The holidays can raise stress levels with increased family and social pressure, high expectations, dietary concerns, and personal finances. It’s also common for shoppers to feel pressure to spend more money than feels comfortable during the holidays. Before being tempted to break your budget, consider these budgeting tips to avoid overspending this holiday season:
1. Create a spending plan.
Taking some time to plan your holiday spending is an excellent first step. Start with an amount you’re comfortable spending—either use savings you’ve set aside, determine your discretionary income, or evaluate if you should buy on credit. Then list people on your gift list, events, and items you want to purchase during the holidays. The goal is to assign a value to a person, event, or category and stick to it.
Start with what’s most important to you with an understanding that you might not be able to do everything on your list, and that’s ok. Your goal is to leave the holiday season in good financial standing while taking care of essential holiday purchases. Creating a spending plan will help you get what you need more efficiently and lowers the risk of surprise expenses.
2. Take stock of existing resources.
Before embarking on your holiday spending, gather up all your existing resources. It’s easy to forget what you already have on hand since it’s likely been an entire year since you used them. You’ll need extra items if you’re doing something special this year, like hosting the family get-together. But instead of buying more stuff, consider borrowing essentials from friends and family.
3. Review credit card balances first.
Before you begin your holiday shopping, review all your credit card balances. Add up all your current revolving debt to see where you stand. Understanding your current obligations will give you a clearer view of your finances going into shopping to avoid unmanageable debt. You may even be able to reallocate some of the holiday money toward paying off a credit card as a gift to yourself.
4. Get your shopping done early.
Each year, the holiday shopping season seems to start sooner and sooner. Some retailers start holiday sales in September! Be sure to check for deals and coupons online to help with saving for holidays. Early shoppers have the advantage of the best selections of merchandise. Consider making “big ticket” purchases such as appliances and electronics when the prices are low. Typically, retailers drop prices a few months before the holidays, then again right after the holiday season ends. If you missed the big sale this year, you might be better off waiting.
5. Use cash, not credit cards.
If you’re likely to overspend, using cash over a credit card might be better. Cash is more tangible than credit, and it’s easier to stick to a cash budget vs. the potential of overspending on credit. However, if you use credit cards to your advantage during the holiday season, you can earn cash back and rewards to add more value to your holiday spending. Just be careful to only spend what you can afford to repay.
6. Make a savings pact.
Your loved ones are probably feeling financial pressure, too. Ask them to join you in a savings pact, where all gifts must be under a certain amount. Consider a secret Santa approach and draw names instead of buying gifts for everyone in your family. This isn’t a new idea, and it’s great for families trying to save money. If you’re held responsible by others, you’ll be even more motivated to stay vigilant.
7. Limit spending on yourself.
With all the sales during the holidays, it’s easy to spend too much on yourself. While there’s nothing wrong with rewarding yourself, be aware of your extra spending and keep a limit on these items. Every little bit counts, and often this extra spending isn’t baked into your holiday budget.
8. Don’t overlook the extras.
Many people overspend because they only think about gifts when planning holiday spending. However, there are many expenses that come into play during the holidays. This includes decorations, special food items, travel expenses, and extra supplies for visiting guests. All these extras can add up fast, busting the constraints of even the most stringent budget. Make sure you budget for these extra holiday expenses.
9. Be flexible and shop the sales.
It’s great when you think of the perfect gift for a loved one, but consider being flexible with your gift ideas. Your loved one may be just as happy with something you happen to find on sale. Keep your eye out for bargains, especially during the weeks leading up to the holidays, when stores are eager to lure shoppers in with steep discounts.
10. Get crafty and use your skills.
Consider giving homemade items this holiday season or gifts of your time and skills. This is a great way to save a few dollars and let your loved ones know how special they are. Recipients often appreciate the time and effort you put into creating them, and it’s an opportunity for you to add a personal touch. Use online resources such as Pinterest for inspiration. If you aren’t crafty, consider making holiday cards by hand or using an online template.
11. Give experiences instead of things.
If your generosity is bigger than your budget, consider giving experiences instead of material items. Experiences often bring greater joy and lasting memories, whereas the happiness from store-bought gifts can be short-lived. The value of spending time with a loved one to go hiking or picnicking by a lake is far greater than a designer sweater or a kitchen appliance. Other ideas include babysitting, running errands, or taking extra turns caring for elderly parents.
12. Think outside the box.
Many gift ideas don’t cost much money yet are just as nice as traditional items from a store. For instance, a monthly book subscription can be as inexpensive as $10, bringing a smile throughout the year. Upgrading a sports TV package costs little upfront because your payments are spread out over the year. Consider giving the gift of family history with a custom photo album created digitally or printed online by an on-demand printer. Think outside the box, and you’ll come up with even more affordable ideas.
13. Offset purchases with savings.
Cutting back on regular expenses during the holiday season is a good strategy to avoid overspending. Small, simple changes could keep you within your budget. For instance, switch to less expensive brands at the supermarket for a month or two or find other ways to save on grocery shopping. Plan errands, so you use less gas. Be vigilant about energy use to curb utility bills. These little savings can add up.
14. Create your savings plan for the New Year.
Wherever you are in the holiday season, it’s not too early to start planning for next year. Sit down and write out a savings plan for the upcoming year that will put you in a better position this same time a year from now. This can help you feel good about being fiscally responsible and motivate you to avoid overspending during the holidays.
Get started early by setting aside a small amount of each paycheck for annual holiday spending. When the season arrives, doing your holiday shopping won’t be a large financial burden. The sooner you start saving ahead of time, the less it will impact your wallet.
15. Realize you don’t have to outdo yourself.
The pressure to outdo yourself with holiday shopping every year can be stressful and budget-busting. Social media makes it even harder, with high expectations set by friends, family, acquaintances or influencers. But there’s no need to outdo yourself or live up to unrealistic expectations; in the end, no one who cares about you wants to put you in a bad financial position.
Make it easy on yourself—and your wallet—during the holidays by implementing some of these budgeting tips. The holiday season can be just as joyful, and you won’t miss the added financial stress.
For in-depth one-on-one help with your finances, consider financial counseling from Green Path. Also, you can find more tips on managing a budget any time of year and build your financial knowledge with Enrich.