Realistic Savings Goals: Holiday Edition

The holidays are approaching quickly, and this means a plethora of parties, presents, and potlucks. Holiday spending can get stressful, but planning appropriately beforehand can lower your stress levels.

Take 15 minutes right now to open up a new Google Spreadsheet, and make a list in the first column of everything that comes to mind that you expect to buy or spend on this season. Or download a pre-made template here: Downloadable Holiday Spending Spreadsheet. To edit, click on File -> Download As or File -> Make a Copy.

Below is a brief holiday spending list for inspiration.


Starter Holiday Spending List

  • Presents for family, friends, coworkers, and neighbors
  • Food for parties, gatherings, and gifted baked goods (including decorations if you are throwing the party)
  • New clothes for holiday events, such as black tie galas, New Year’s Eve celebrations, ugly sweater parties, weddings, or holiday work get-togethers
  • Charitable donations for community organizations, churches, or apartment complex cleaning staff
  • Packaging and postage for out-of-town gifts and cards
  • Travel costs for driving or flying to visit family
  • Dinners with friends and family visiting from out of town

After writing all of your spending categories in column A move to column B and start estimating what you expect to spend in each category. Obviously these will not be accurate numbers, but make your best guess. You can even use column B for the “low estimate” and column C for a “high estimate.”

Finally, at the bottom of the list write “Total” in column A and in column B (and C) add up all the numbers you wrote by using a “sum” formula. Write “=sum(B1:B20)” and it will add up everything between box B1 and B20 (maybe your list ends at B10 or B50, adjust accordingly).

How does your total look? I know the numbers can be intimidating, but let’s discuss ways we can take control of our finances during the upcoming season of spending.

  1. Start Saving Early: Put away money each month, starting in January, to evenly spread the cost of the holiday spending across the full year. A slightly different approach is to start saving weekly, maybe cutting down on going out to eat during the holidays or daily coffee runs. Every little bit helps! If you save $50 for 6 weeks that is $300 you can use for guilt-free holiday spending.
  2. Cut Back: Are there any categories in your holiday budget you can tweak? Maybe you go to a secondhand store to buy your ugly sweater or borrow it from your grandma. Maybe you can DIY crafts as presents for friends and family. Maybe you can make your holiday party a potluck.
  3. Sales: Cyber Monday and Black Friday are coming up. Take advantage of the sales by planning early and creating a list of presents you’ll need. You are already on your way with the holiday spending spreadsheet!
  4. Credit Card Rewards: Many credit cards offer reward points to help you save on clothes, plane tickets, and gift spending. Do some research to see what your card can offer you today!
  5. Update Your List: As you start purchasing gifts and attending parties, keep track of exactly how much you spend. You can create a new column on your spreadsheet for “Actual” amounts. This will help you adjust your numbers in the other categories if you spend more or less than expected, and more importantly, it will give you a better estimate for next holiday season!

In just a few short weeks this holiday season will be over. Time passes quickly when you’re having fun! Take your recorded “Actual” spending amounts from Step 5 and go back to Step 1. It is never too early to start saving for next year’s holiday season, and this time you will be extra prepared by knowing almost exactly what you will need to save. Let’s work together to take the spending stress out of the holiday season!

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