A Holiday Budget Q&A with The Budget Mom, Kumiko Ehrmantraut, Part I

Holiday Budget

Kumiko Ehrmantraut is the owner and creator of The Budget Mom. She started working in the finance industry in 2011, shortly after graduating college with a Finance Major. She obtained her Accredited Financial Counselor® designation in 2015 and is passionate about financial literacy. When she is not running her blog you can usually find her behind a camera lens, riding motorcycles with her husband, or coloring with her 4-year-old son. She currently resides in Spokane, Washington.

Hi Kumiko! Thanks so much for participating in our Holiday Budget Q&A! Can you begin by telling us a bit about yourself and your experience in budgeting and finance?

Hello! Thank you so much for allowing me to be a part of OppLoans.

I started working in the finance industry back in 2011, shortly after graduating from Eastern Washington University with a major in Finance.

Like most people, when I graduated college, I had no clue on how to manage my money. I had excessive student loan debt, racked up credit cards, and I had no idea on how to handle it all.

Shortly after graduating, I accepted a job at a local financial advisory firm, and that’s when I was forced to take a hard look at my personal finances. I sat down, created a budget and started a debt payoff plan.

After five years, I have paid off over $20,000 in credit card debt and more than $10,000 in student loan debt. During my financial journey, I developed a deep passion for financial literacy, and in 2015 I obtained my Accredited Financial Counselor® designation so I could help people find the same success and freedom that I found.

Budgeting changed my life, and I know it can change other people’s lives as well.

Budgeting changed my life, and I know it can change other people’s lives as well.

My passion to help others led to the creation of The Budget Mom, a blog I created to help people manage their money in all stages of life. It’s the ultimate online resource for real women who are looking to live a life they love on a budget they can afford. For me, financial freedom isn’t just about the right budgeting techniques or the best way to save money. It’s about accepting who you are, what you want, and making lifestyle changes to achieve those things.

Throughout my financial journey, I have realized two things. First, your real self is more important than your ideal self and secondly, and more importantly, a life of abundance is not about what you have but how you live.

What would you say is the biggest challenge for families trying to budget for the holiday season?

There are a lot of challenges when it comes to budgeting for the holidays.

One of those challenges is overspending. It is so easy to go over budget when you are attempting to keep up with the spending of others and are buying gifts out of guilt. If you have a small budget to work with, don’t feel like the scrooge if you are not spending or giving as much as friends and relatives.

Last minute holiday shopping also makes budgeting hard. With convincing holiday sales, extra gifts can add up, even if they aren’t that expensive. Adding additional people to your holiday gift buying list also can cause financial stress during the holidays.

Another big challenge I see when it comes to budgeting for the holidays is counting on holiday bonuses as guaranteed income. You should never include bonus money in your holiday budget. If you do overspend, and the bonus never happens, this can lead to a financial hole that you might be digging yourself out of for a long time.

Forgetting to add holiday expenses to your budget can also result in significant problems. Gift giving only makes up one part of your holiday budget. Make sure you add other costs such as food, travel expenses, gas, and holiday décor to your holiday budget. The best rule when it comes to budgeting for the holidays is, if you are going to spend money on it, it needs to be in your budget.

How can parents prepare themselves and their finances for the upcoming holiday season?

You have to have a plan. That’s the best and most valuable advice I can give to parents. Without it, you are setting yourself up for failure. The best way to prepare your finances is to create a holiday budget.

Take one night out of your week and sit down with your significant other. It’s important that everyone in the house is on the same page.

During this time, take a chance to determine how much you want to spend. Write out a list of the things you want to spend money on and how much you want to spend for each category. Here is a list of some of the most common holiday expenses:

  • Gifts (list the amount per person)
  • Gas and travel expenses
  • Holiday décor
  • Charitable offerings
  • Holiday photos and greeting cards
  • Holiday clothing
  • Food

During this time, make sure you separate your wants from your needs. You may want to spend $500 on professional family photos, but maybe you can only afford to have pictures taken at your house by a family friend.

It’s an excellent idea to set boundaries on how much you are willing to spend on each child. As parents, this will allow you to stay on track. Once you have your limits set, the only job you have is sticking to them.

It’s also handy to label each expense by priority. Prioritizing will help you if you are short on funds. Simply eliminate the things that are not that important and keep the things that matter to you.

What common tips or tricks for a frugal holiday do you use in your own life? Do they always work?

I have always been a creative at heart. I love doing artwork and crafts. In fact, it’s something that I enjoy doing with my son.

One of the ways we keep costs down during the holiday season is by making a lot of our own holiday décor. I am a huge Dollar Store DIY lover and a lot of the decorations you see in my house are things that only cost me a few dollars. Of course, when you are working with unconventional materials and a tutorial you have never seen before, things can go wrong.

Another area we save during the holidays is by shopping at thrift or consignment shops. For the last 3 years, I was able to purchase my son’s Halloween costume for less than $10. Some of the best things to buy at the thrift store include:

  • Christmas tree decorations
  • Children clothing
  • Dinner placemat settings

You could easily spend more than $100 on Christmas tree decorations at a normal store. Some of the more elaborate Christmas tree decorations can cost you more than $10 each. My son and I like to go and get the Christmas tree ball ornaments and paint them when we get home. It makes the decorations on the tree more of a holiday tradition than just a pretty decoration.

Of course, life happens and things don’t always work out. We spent a whole day looking for a Halloween costume this year for my son, and we just couldn’t find one that fit him at our normal thrift store. It was poorer planning on my part, as we got a late start this year on Halloween.

Check back tomorrow for Part II!

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