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Reader Challenge of the Week: Help! My Husband NEVER Sticks to Our Christmas Budget

Between Black Friday and Cyber Monday, most Americans have at least started on their holiday shopping. This is in contrast to Charles and me, since we haven't even made our lists yet (both what we're going to get for our parents and a few items we would like for ourselves). 

These are very difficult economic times, and it's understandable that more people than ever are having a challenge balancing their budgets with the gifts they would like to purchase. So let us offer some help and hope to all who are struggling with this.

I received the email below from a lady whose first initial is T:

Help! My husband NEVER sticks to our Christmas budget. Year after year he spends above what we agree on, but when I question him about it he insists he only spends a "little bit more" on each person. But that little bit adds up to extra hundreds of dollars, and this year money is very tight and I'm already panicking about paying off those hundreds that we don't have. Help, help, help! And thank you.

Lovely T, before we move on to my three-step formula for a balanced holiday budget, please let me suggest some additional communication with your spouse. Sit down with your husband, during a time when you won't be interrupted and when you have time to talk for a while, and tell him everything you wrote to me.

Explain to him how you feel, not what he is doing wrong. Because no one can argue with how their behavior can make someone else feel. Give him details about your feelings, such as the panic you are already experiencing, and let him know that you want both of you to work together to solve this problem. 

The following three steps apply to everyone, despite relationship status (single, married, complicated, whatever) and religious celebration (Christmas, Hanukkah, Winter Holiday, only New Years). 

1. Decide on how much money you can spend this year on the holidays. This is the most important step, as well as the most difficult because it forces you to take a realistic look at your finances. This is very individual and only you can decide on a number that is right for your family. Be firm and choose an amount that you feel comfortable with, so there are no feelings of panic or overwhelm. 

2. Write down all of your holiday expenses, but exclude gifts. This list would include any travel expenditures such as airfare, car rental, hotel; the cost for holiday cards and stamps; host/hostess gifts for all the parties you are invited to; any new decorations that you need to buy; food purchases for events you are hosting; charitable contributions. Think of absolutely everything that is holiday related but does not include actual presents.

3. Add up everything from step 2, subtract from step 1, and then you will have your final number for gift giving. For example, if you're able to spend $1,000 total this season (step 1), and have expenses that are $300 (step 2), then you are able to spend $700 on gifts (step 3). Now make a list of every person you would like to purchase a present for, and then divide up the money. This is also very individual per family, as you may decide to make homemade gifts (such as cookies or brownies) for friends, teachers, etc., so that more finances are left for family members.

This is where you need to be brave, T, and remember: We can be courageous! Tell your husband that you would like both of you to Christmas shop together, so you are equally accountable for the family budget you decided on. If he insists on shopping by himself, give him cash and insist on taking away his credit and debit cards. If he's not going to be adult enough to stick to a budget, then he's going to have to be treated like a child.

T, the reason your husband has been behaving the same "year after year," is because there have been no consequences for his behavior. By taking away his credit and debit cards, you are providing him with consequences that will hopefully be the end of his Christmas overspending.

Out of love for our spouses (or those who I call "significant significant others," who share a home and expenses), we should all remain on budget so we are not the cause of any anxiety for our other half. And this should not just be done for the winter holidays, but for every season and day of the year. 

By: Kristia Markarian