Why We Start Planning for Christmas in January

One of my personal goals this year is to plan ahead, prepare and then follow through on the plans that I've made. One of the things that we're planning ahead for is Christmas! Yes, I know it's been less than a month since Christmas ended and I just barely finished putting our decorations away a week ago, but we're already talking about this year's holiday season. I'm planning for a lot of different things including traditions and gift ideas but the biggest thing that we've been talking about is our budget.

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Dave Ramsey always tells people that Christmas isn't a surprise, it comes on the same day every year, which makes it easy to plan and pay for, right? Are any of you guilty of letting it sneak up on you? *Raises hand* I know that we are and our monthly budget has been thrown for a loop more than once when December rolled around. This year that is not going to be the case, we are planning and preparing well in advance. Christmas is in our budget every single month this year so there will be no surprises other than the ones wrapped beneath the tree.

Related: One Tip for Success with Financial Goals in Your Marriage

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I wanted to share what we did to plan so far in advance and hopefully it will help you too! The week between Christmas and New Year's, I sent a calendar event to Joe, inviting him to a meeting to plan our year and go over our budget. When the time came, we sat down over a treat (you could do this over dinner as well) and talked about a variety of things. We discussed date night ideas, who was in charge of planning Valentine's and our anniversary, trips we wanted to take, our general budget, etc. And then we planned for Christmas and birthdays.

We started in January and went through the entire calendar year, setting a budget for each birthday, anniversary, Mother's Day, Father's Day and other special occasions. We accounted for everyone that we needed to buy for and added a little extra to the budget to cover any additions to the family or special events (weddings, baby/bridal showers) that we might not know about this early on in the year. We wrote that number down and then did the same thing for Christmas. We determined a budget for gifting to each other, gifts for our kids, family members, neighbor gifts, etc.

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After we had a total for all of the presents that we anticipate buying between January 1st and December 31st of the current year, we divided the total by 12. That gave us the number that we needed to add to our budget each month. From there, we picked a bank account to save everything to and each month we'll transfer the money so it's there to use when a special occasion comes up. As we pay for gifts, we'll transfer the money into our checking account to cover those expenses, probably one transaction at the end of the month as well (or we'll just subtract the used amount from the amount that we're transferring in). This way, each gift doesn't need to be in our budget, and the months that we have five or six or ten family birthdays, our budget won't be affected because that money has already been budgeted and set aside for our use.

At the end of the year, when all of our gifts have been purchased, if there is extra money leftover, we'll buy ourselves something fun or roll it over into our house projects savings account. I anticipate having money in still in that account after Christmas is over because I'll be shopping for deals and using cashback and gift cards that I earn through rebate apps and by taking advantage of "buy ____ get a $____ gift card" deals at Target.

The biggest benefit to budgeting for Christmas one month at a time for 12 months is that if I run into a deal or a great gift idea at any point in the year, I can purchase it then instead of waiting until November or December! I love being able to take advantage of great deals when I see them. On that note, if you are one of those people who likes to have their Christmas shopping done and all of their presents wrapped before December 1st rolls around, divide your yearly gift budget by 10 or 11 instead so that your account doesn't run out of money early. I wouldn't want you to run into a budget crisis after you worked so hard to plan and prepare ahead of time!

Related: Preparing for Your Family's Financial Future

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One last tip!! Write down the amounts that you decided on for gifts and stick to them! In years past, we've set our budget based on the big total number but we forget the little numbers. So when our anniversary rolls around, we can't remember how much we agreed on for gifts or if we decided on a getaway instead of gifts. We end up overshooting our budgeted amount which leads to a deficit and budget trouble at the end of the year. There are great gift apps you can use that allow you to put a number for each person and occasion and also give you space to brainstorm ideas for different gifts. I like to have a sheet in my planner with all of the amounts listed and the gift ideas that I come up with for different people throughout the year. A secret Pinterest board also works well for me!

Our Favorite Budgeting Resources

I follow Pennies into Pearls on Instagram and YouTube as well as subscribing to her blog. Brittany's content has been a game changer for me this past year. She convinced me to get back to using Ibotta and other rebate apps and her monthly budget videos are so inspiring and helpful as we get back to budgeting again. Her monthly meal planning and grocery hauls have made the biggest difference for our family. I don't remember when we started doing it, but it saves us time and money every month so we'll continue doing it forever. Check out her newest Financial Unity series built to help couples get on the same page with their money.

This last year we also started using the Every Dollar app for our budgeting. We just use the free version and sit down each week to enter our transactions from the week prior. Maybe one day we'll upgrade to the paid version, it would be convenient, but I like the accountability that our weekly chats give us. We're forced to sit down and report on everything that we spent and then we set goals to do better in the next week. 

Photos by Sadie Banks

We sit down together every January and plan for Christmas and all of the holidays or birthdays in between. It's something that we highly suggest and this is why!