Planning Your Holiday Budget Amidst the Pandemic

It may be the most wonderful time of the year but, amid the coronavirus pandemic, more than seven in 10 Americans expect their holiday planning will change. That’s according to data intelligence company Morning Consult, which recently took a close look at how we’re likely to revamp travel, spending, and shopping this year.

In short, expect smaller get-togethers, less travel, and—for many—a greater need for a little pre- and post-holiday belt-tightening. Still, it’s not always easy to make major, or, even minor changes to a well-honed holiday budget. Here are a few ways to revamp your holiday budget and plan for your holiday season.

1. Get an early start

There’s nothing typical about this year so expect a few surprises in the holiday sales cycle. Shoppers have already committed to an earlier-than-usual hunt for the perfect keepsake or treasure, which could have an impact on already-diminished supply after factories were shuttered for several months this spring.

Expect more urgency to surround the typical rush on the year’s most coveted toys. Even before the kickoff of the holiday season, the U.S. toy market grew by 16% in the first half of the year. That’s because cooped-up moms and dads bought more Little Tikes, LEGOs, and board games to keep kids occupied while distancing from friends and loved ones. That’s a trend that’s likely to escalate as cool weather hits many areas of the nation, driving kids back indoors after a much-welcomed summer and autumn outdoor reprieve.

Online retailers are also getting an early start, taking advantage of the stay-at-home surge to stock up on goods and leverage their shop-from-a-distance advantage over brick and mortar stores. Amazon kicked off the holiday season in mid-October and they’re far from alone in the race to get started early. Some estimates predict the $6 billion that’s usually spent during cyber week shopping in November will be pulled into October’s sales numbers, instead.

Big box stores are getting into the action, too, with Black Friday sales already popping up, selectively, at mega-retailers like Home Depot and Best Buy. In short, get started with holiday planning for gifts now. This year probably won’t be forgiving to last-minute shoppers.

2. Start talking with loved ones about holiday planning

Despite the mad rush to buy all the goods, a full one-third of Americans are trying to spend less and save money on their holiday budget. That means you and your loved ones may not be on the same financial page this year, no matter how in sync you were in the past. Before you start filling up your cart, have an upfront conversation about holiday expectations with family, friends, and loved ones. A few well-timed words can go a long way toward building mutual respect and long-term trust.

Also, know that it may not be you that needs to hear that it’s okay to roll back past holiday expectations. Well-meaning kids, grandparents, and best friends may be tempted to make up for the lost in-person time by buying lavish gifts, even if it’s not in their best financial interest. Save loved ones from a possible financial struggle by opening the conversation about giving gifts on a budget before they open their wallet.

3. Strategize to give gifts on a budget

While you’re at it, help loved ones save face by offering up a few alternatives and less expensive, gifts on a budget. Wherever possible, present strategies that can build on the strengths of your relationships, and not on the extravagance of presents exchanged. For example:

  • Buy just for the kids. Make a family pact to limit any gift-giving to the under-18 crowd, who are most likely to appreciate those shiny bows and ribbons, anyway.
  • Organize a Pollyanna-style gift exchange. Infuse a little fun with the gift-stealing White Elephant rendition or, for the traditionalists, consider a straight-up pick-a-number-and-swap version.
  • Don’t want to cross any names off your list? Set a strict cost-per-gift limit that can help cut the overall amount spent per person or family.
  • Or, for the crafty crowd, consider a home-made gift swap. Winter candles, bath salts, and flavor-infused olive oils are all manageable, even for a first-time creator.

4. Support your community within your holiday budget

While you’re making your list, check it twice for ways you can find that must-have item while also supporting the merchants in your local community. It’s a smart social distancing move to shop online from afar but make sure to visit Main Street at non-peak hours, too. The most unique and well-loved gifts are often found in mom and pop stores, your favorite boutique, or the confectionery in the middle of town.

Even if you don’t want to shop in person this year, check out local wares online, through daily deals on social media, or through local sales pages. A surprising number of local merchants have adopted the curbside pick-up trend and are happy to ferry your purchases from the store while you wait from the comfort of your car. Or, pick up a few gift cards to your favorite coffee shop, restaurant, or ice cream parlor. Your small gift may bring joy to a local loved one, but the purchase may also be the small support your favorite merchant needs to stay afloat through the cold bluster of winter.

In the end, this holiday season may look different, but it can still hit your family’s favorite high notes. Meet up early—either in person or online—and get on the same gift-giving page. Then, build out your holiday budget and stick to it. A well-defined plan can help preserve what’s in your pocketbook, but also build trust and goodwill among loved ones.

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