The Maddening Part About Christmas Finances

I love Christmas. It’s a hectic time, but there is a certain magic in the air.  Now that we have kids, it’s an even greater time because we get to see the joy on their faces (OK, only the older one since the younger one is only six months) as they open gifts. Little Boy Beagle is two and a half, so this was the first year he got excited about Santa and understood all that went with shopping, unwrapping gifts, and getting together with family.

It was cool.

The one thing that drives me nuts every year, though, is this: It’s the one time of year I have too little control over the finances.

I have no idea how to change this.  So, what’s the problem, you ask?

We save money throughout the year, so the problem isn’t having money for shopping.

We budget for each person we want to buy for, so the problem isn’t running out of money or missing gifts for important people.

We make lists and cross-check them to make sure we know what we want to get for everybody, so the problem isn’t figuring out what to buy.

The problem with Christmas spending, then, is simple, it’s keeping track of everything.  See, usually, when transactions appear on our online banking or credit card system, you can look at it and easily identify what it’s for.

$90 at the grocery store.  That gets applied to the grocery budget.  $60 at the gas station. OK, that one is simple too.

But, when Christmas comes, we have a few monkey wrenches that get thrown in.

Here’s a few examples:

  1. Multiple purchases from the same shopping trip – A $100 at Macy’s by my wife might be broken down between clothes for the two kids, a sweater for me, and a kitchen item for one of our parents.  Usually, I can just nab the receipt and break it down, but because it has items for me, I can’t see the details.
  2. Amazon breaking orders down– I’ll make a purchase and log it as a $120 purchase from Amazon and expect to see the transaction accordingly.  But, because Amazon charges when they ship and they ship things at their own discretion, that $120 will break down into multiple charges.  Even a week later, that $120 purchase doesn’t ‘appear’ and it doesn’t always add up easily at first glance.

    Mounting bills Project 365(2) Day 142 by Keith Williamson, on Flickr
  3. Stuff for me – Because I track the day to day spending and credit card payments, I log in to all the credit card accounts.  It’s hard for me to not log in to our credit card account for an entire month so that I don’t know where she shopped for me, which would result in me not knowing any of the other purchases we make (groceries, gas, etc.).  So, right now, my wife uses a separate card for my gifts.
  4. Returns – Try as we might, we return and exchange gifts during the buying process.  Trying to match a credit with a purchase a few days or weeks ago is complicated, especially if it ties to item 1 where there might have been gifts purchased for multiple people.
  5. Target – You can buy anything at Target, including gifts.  Shopping trips for gifts will inevitably include household items like formula, diapers, hair care items, or other stuff we get regularly.  Trying to ‘apply’ the transaction once it hits our ledger is maddening.

Eventually it all works out.  We sort out the receipts, match things up against the transaction log.  I get to see the bill pay from the ‘hidden’ credit card.  Usually it balances pretty close and we always get everything paid and have the budget for it.

It’s just the process to get there.  It’s maddening!

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14 thoughts on “The Maddening Part About Christmas Finances

  1. I’m with ya! So many times we buy presents ahead of time and then get reimbursed with Christmas gifts. That equals a nightmare for our cash flow around Christmas.

  2. The way Amazon deducts payments drives me nuts! I wish they would just keep it simple but that would make too much sense, I guess.

    To keep me from going crazy, I just track the payments as a whole and don’t bother separating them out. If I spend $100 at Target on gifts and household stuff, it’s just one lump sum. Holidays are maddening enough without trying to be perfect with my finances!

    • I’m getting there but unfortunately I’ve gotten to be a bit of a perfectionist when it comes to tracking spending. Need to let it go a bit I guess 🙂

    • LOL, I don’t think I could just quit tracking altogether. I do think I need to simplify the tracking a bit. At least I have a whole year to think about how!

  3. I have this problem with CostCo. I can buy anything at CostCo, especially since ours now has a restaurant section (new cookie sheets and cooling racks), as well as clothes and books and movies, and oh yeah, the groceries we go there to buy.
    In the past, most CostCo receipts just got logged under groceries. If C bought some clothes, I’d try to estimate what to pull out and charge his allowance, but dog food, flea treatment, etc just went in the grocery column.
    I’m going to try and be better this year. We’ll see how it goes.

    • I have a general ‘Costco’ monthly budget item. Occasionally, I’ll tap into a couple of the other categories specifically clothing or pets if I happen to buy either.

  4. I can totally relate about the Amazon thing.

    My CC bill looks really confusing because of all the Amazon transactions for my text books. It’s kind of annoyiing.

    I just let December be December and start fresh in January. My spending gets out of control in December too 🙁

    • I guess it’s all about perspective. If they charged us before they shipped the items, I’m sure we’d not be happy about that, and they can’t ship items and then charge at the end, as that wouldn’t make sense from their end. Oh well. It’s still cheaper to buy there than buying from the store (especially in your case with textbooks, which I never had as an option back in my textbook buying days!)

  5. My youngest is 20 months, and this year she really got into Christmas. It was so much fun! Meanwhile, on the other end, my 7.5 year old has reached the age where he is starting to question everything about Santa Claus. I really hope he doesn’t ruin it for the two little ones when he catches on. 🙂

    • With that big of a gap, hopefully he’s willing to work with you as to not spoil the surprise. I never had a sibling to either spoil it for me or to spoil it for, but I’m guessing that little siblings get the rug pulled out from them sooner than older siblings or only children!

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