How to keep holiday spending in check

A holiday budget is an important tool during a season when it’s easy to go overboard.

November 17, 2020
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The holiday season is often equal parts joyful and stressful, full of cooking and baking, shopping for gifts, and decking the halls — and 2020 brings the added challenge of navigating social distancing and Zoom dinners in the age of COVID.

It’s easy to let things get away from us during this season of wish lists and high expectations; in fact, about 20% of Americans admit to putting off paying bills in favor of holiday spending. So as you seek to reduce stress and find joy during an already unusual year, one way you can ease your burden is by creating and sticking to a solid holiday budget. We’ve put together a few tips to help you get through the holidays with your finances unscathed.

Start early and make a list. If you haven’t started buying presents yet, make a list of everyone you plan on giving gifts. If your list has more than five people on it who are outside of your immediate family, take some time to prioritize. You may need to remove some folks from your list or add their names to a separate “if there’s enough money” list.

Set limits. Decide what you can spend and set a spending limit for each person on your list. You may not know what you’re purchasing for each person yet, but having a spending cap gives you some shopping parameters to stick to as you shop.

Decide how you’re paying. The goal is to spend cash. If you’re putting gifts on your credit card, this is a good place to reassess the importance of that gift. Is buying that gift worth the debt? How soon can you pay off the balance? Are there rewards associated with the card you are using (e.g., bonus points, cash back, etc.)? If so, can they be incorporated into your spending plan?

Spread it out. Start shopping as soon as you can, pay attention to sales, and buy a little at a time throughout the holiday season. Track your spending as you go.

Shop with intention. Avoid impulse shopping! Don’t buy the first gift option you see; instead, take a picture of the item or write down what it is and where you saw it so you can come back to that item if needed. Give yourself time to do some comparison shopping to find the best price.

Keep it small and thoughtful. Be intentional about what you’re buying and for whom. Practical gifts are always a good way to go — it may not cost a lot, but if the recipient can use it and use it well, it’s a gift that keeps on giving!

Don’t forget the extras. Sweets and treats for holiday parties, school events, and family gatherings are an easily overlooked expense. New clothes and gifts to take can add up, as well, so you’ll want to add these items to your budget. Decorations can be costly, too; lights, wrapping paper, bows, and stockings can really add up. Limit new purchases, use what you have, and consider shopping post-holiday sales for next year.

Include travel plans. Will you be traveling for the holidays? Consider that when setting your budget and account for plane tickets, gas, rental cars, lodging, incidentals, etc.

Giving counts. Dropping $5 in the donation bucket and other small contributions are important to charities in your community. This is a season of giving, but remember to budget for your offering!

Embrace DIY. Making gifts and goodies with the family can be both budget-friendly and really fun! Just be sure to account for the cost of ingredients/materials in your budget.

Let go of guilt. The most important tip we can give you this holiday season is to let yourself off the hook. Don’t feel guilty for not purchasing a certain gift or spending only a certain amount of money, because that’s really not the point. Spend what you can, even if it means cutting back from previous years or removing people from your buying list. Just do what is best for your wallet and your stress level — your loved ones will love you no matter what you spend.

In summary, enjoy your holiday season by taking a step back and doing what you can, when you can. Remember to budget for often-overlooked expenses, track as you go, and try to use what you have whenever possible. Above all, focus on the thought and enjoy the moment. Happy holidays!

  • Personal
  • Managing Your Money
  • Budgeting

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