Holiday Spending Hacks for Single Parents
The halls are already decked in every store, but your budget looks like a Charlie Brown Christmas tree. There’s no doubt the holidays can be the most difficult time for families who don’t look like a Norman Rockwell painting. Add financial stress and the stretch from Thanksgiving to Christmas can fill a single parent with dread.
Nearly one-third of Americans regret their holiday spending, and 11 percent go into debt during December. Another 38 percent say they overspend from social pressure – keeping up with the Joneses. Don’t fall into that trap if you can’t afford it. Adopt the right spirit and smart budget strategies and you’ll start off the New Year without massive debt.
Create a budget now.
There is no way around this. Think back to what you spent last year and how it might have affected you. Look over holiday receipts or bank statements to jog your memory and vow not to make the same mistakes again. Americans with children spent more than $500 on gifts last year, according to a Nerdwallet survey.
Approach budgeting with the precision of a general going to war. A present will be unwrapped in seconds, but it can take months to pay off. In fact, 7 percent of people are still paying off their holiday debts one year later.
Set realistic expectations for your kids
Managing visions of sugarplums is the hardest part of any parent’s job. Don’t lay guilt on your children with dire warnings about what a lean Christmas it will be. Just give your position matter-of-factly: “You can each have two gifts this year.” Period. If the kids are older, involve them in the gift budgeting process. Adopt the mindset: It is what it is and we’re going to enjoy it.
Create a spending strategy
Many experts advise against using credit cards because they’re easy to max out, but debit cards come with their own risk: they offer no buffer between thieves and your bank account. Some people swear by gift cards, reloadable debit cards and cash envelopes. Layaway is regaining some popularity, too. Kmart launched a no-money-down layaway plan on toys this holiday season.
It’s important to weigh your options before your kids’ wants wear you down. Experts advise shopping online first, and then buying at the lowest price. Apps like PriceJump make comparisons easier. Then you can decide whether you want to order through the Internet or in-store.
Brick and mortar shops make impulse purchases way too easy, but the risk of fraud is lower. The twinkle lights and piped-in music are also a cherished tradition. Shopping online has its own benefits: anytime shopping, coupon codes and free shipping. Take your kids’ lists and comparing advertised prices in the Sunday paper, or use an app like PriceJump.
Approach Black Friday with caution
If you’re wondering whether to brace the all-night wait under the glare of a store sign, decide whether you really, really need that new big screen TV or hot new toy. Those are the typical doorbuster deals at big box stores. There is only a handful available at each store, so unless you’re at the front of the line, you’ll miss out. Is it worth the sacrifice? Studies show that Black Friday deals are actually not the year’s best. Those low prices are often offered at different times throughout the year and you might score better savings just before or after Black Friday weekend.
Seek out free entertainment
Steer clear of mall Santas and get into the spirit with free or low-cost events. Take in a parade. Drive around and see neighborhood light displays. Go to the town square tree lighting. Check out free kids’ activities at the local community center, church or temple. Replace things with rituals.
Think outside your four walls
Make potluck plans with other single parents for a night of dreidel spinning or Christmas cookies – or both. Never allow your kids to feel sorry for themselves. Volunteer as a family at a charitable toy giveaway or a Thanksgiving soup kitchen – any activity that reinforces how fortunate they really are. Think giving, not getting.
Limit the gifts you give
Limit presents to kids only or draw names. Cut down or be selective with the tips you give service people. Of course, if you can afford it, be generous – your hairstylist and grocery delivery person might also be struggling single parents – but then make a conscious decision to cut back in other ways. Opt out of the office gift exchange, for example. Bake something. Make something.
When you’re feeling down about your budget, remember the true lessons of the holidays. You have everything you need right under your roof: your children, decorations, a cookie sheet, love. Budgeting also gives your kids two lasting gifts: a lesson in seasonal spirit and smart spending habits. The Santa Claus issue makes the budget issue tricky, but that’s what gift labels are for!
This year, get into spirit, not into debt.