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Four Steps to Nail Spending Choices Before Christmas

What’s your spending plan for the rest of this year?

If you’re like one of my coaching clients, you might think, “I’m too busy right now. I’ll figure it out later – I’ve got time.”

As I worked with my client on a review of her finances to ensure she’s in great shape when December 31st rolls around, I asked her to look at the calendar and count the time remaining.

That’s when she had this realization:

👉 There are 2.25 months left in 2021.

👉 That’s 72 days left before the start of the new year.

Is that a lot or a little? Depends on how you look at it.

Seventy-two days is plenty of time to do great things with your money. But if you don’t make conscious choices, that time will go by in a heartbeat and your money may disappear into the cracks of life, leaving you frustrated at year’s end.

To avoid the pain of regret and lost opportunities, I’m going to share 4 steps to help you nail your cashflow through to Christmas and into the new year.

#1 – Identify your targets

If I teach you how to shoot a bow and arrow properly, it won’t do much for you until you have a target to aim at. Shooting well, but blindly, gets you nowhere.

Actually, I take that back. It can be pretty dangerous! 😨

The same goes for your money. Managing money in the absence of meaningful goals won’t necessarily provide you with joy and fulfillment. Maybe you’ll end up in a good place; maybe not.

Why take that chance?

All it takes is an answer to the question, “What do I really want to accomplish with my money in the next two months?

 

Start by clarifying your overall targets for this year:

  • Are you trying to grow your investments by X dollars?
  • Pay off your credit card balance?
  • Build up your Emergency Fund?
  • Fund trips to connect with loved ones after a long period of lockdown?
  • Put a tracking system in place?
  • Develop a side gig to generate more income?

 

It helps to get really specific about the dollar amounts. 🎯

Saying you plan to pay off “some debt” is ineffective. Have you met your goal if you’ve paid off $5 of debt? Technically, yes. But I’m pretty sure that’s not what you’re after.

If you’re not sure about your goals, roll the clock back to January of this year. What was your money plan then? What had you intended to accomplish?

That’s what you’re looking to connect with here.

(If you’re not in the habit of creating a plan for the year, I’ve got you covered. Stay tuned for my training on creating Your Financial Blueprint for 2022 in January.)

Think big picture here; then drill down on the details.

Picture yourself in an airplane flying 30,000 feet over your finances. Imagine that your money is a river below. Where is it flowing?

Is it going into assets and experiences that build better options and create joy for you, or is it instead flowing right out of your life, enhancing someone else’s and providing little value to you?

This is all about connecting deeply with your core values.

You want to make sure that when you get to December 31st, you look back with satisfaction on the value you got from your money.

EXAMPLE:

When my husband and I did this exercise earlier in the year, one of the targets we set for ourselves was to visit my family and have a fun family holiday at Christmas. We haven’t seen my parents in nearly two years thanks to the pandemic. Our older daughter is also at university this year – a big adjustment for us.

So it was important for us to reconnect and have a fun famjam, complete with skiing in the mountains. Lots of time for things we value highly: quality time together, exercise, travel, and fun outdoors.

We set a target of funding this trip from our income, without affecting the amount of money we put toward investments or using any of our existing savings.

Our money rule = The travel and the activities must have no net negative effect on our financial freedom fund.

It’s meant squirrelling away dollars every month this year into the Fun With Family at Christmas Fund. We also used points to get free flights and a few free hotel rooms, which shaves thousands of dollars off the cost of the trip.

What are your targets? Create a list.

#2 – Calculate the price

When you’ve created a list of your spending plans and financial targets for the next 72 days, create an itemized list of things you need to buy or pay for, given your plans, and give each item a price.

If you celebrate Christmas, your list would include everything you pay for leading up to and including Christmas day:

  • Gifts (make a list of whom you’re buying for and how much you intend to spend for each gift)
  • Decorations (do you intend to buy anything for the house or yard?)
  • Food and beverages
  • Travel costs
  • Special activities with friends and family during the holiday

 

EXAMPLE:

When we decided to travel out west to visit family at Christmas, we made a list of everything we needed to pay for, then put a price on the items:

☑️ Flights x 4 = Points + $$ for taxes.

☑️ Car rental

☑️ Ski rental x 4

☑️ Lodging during skiing days

☑️ Lift tickets x 4

☑️ Gifts for family

☑️ Wine (yes, it gets its own line item in my world 😊)

☑️ Meals out 

I added it all up and created savings targets every month to cover all the costs. The amount we saved each month depended on when we needed to pay for the various bits.

When we get back from our trip, we plan to connect with friends for celebrations during the remaining days of the holiday. We allotted money for those gatherings, too.

What are you planning to buy in the next couple of months? It doesn’t all have to be related to Christmas. For example, if you intend to take advantage of Black Friday sales to replace an aging appliance or to stock up on something, add that to the list.

You get the idea here. Put a price on everything in your list and figure out how much you need to save each month to cover them.

#3 – Assess the gap and make a plan

This is all about figuring out where you’re at right now and what’s left to be done.

For some of my clients, this is the point where they realize they’ve veered off course in the last few months.

They meant to save a bunch of money over the summer, but the pandemic has placed so many limitations on their lives over the past eighteen months that they wanted to enjoy all the things as soon as they could.

Which is great for the fun factor, but not so great for their finances.

 

That’s why this financial review and planning process is so valuable – it helps you course-correct.

Don’t beat yourself up if you’re off track. Simply make different choices moving forward.

The reason I’m talking about cashflow through Christmas right now is because the Christmas/holiday season is a dangerous one, especially after all the restrictions from the pandemic.

The desire for fun and connection can quickly erode previous gains in savings and debt repayments. Especially when the Black Friday and Christmas sales hit.

Don’t be shocked to see aggressive sales campaigns this year, because retailers have had a beast of a time during the pandemic. They’re going to be gunning for your dollars, which is fair game.

But you need to remember that your #1 priority is to your own goals.

That’s why it’s so important to go into the season with your eyes wide open and glued to your values-based goals.

Your job is not to pick up fabulous sales; it’s to accomplish your bigger goals.

It helps to remember that sales are about spending money, not saving money. If you get tempted to think otherwise when the seasonal advertising hits, read this blog post.

So where are you at so far?

How close are you to achieving the goals you set at the beginning of the year? Write it out.

 

EXAMPLES:

If you were aiming to eliminate a chunk of debt in 2021, you’d write out something like the following (the numbers are made up for illustration purposes):

Target debt reduction in 2021 = $2,000

Debt reduction to date = $1,300

Gap remaining = $700

Strategy to December 31st to pay off remaining debt: …..

Or:

Target savings for trip at Christmas = $6,000

Actual savings for trip to date = $4,200

Gap remaining to be saved = $1,800

Strategy to save the remaining dollars: …..

Make it specific and clear.

If you’re off track, or you didn’t have goals in the first place, what can you do with the seventy-two days that remain in 2021 to get the most value from your dollars?

What does that mean in terms of spending?

What can you ditch that is of little value you to in order to fund the things that matter more?

Create a plan and cut back mercilessly on things that don’t matter all that much.

What are you willing to give up to hit your targets?

Or how much extra do you need to earn to make it happen?

Make a deliberate, intentional plan.

#3 – Apply the Values Test

This is where you put your choices through what I call the Values Test, in which you ask two questions:

Are my choices in line with my core values?

Is this the highest, best use of my time and my money?

These are two simple, but powerful questions to ensure that you make the very best use of your dollars and the remaining time this year.

Take any of the choices you’ve made above and ask yourself:

  • How will I feel about this when the Christmas season has come and gone, and it’s the start of 2022?
  • Will I be happy about it?
  • Will I be able to say that it was a great use of my money and my time?
  • Am I on track to accomplish my larger goals?

 

All of the above brings in two key principles to your finances: your core values as your guiding light + deliberate choices.

When the Black Friday sales and other temptations pop up, refer back to your plan and the Values Test.

And when New Year’s Eve rolls around, give yourself a high five for following through on your goals. You will have earned it! 🎉

 
If you want some help with the process, I’m going to dive into this in greater depth in my upcoming Women’s Money Group meeting on October 26th.
Email me for details if you’d like to join us.
RECAP

To ensure you’re in rave mode and not rant mode about your finances when 2021 comes to an end, do the following in the remaining days:

  • Identify your targets

    – what you want to get done and what you want to buy, beyond the basics, between now and then.

  • Calculate the cost of each

    – e.g. additional debt to pay off, items to purchase, trips to pay for.

  • Figure out the gap and make a plan

    – how much money you’ll need and how you’ll make or save those $.

  • Apply the Values Test

    – to ensure your choices between now and December 31st are in your highest, best interests.

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