FAIRBANKS — I saw a Facebook post of an idyllic snowstorm in a very picturesque village with the caption, “Only 126 sleeps until Christmas.” We just celebrated the Fourth of July, didn’t we?
Though my first tendency is to dismiss the thought of the upcoming holiday season as long as there is still green grass, it might not be a bad idea to plan ahead. By planning early, we have sufficient time to make adjustments in our spending habits that will keep us from having to charge all the holiday expenses this year.
The first step is to estimate your upcoming expenses. Figure the cost of presents, any extra travel, and entertaining and decorating expenses. Be realistic and come as close to reality as possible.
Now that you have a total number, divide it by four to determine how much you have to save per month to be prepared. With this amount of money saved, you won’t have to put any charges on your credit cards.
If the number is too much to handle, think about how you can reduce the total cost.
Gift giving is a major part of our holiday celebration. Can you reduce the bill by giving fewer presents? Can you make some of the presents? Go into your Alaska larder and give jams and jellies, smoked fish or frozen fish. Do you knit, sew, do woodworking or other crafts, or even brew beer? All these may make great gifts for your friends and family. My husband is an expert at reloading ammunition. Last year, he gave bullets for gifts, which were worth far more than we would have spent on a present.
Consider drawing names this year to reduce the number of gifts you purchase or give a whole family a gift. A basket with popcorn, snacks and a movie will keep the whole family entertained. Or how about a game, whether an electronic version or an old-fashioned board game?
Is there a way to change the focus of your holidays to something other than the gift giving? Maybe take a family trip instead of giving presents or participate in an activity instead of gift giving. These may cost as much as the presents might have, but the focus is on the experience, not the presents.
Entertaining is another big part of our holiday expenses. But there are ways to reduce the entertaining budget. Consider the type of party. Rather than throwing a dinner party with an expensive main course and an open bar, how about having a dessert party? Or invite everyone to bring something for the meal and have a potluck. Opt for brunch, which is a less expensive meal to prepare. Or throw a sledding party for the families. You’ll save the cost of babysitting and can serve cocoa and cookies. The aim of entertaining is to see your friends, so that can be done without spending a mint.
With so much emphasis on food, your grocery bill is going to be higher. We meet our friends and family, and eat; what can be better than that? By purchasing items now, you’ll have a stock in the pantry and will be ready when the holidays roll around. Flour and sugar have been on sale recently. They will easily sit on the shelf till November and December. Stock up on all the basics you’ll use in the kitchen by adding a few things each week to your grocery cart. I have already purchased meat for my holiday meals. It was in the mark-down bin (50 percent) at the grocery store, so it is frozen and awaiting Thanksgiving and Christmas Day feasts.
The holidays will be here before you know it. Take time to make a plan and put those financial goals in action. It’s only four months until the holiday season.
Roxie Rodgers Dinstel is associate director of the Cooperative Extension Service, a part of the University of Alaska Fairbanks, working in cooperation with the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Questions or column requests can be e-mailed to her at email@example.com or by calling 907-474-7201.