Anticipation, right? Suspense? Excitement? These are all part of the reasons we enjoy buying and wrapping gifts for people, true? Draw on these feelings and you can make it even more fun for next year. Set a reminder for yourself at some point during 2018, so you can save a little bit extra in advance. Maybe thinking about gift-giving in October, or July, or May will give you the nudge you need to put aside more of a slush fund. However much you splurge this year, you could be extravagant next year.
Future Self always seems so greedy and demanding. Dang it, Future Me, what do you want from me? Always judging and finger-wagging and tsk-tsking. I’m just over here trying to live my life. Now you want me to *switches to nasal voice* PLAN AHEAD and BE RESPONSIBLE and ngngngngng. I prefer to switch this around and think of myself as giving gifts to Future Me.
Oh, Meeeeee! I gootttttt something for youuuuuu! You’re going to liiiiiiiike it! But you can’t open it until next year!
Past Me! You shouldn’t have! *gasp* Oh my gosh, an extra $500 for gift shopping? It’s so me. I love it!
($500 between now and next year is less than $10 a week).
Of course, the other secret behind this idea of saving in advance is that it’s purely unselfish. We’re planning to use it all to buy lovely things for other people.
For some reason, most people can’t bring themselves to save money. Well, yeah, because we’re all broke! Ahh, but buying stuff with credit cards and paying interest on it makes us even more broke, even faster. The kind of savings I’m talking about, over the time span I’m talking about, can be achieved with really small tweaks or a very modest extra income source. Or both.
As a broke college student, I had several mini-side hustles that brought in a few dollars here and there. Added up together, it wasn’t nothing. Pet-sitting, babysitting. I used to charge $10 to clean someone’s bathroom. $1 to sew a button, $5 to hem a pair of pants. I made a little extra buying books and clothes at thrift stores and reselling them to used bookstores and consignment shops. I made significantly more taking notes for a disabled student and doing transcriptions for grad students. I actually had two official job-jobs, both part time. Even for a full-time Dean’s List student with no car and a lot of all-nighters to pull, it’s not really that hard to find ways to earn extra cash on the side.
(I’d charge more now; those were 2002 prices).
(Also, if I were a college student today, I’d learn how to repair smartphone screens. I’d charge $50 each and, as a bonus, I wouldn’t have to pay anyone else whenever I smashed my own phone).
It’s far easier to earn more than it is to cut spending. You can only cut back to zero, but you can earn until they run out of numbers. There’s no maximum wage.
That being said, there are tons of ways to cut expenses in small ways. If you have a very specific dollar amount with a very specific deadline, such as a scheduled holiday, you have the advantage of thinking of this as a game or a contest rather than...
We keep reminding ourselves that this is not deprivation, that we are voluntarily choosing to do something nice for someone else. We can go on to remind ourselves that we’d much rather spend our money buying sweet gifts for our favorite people than giving it to the banks that issued our credit cards.
How do you come up with $500 in a year?
Occasionally check out a library book rather than buying a new book
Pack a lunch or cook at home occasionally when you would have gone out
Quit buying soda
Bulk-buy snack food at Costco instead of stopping at a convenience store
Continue to go out, but cut back on appetizers, drinks, OR dessert
Get rid of your storage unit, or downsize and move into a smaller, cheaper unit
Clutter-clear your house and sell off extra stuff
Cancel cable TV
Do your own mani-pedi instead of going to a salon
Ask a friend to help you color your hair instead of going to a salon
See how long you can go by eating what’s in your kitchen right now before you buy more groceries
Weatherize your windows with shrink wrap and see if you can get your heat bill down
I don’t make these suggestions idly. My husband and I live in a 680-square-foot apartment and we don’t own a car. We also save 35% of our income and we have no credit card debt. In fact, as soon as I finish paying off my student loan, we’ll be completely debt-free.
Being debt-free changes your attitude toward buying gifts. We’ve been able to make family visits almost twice as often, and most of that extra money has come from the interest payments we no longer have to make. Sometimes I ask a friend for their address and send them a present, like a book we were just talking about or a random gift that just makes me laugh really hard. One year, a friend posted a picture on Facebook of a sign she’d found, from some little girls in another town who attached their letter to Santa to a bunch of helium balloons. It had their first names and their home address, along with their entire wish list. I looked up one of the items, a big pink foo-foo dollhouse, and I ordered it and sent it to them anonymously. Every time I look at the list of shipping addresses I have stored on Amazon, it cracks me up all over again. THEY SHALL NEVER KNOW IT WAS ME, MUWAHAHAHAHA!
Money is just a number. It’s a weird way we have of recording and transferring energy. We convert our life energy into work, and that work causes numbers to be tallied somewhere, which we then use for objects and services and our baseline lifestyle. That being said, money can also be a magical way to grant wishes and spark spontaneous smiles and laughter. (There is nothing I could have done in my physical form to delight two little girls I’ve never met; someone would probably call the police! But with money I could cast a spell of awe and wonder). Thinking of money in terms of bills and fees and fines and obligations is depressing and frustrating. Thinking of money as a sort of wand of power, a creative force that turns thin air into gifts, is an entirely different form of discipline. I wish you joy of it.
I've been working with chronic disorganization, squalor, and hoarding for over 20 years. I'm also a marathon runner who was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and thyroid disease 17 years ago.