Christmas and money—now there’s a combination that can send anyone spiraling.
When you’re trying to take control of your money, saving for an emergency fund is a crucial part of the process. In fact, it’s so important that at Ramsey Solutions, the emergency fund makes up not one, but two of the seven Baby Steps. After you’ve saved $1,000 in a starter emergency fund (Baby Step 1), and you’ve paid off all debt except the house (Baby Step 2), we recommend saving three to six months of expenses in a fully funded emergency fund (Baby Step 3). Then, once you have a fully funded emergency fund, it’s time to keep it safely tucked away . . . you guessed it: in case of an emergency.
But what do you do after you’ve reached this money milestone? Next, it’s important to make sure your emergency fund doesn’t become a crutch for non-emergencies. (Spoiler alert: Christmas is not an emergency.)
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I know, I know. The hustle of the holiday season can sometimes feel like an “unexpected” money problem. From kids’ Christmas parties at school to last-minute white elephant gifts, even if you technically know that Christmas happens every year, unpredictable expenses can cause more panic than a little snow in the south.
But don’t worry, I’ve put together a list of tips to help you (and me) keep that emergency fund safe this holiday season.
- Start saving now. Some of you have been saving for months, or maybe even all year. But if you haven’t, don’t freak out. You’ve still got a little time. Take a deep breath, and look at your monthly budget. Make small adjustments wherever you can to create a plan for your Christmas expenses.
- Build a budget for seasonal spending. Write down every person (and party) you’ll need to spend money on, then assign a dollar amount for each item on your list. Don’t forget to create wiggle room in other ways too. For example, if you need more money to spend on holiday travel, consider making an agreement with your spouse that you won’t buy each other gifts this year.
- Plan B is always an option. In this case, B stands for baking! If the holiday budget is getting tight, try gifting a homemade loaf of bread and a handwritten note to a few people on your list. If cookies mean a lot to Santa, a tasty treat made with love will feel like a warm hug to your family and friends.
- Trim the excess. Traditions are great, but you don’t have to do something just because you’ve always done it that way. If you typically spend money on a fancy Christmas card, maybe this is the year you decide to share a fun Instagram post instead. Or if you host an annual holiday dinner, ask everyone to pitch in potluck style this time. The people who love you will also love to help you.
- Think experiences over expenses. Like every classic Christmas movie teaches, the holiday season is really about community and connection. Try a new activity or experience that doesn’t cost money, like volunteering at a food bank as a family or hosting a game night for your neighborhood. There are tons of ways to spread holiday cheer without using your emergency fund.
Now, I don’t know about you, but that’s a list I’m excited to check twice!
You’ve been good all year saving money in your emergency fund, and I don’t want you to undo your hard work with last-minute holiday expenses. Accidents and unexpected emergencies don’t stop for our favorite seasons. So, keep your emergency fund wrapped in a big red bow—for when you really need it!
* Rachel Cruze is a two-time #1 national best-selling author, financial expert and host of The Rachel Cruze Show. She has appeared on Good Morning America, TODAY Show and Live! With Kelly & Ryan, among others. Since 2010, Rachel has served at Ramsey Solutions, where she teaches people to avoid debt, save money, budget and how to win with money at any stage in life. Follow Rachel on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and YouTube or online at rachelcruze.com.