For many Americans, December is an expensive month. The extra expenses flow like mulled wine, resulting in an empty checking account and a full credit card bill when January rolls around.
The truth is that most of these expenses are easily predictable, and you can prepare for many of them right now, reducing their impact when December rolls around.
Here are five major end-of-year expenses that people face along with actions you can take today to minimize them.
Holiday gifts. The best strategy for reducing the expense of holiday gifts is to start shopping early. Identify items that you might want to give to each person on your gift list, then start carefully shopping for those items to find them on steep discount.
The more time you give yourself for such shopping, the more likely you are to find discounts that will cut down your overall holiday spending. You don’t have to wait until Black Friday to keep an eye out for sale items or discounts on the gifts you intend to give.
Even better, if you buy some of your gifts now, you’re spreading out the expense, so it doesn’t hit like an avalanche in late November or December.
Even if you do decide to wait to buy gifts, there’s no reason not to put aside some money starting now, so you’ll have it later.
Travel expenses. For many, December means traveling to visit family and enjoy holiday celebrations together, and that means travel expenses.
Of course, if you plan ahead now, you can save quite a lot on flights and hotel stays, not necessarily by buying right now, but by checking for prices starting now.
Plus, if you start thinking about travel planning now, you can be more specific in your requests for time off at work and thus be able to search for less common travel times, which might be less expensive.
Your first step, then, is to talk to family members now and nail down travel and holiday plans, so you can use that as a basis for smart travel planning and time off from work.
Food and hosting costs. For others, a big part of the holiday expense comes from hosting family members and providing lots of food. That can be expensive, especially when you’re throwing together meals for a crowd.
Again, you can save money and spread out the cost by planning ahead for this, even starting now. You can make large batches of soup in advance and stow them in the freezer, so you can thaw them later when they’re needed, or you can prepare foods such as chopped onions and green peppers and freeze them to save time during the busy December months.
Not only that, you’re also giving yourself time to shop for large meal expenses, such as a ham, turkey or large quantity of flour, which can be stored in the freezer or in the pantry until then.
Home winterizing. Winter is coming, like it or not, which means that your home likely needs some preparatory work to be energy efficient and ready for the cold months.
You can start on these tasks right away, of course. It’s probably time to change your furnace filters and add caulk to your windows where you find a draft. You might want to add a weatherstrip to a door that has a draft under it, too.
As cold weather gets closer, you can take more cold-weather energy-conservation steps, such as reversing the direction of your ceiling fans and dropping your thermostat by a few degrees, so the heat isn’t always kicking on.
Charitable giving. Many people give to charities during December because they’re inspired by the season and want their giving included in the current year for tax purposes.
While you personally may want to wait to make such donations, you can start putting aside money for charitable giving now. Put a portion of your donation aside in your savings account today, so the financial burden of the donation doesn’t hit you in December.
Also, if you start thinking abut charitable giving now, you can give more thought to the various charities you wish to support and amounts you wish to give. With the extra time, you can do some homework into how the charities actually spend their money and give to charities that are most in line with your personal values.
If you start taking action now, then the end of the year won’t hit you like a financial freight train. Instead, it’ll be a joyful period, when you can focus on family and friends rather than dollars and cents. Good luck.