Holiday Spending: Spread Cheer Without Spreading Your Finances Too Thin

Image of a shopping back with a photo of a snowflake on it

The fall decorations—pumpkins and haystacks and scarecrows—are just making their way onto porches, but you know what that means? The December holiday season is just weeks away. Time to decorate, shop, bake, party, shop, dress up, shop. It’s easy to be swept into the very expensive winter months, but poor holiday planning can result in a very painful and expensive January.

What’s a festive person to do?

Start by creating a holiday budget and sticking to it. Obvious, right? But you may want to consider a few other tips to prep for the end of 2017.

Determine how much you can spend. Be specific and set an actual number. Is your budget $100, $500, $2,000? Once you land on the right figure for you, communicate expectations. Perhaps you agree to only spend so much on your significant other and children. Maybe there is a gift maximum. Some parents have come up with traditions for gift giving—something you need, something to read, something you want. Three gifts, and that’s it. Maybe you elect to take the holiday budget and put it toward a family vacation. Bottom line? Communicate and everyone will be clear on what to expect.

Remember to budget for everything. Holiday cards and postage. Teacher gifts. The office gift exchange. Stocking stuffers. Wrapping paper. Wine and dessert for the parties you’ll attend. It all adds up, and many often solely account for the big gifts. When you factor in these extras, you can easily spend several hundred more. And don’t forget the big family meal. Those holiday hams don’t come cheap!

Shop early. Some family planners start stashing away gifts throughout the year. That’s one way to spread out the spend. But even if you haven’t had a chance to shop the summer sales, you can shop in October and November, keeping an eye out for specials. Plus, if you wait until the final week to shop, you’ll likely be stressed and hurried to cross everyone off your list, and may end up overspending.

Don’t get caught up in sales that don’t apply to you. The stores will surely present many offers throughout the season, but if sales gifts are not on your list, don’t get suckered into buying. That will just result in going off budget.

Keep track of your spend along the way. Save those receipts and note when you’ve completed shopping for someone on your list. Especially if you shop in advance, you might forget you already bought several gifts for the kids and stashed them away in the hall closet! Remember and record your hiding spots, and adjust your spend if you start to exceed your budget. If dollars are running tight, consider making gifts or skipping out on a party. Instead, maybe you get together with friends and enjoy a potluck dinner.

The holidays are about family and friends, not lavish gifts, so no need to put your budget into a strain for the following year. Happy shopping!

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