Fall leaves come with crisp air and cozying up in warm sweaters, but the approach of fall can also be a threat to your wallet. The season means back-to-school costs, holiday shopping and impending winter weather, resulting in higher utility costs. Are your finances able to withstand this additional spending?
Don’t get caught off guard by the fall season—start preparing now for the increased costs that come with it. With a little foresight, you’ll worry less about your finances and enjoy all of the fun fall and winter can bring.
Budget for the Holidays
A Gallup study found that during the 2016 holiday season, Americans planned on spending an average of $752 on Christmas gifts. That’s no small chunk of change. When it comes to holiday spending, if you want to keep your costs in line it’s helpful to make a plan and start saving as far ahead in advance as possible. And no, it’s not too late to begin now.
Your first step should be to start budgeting. You’ll want to keep your eye on two major ways of cutting down your costs: knowing what you spend and finding ways to reduce that, such as DIY options for gifts and décor to alleviate some of your extra expenses.
If you’ve never made a budget for yourself before, get started with a few steps:
- Make a list of the people you buy gifts for, the parties you are expected to attend and any travel costs. Avoid estimating these costs so you don’t feel surprised or panicked when it’s time for the bill, and do some sleuthing into the real prices you’ll pay.
- Know what you spend by keeping track of all outgoing payments. Maintain a spreadsheet or similar list of what you spend and continuously update it to keep an eye on your spending by category, date or other features. It’s never too late to start your list and is a practice that you should keep up all year.
- Keep funds separate by using a prepaid card like Green Dot’s Prepaid Visa® card. You’ll also get immediate tracking of your expenditures so that budgeting will get easier in the future. You can build up some savings for holiday purchases right now if you are diligent; Christmas is three months away, so by putting away just $10 or $20 once a week, you’ll have dedicated resources when it comes time to spend. View Green Dot’s simple fees here.
- It’s not about you, for now anyway. Yes, you deserve something special for the holidays, but you don’t want it to be at the expense of your family. See if you can start curbing any superfluous spending–just for now–to beef up your holiday spending account. Do you purchase lunch at work? Start making it at home to save; a 2015 Visa-commissioned study on lunch habits of Americans found that the average annual cost of lunch for Americans was a whopping $2,746. By making your own lunch and coffee, you’re not only looking at savings of potentially thousands of dollars, but you’re also eating healthier.
- Pick and choose who you can get gifts for. It may sound like a nice gesture to be able to get all of your extended family gifts, but that is a huge expense. Instead, see if you can help relieve the pressure of gift giving on everyone by proposing less-financially prohibitive activities. Secret Santa didn’t develop out of nowhere–imagine if you had to get gifts for everyone in your office. Perhaps buying gifts just for the children in your family will retain the sense of tradition while cutting down on spending, or try starting an entirely new tradition, such as donating money to a charity together.
Prepare for the Winter
A significant cost culprit during the winter is unavoidable–the weather. If you live in a place that experiences winter weather, you’ve noticed how utilities skyrocket at this time each year.
So what can you do about it?
A small investment towards updating some of the winterizing features of your home can go a long way in saving you money. Check out some of the biggest culprits and how you can fix them before fall’s cooler weather arrives:
Window Drafts: Drafty windows are going to make your heater work harder, and your bills go up. Especially with old windows, check seams for any gusts of air; if you find some, seal a piece of heavy-duty plastic sheeting tightly to the corners of your window for an inexpensive fix. You can also strategically use window treatments by keeping shades or blinds open during the sunniest and warmest part of the day, and closed at night when temperatures drop.
Water Heating: A nice, hot shower after a long day in the cold can feel like a luxury, but it is one that will cost you. The US Department of Energy reports that 18% of home energy use comes from heating water. If you aren’t looking to completely overhaul your heating systems, reduce the temperature on your water heaters and start to see savings each month.
Indoor Heating Systems: Ensure your heating systems are serviced regularly and checked year-round so you aren’t surprised by an expensive fix right when cool weather starts. Keep temperatures high enough that you are comfortable, but even just a degree or two lower can mean monthly savings. When you’re not at home, lower the temperature so you aren’t paying to heat an empty house.
Fireplaces: While they’ll give you some additional heating during the cold months, your fireplace can also be a culprit in increasing your heating costs. Always check to see that the fireplace damper is closed when you don’t have a fire burning as it is easy for warm air to escape up the chimney.
Start the New Year Off Strong
Once you’ve survived the holiday season, survey how your holiday spending budget went, and where you feel you succeeded or not. Use this time to make notes and update your budgets because the holidays are fresh in your mind–it’ll cut your planning down drastically come next year.
However, sticking to your budget doesn’t just stop at the holidays. When you’ve taken the steps to protect your financial situation and your utility bill from the ravages of winter, you’ve taken steps to start off the new year right. You’re not financially drowning because of the guidance of your budget, meaning that you can benefit from post-holiday sales to pick up that appliance or piece of furniture you’ve been dreaming of but haven’t felt financially ready to buy.
What You Can Do to Save
Living on a budget doesn’t mean you’re never able to spend money on things you enjoy; it means you’re managing your finances to ensure that you get the most out of life. By spending some time tracking your expenses now, you’ll find ways to keep saving year-round. With the holidays around the corner and winter weather threatening higher utility bills, protect yourself with financial solutions that make sense for your situation.
With a Green Dot Prepaid Visa® Card, you’re able to monitor your purchases and activity. A prepaid debit card means you’re utilizing the money you already have to be able to pay for the things you want–it’s a win-win.
View Green Dot’s simple fees here, and get your Green Dot Prepaid Mastercard or Visa Card now.
The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Green Dot Corporation.