One thing that often follows close behind fall (and the pumpkin spice latte) are the holidays! I’m talking Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and the New Year. While it’s fun to celebrate with family, a lot of us start sweating around mid-October when thinking about the upcoming expenses.
Fear not—there are a few precautionary measures you can take before you have the expense inducing panic attack.
Here are a few to get you started:
1. Start tracking spending and budgeting
It’s the big bad B word: BUDGET. In our culture, the feelings that this word stirs up are often synonymous with DIET. Neither one is bad, but they both give us limits. Sit down and figure out your goals so that you know where you need to limit yourself in spending. It’ll take a few months to get used to budgeting, but by Christmas season, you’ll be a pro. If you’re new to budgeting, check out Dave Ramsey and his free budgeting app, EveryDollar.
Dave Ramsey has helped hundreds of thousands of families, including many military families, take the steps to financial peace. You can check out his website and order a military friendly budgeting class.
Others swear by You Need A Budget, an online paid budget subscription. If you’re not technologically saavy, a pen and paper will do. The key is to keep it simple so that you don’t quickly give up.
2. Save a small stash of emergency cash
Before you do anything, save a small emergency fund—this is super important to help you sleep better at night. No matter what you make or how much you owe, you need an emergency fund. Find a way to sell things or cut your restaurant budget to come up with about $1000-1500 of cash that is set aside only for emergencies. Do not touch that money except for emergencies; once the emergency has passed, replenish the fund back up to $1000-1500 so that you have that peace of mind.
3. Update wills, power of attorneys, and life insurance policies
Let’s face it, because we are military families, it is SO important to have our wills and anything that has to do with death in order. We face deployments, TDYs, and being geographically separated. With all this moving around temporarily and permanently, who knows what will go wrong. If you want to make sure that your family is taken care of if you’re not around, do not skip this. Once a year is a good time to look over these documents. Once you have them in place, updating them every year will be easier. You would never think of sending your kids to school unprepared; think of this as making sure that they’re prepared for life in case something happens to you or your spouse.
4. Dream—dream big
Financial responsibility without any goals is a recipe for financial distress. If you don’t have a why, what’s the point of doing all this? Dream big about what you want your life to be in five or ten years. Where will you call home when you retire? What opportunities do you want to make sure your children have? Is there a place in the world you’ve been dreaming of visiting? Our family’s retirement dream is to be somewhere warm where winter is mild or nonexistent, where we continually have time to spend with each other as a family, and where we can easily eat healthy. It’s easier to save and plan now when you have a good picture of where you want to be in the future.
5. Relax, breathe, and realize that you’re taking the right step by analyzing your spending habits
Give yourself a pat on the back for looking at this stuff; this isn’t necessarily what you look forward to doing after a long and busy day. Sometimes acknowledging that the situation is unpleasant is the first step. Make it a fun ritual to remove some of the steam from the process. Light a candle and grab a cup of tea (or a glass of wine) as you list out your financial goals and tasks. Look at it as a time to take care of yourself and your family, instead of as a chore or task.
Sometimes looking at finances can be daunting; it’s much easier to tackle a few financial tasks at a time. Like exercising or eating right, the first step is the hardest. Once you get in the rhythm of things (I say stick with it for at least three months), it’ll feel like a normal part of your routine. And just like your HOAM family is here to help you with working out and clean eating, we are also here to cheer you on in reaching your financial goals.