How to Stay on Top of Your Finances This Holiday Season

By Aidan Cannon on December 20, 2023

This article is brought to you by GradGuard. We protect college students and their families from the financial risks of college life, like providing a refund for tuition or replacing a stolen backpack when your school may not. When the unexpected happens, GradGuard’s tuition insurance and renters insurance can help you get back on track.

The holiday season is here! It’s a time to gather with our families and friends and enjoy good conversation over home-cooked meals. Of course, gift-giving is also an essential part of this time of year, and while many college students would love to buy lots of presents for their loved ones, their finances are often in a more precarious place than other adults. Whether it’s rent, bills, food, or other expenses, college life is one filled with spending. However, this doesn’t mean that you can’t splurge on some gifts for yourself and others; you just need to plan ahead of time! There are many strategies you can use to manage your finances this season, allowing you to make sure the people in your life know how much you care about them without putting yourself into financial hardship. Use this guide to navigate the holidays without going broke!

Image from Pixabay.

Take care of your finances first

It’s said that it is better to give than to receive, and that’s absolutely the case! Seeing a loved one’s face light up as they realize what an amazing gift you got them can be intoxicating. Sometimes, it can be so powerful that we forget to take care of ourselves. Of course, the season is about caring for others, but we can only do that if we make sure our responsibilities are taken care of first. Try to pay off any bills or other outlying expenditures before moving on to gift shopping. You don’t want to jump into different websites and sales, rack up tons of expensive purchases, and then find out you don’t have enough money to pay for rent. Paying off your bills first will also give you a better idea of how much money you actually can afford to spend on others during the holidays, since you won’t have to worry about any more strain on your finances.

Decide on a budget per person

Now that you have taken care of your personal expenses and can accurately gauge how much money you have to spend on others, it might be helpful to decide on how much you can spend per person. A budget for each person will ensure that you can get everyone in your life a respectable gift without destroying your bank account. For example, on a budget of $500, you could set a $50 limit for the ten people you need to buy gifts for. Naturally, there are people in our lives who we might want to go above and beyond for, such as romantic partners, so it’s not a hard and fast rule, but it can prevent you from overspending on a few people before realizing you can’t afford gifts for the other people on your list. Ultimately, it depends on how much money you are willing to spend given the health of your bank account.

Keep an organized list

When you start adding gifts to your digital shopping cart or picking them up at physical stores, make a list so that you can stay organized. Include the name of the gift recipient, what you bought them, and where you bought it from. You can write all this information on a sticky note or piece of paper, but it may be more helpful to keep it in your phone’s notes app if you find yourself constantly on the move. Keeping a list will prevent you from accidentally buying more gifts for one person that’s already been taken care of, and give you a better idea of who you still need to buy for. Additionally, keeping a record of where you bought each item will help with the return process if something you bought needs to be sent back for any reason.

Consider making gifts

If money is particularly tight, consider making gifts for your friends and family. If you are known for some sort of creative talent, this is a great time to break it out! You could make them an original drawing, mold something out of pottery, or bake some food, among many other options. There are plenty of DIY articles on the internet to inspire you with ideas. The gifts don’t need to be incredibly elaborate or over the top, just something that shows you care about the people in your life. In fact, many people prefer homemade gifts since it shows you put in special effort to make something for them, as opposed to simply buying a more impersonal gift from a store.

The holidays can be the most wonderful time of the year, but they can also feel like a monetary black hole, steadily draining your bank account over the course of a few months. The winter can be difficult on everyone, but for college students who don’t have a lot of money in the first place, it can be particularly problematic. Use the tips in this guide to navigate the holiday season while making smart financial decisions.

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