From September to New Year's in our household there is no shortage of holidays and birthdays celebrated. Between the Jewish holidays that come in the fall, the Christian holidays that come in the fall, and 6 birthday celebrations, and 2 anniversary celebrations, we are always looking for ways to stretch our money. We host most of the above and it seems there are always overnight guests, extra people at the table, and just more mouths to feed, presents to purchase, and things to do, than time or money sometimes want to allow.
So each year I look for ways to cut costs, save a bit here and there, to spend that bit in another spot. In other words rob Peter to pay Paul if you will.
There are two great iPhone apps that I have used to help me keep track of where all the money seems to go and how our family is spending that money. The first app is a free app that can be purchased through iTunes called Mint. Mint is a really handy tool in that it is not only a budget tracker, it interfaces with whichever bank accounts you set it up to interface with and can directly use the information from your bank accounts to track where the money goes without you having to do much beyond initial set up. (I love when my devices work smartly for me). Mint also has some great "alert" features that you can use to keep you up to date on spending limits, areas of concern, or over all information.
The other app that I find very useful is iReconcile. iReconcile is not a free app, but I do prefer it over Mint in that it does "more" and it does it a little bit better. The app itself will cost $19.99 annually (backup features etc.) but I find that $20 to be well worth it when it comes to long term financial planning, tracking, spending tools, and information gathered. It will allow you to drill down to the smallest of details, and also sum up to an annual level. Himself prefers to not know the small details, but wants the bigger picture and wants me to be able to explain things in further detail should he ask. For my purposes I love being able to drill down to the tiniest of details, yet easily roll it up into a neat summary.
But making a dollar go along way isn't just limited to tracking where the spending happens. You can still make wonderful holiday memories without having to break the bank. Think in terms of daily affordable luxury items. Many of us don't even realize just how much money goes out the door each day on that daily latte, or that daily muffin in the morning before work. Or maybe it's the afternoon pick me up at the food truck outside your office space, or perhaps it's the quick pizza on the go for the kids in the evening because you forgot to defrost something to cook for dinner. With a small amount of pre-planning, you can save a bundle. While it is too late to do this for this year, it's not to late to start thinking about next year.
So perhaps make small changes for the new year. Maybe you make a menu plan for the week/month. Perhaps your plan involves using a crockpot a bit more to avoid that last minute pizza, or maybe you do a big cook ahead day twice per month and freeze a few dinner options so that on the days when life is hectic and you don't want to cook you can simply take something out of the freezer, pop it into the oven, add a salad and bread, and you are good to go. Maybe you keep a supply of pizza dough ready to go in your freezer so you can make great tasting homemade pizza at a fraction of the cost of buying one.
Perhaps for the new year you take the "latte challenge". While I would not dream of challenging you to give up your daily latte every day of the week (although that in and of itself is a great challenge) I would challenge you to give it up two days a week and bank the difference. Have a jar, or envelope, or even a spot in your savings account, where you designate the "latte" money to go. If you do this twice a week, that's a $10 savings, $40 monthly, and by next December you have $480 saved that you can now add to the holiday budget to go toward whatever holiday expenses you may have. And you will find you won't even really feel it missing. Imagine then, if you will, if you do that daily instead of just twice a week, at what the savings would be.
And while I am using the term "latte"... i really do mean whatever your affordable luxury is. For some it's a latte, for others its that daily candy bar, for some still it's cigarettes. Whatever your item is, make a life change, even if only once or twice a week, bank the funds, and use it at the end of the year for something better. Your body will thank you, your wallet will thank you, and your happiness in knowing you achieved a goal will be a reward in and of itself. And if all else fails, give yourself a sticker for each day you achieve this, it works for my oldest daughter, she says stickers are *the* best! Perhaps she's right.
And lastly, in making your dollar go along way, think outside the box. Instead of buying expensive wrapping paper, think of fun and creative ways to wrap a present. Have a bottle of wine you need to give, knit a wine cosy, or decoupage a brown bag and put it in that, or simply tie a pretty bow on it and take it as is. After all, people are going to not only appreciate your efforts, but they are appreciating the gift itself more so than what it was wrapped in, boxed in, or otherwise packaged in.