents or cutting out that annual Thanksgiving Eve movie.

With good planning and some extra effort, you can make sure that you can pay for those wonderful 2016 fall holidays before you move into a new year.

Do you have a holiday money plan? What are your best tips for celebrating fall holidays without spending more than you can afford?

Your fall holiday money plan infographic

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*Part of Financially Savvy Saturdays on brokeGIRLrich. *

Originally published 9/16/16.

Fun Money Mom
29 Responses to “Your Fall Holiday Money Plan: Prepare Now or Pay Later”
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