Holiday Budgets for Military Families: 5 Tips to Stay on Track

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Let’s just put it out there: the holidays can be stressful for military families. Scheduling travel (and then having leave requests denied), shuffling visits with relatives in one weekend trip home, and those awful deployment extensions make for a season of uncertainty rather than a season of joy.

And for many military families, financial uncertainty adds to the stress.

Our friends at GEICO Military know it’s not always easy to plan for a perfectly budgeted holiday season, but they’ve got some tips that can help keep you on track to keep your spirits bright:

Double-Check Your Figures
When reviewing your budget, make sure you’ve accounted for all holiday purchases, from centerpieces for dinners and garlands for parties to gifts for the office Secret Santa. “It might surprise you to see what you spend every year,” explains Shipman. “Non-gift items add up, and many people forget to factor them into their budgets.”

Set Clear Priorities
If you’ve set a spending limit, make sure you’re putting that money toward whatever brings you the most joy. “Take the time to really figure out what makes you happy,” advises Shipman. “Is it important to you that your children get lots of gifts? That’s fine, but maybe you and your spouse agree to spend less on gifts for each other.” It’s easier to stick to a budget if it reflects what you really want to be spending on.

Look for Bargains All Year
Eagle-eyed shoppers can pick up great seasonal decorations at tag and garage sales in the off-season, giving you more room to play with your holiday budget. “We picked up a nice $700 artificial tree at an estate sale in our town for $35,” says Shipman. “Now we don’t have to spend the usual $100 or so on a Christmas tree.”

Bring a Friend Along
Take a friend (or your spouse) to the mall for support. Tell them your budget and your shopping list so they can stop you from making impulse purchases—for yourself and others.

Start a holiday fund (for next year!)
Starting in January, “save a little bit every month and use this earmarked money for gift purchases and other holiday expenses,” suggests Shipman. (If you save just $75 per month from January to November, by December you’ll have plenty more than the $804 most Americans say they’ll spend on the holidays.) Saving over time will help you avoid a large cash outflow at the end of next year and the temptation to carry holiday debt on a credit card or take out a holiday loan. Designating savings specifically for holiday use also means you’re likely to save more, and less likely to cheat and use non-holiday fund money for holiday expenses—studies have shown that earmarking money helps people exert more self-control over their spending.