With holiday merriment in full force, it can be easy to ignore holiday spending mistakes and start your new year trying to pay off holiday debt. Make sure your holiday season is filled with joy and cheer instead of the guilt and anxiety that comes from overspending with these four expert tips to avoid the most common spending mistakes.

1. Make a list of whom you WANT to buy for

Saint Nick isn’t wrong in making a list and checking it twice. With so many people in your life, how do you know where to draw the line on who to buy for? Feeling an obligation to buy gifts for an ever-lengthening list can negatively impact your holiday cheer and your finances. The bottom line is not to buy for people because you feel you should; if you’re going to buy gifts, do so for a select few because you want to, no because you feel you must.

Write a list of everyone you instinctively think you need to buy a gift for. Then, review the list and separate those you feel you WANT to buy for and those you feel you SHOULD buy for. Remember to be realistic who is in which category. With those you feel you want to buy for, consider facilitating a Secret Santa instead of buying for each person individually to relieve more financial pressure.

This is not an easy thing to do! Here’s an idea from Sybil to avoid overspending on co-workers without feeling guilty:

“Several years ago, I used to buy a little something for everyone in my office because I wanted to. I then realized it created a feeling of obligation for my co-workers to return the gesture which was not my intention. Instead of buying gifts for each other, we collectively decided to sponsor a family which provided a fun team-building activity while giving back to those in need. It worked with everyone’s budget and eliminated the stress of shopping for too many people.”

2. Don’t give away more than you can afford

It’s no secret the kind and giving human nature is amplified by the holidays (yes, there are a few exceptions to that statement but let’s leave Scrooge out of things). While good tide and cheer should be embraced, it will be beneficial to set boundaries on giving as it’s easy to give more than you afford during the holidays with many non-profit organizations asking for donations at shopping hotspots.

Be deliberate with your giving by setting an amount you know you can afford and dedicating it to an organization you want to support. This can help relieve feelings of guilt or resistance to saying no to other asks by allowing you to respond, “I already gave a lump sum to my charity of choice.” It’s also important to remember that money is not the only form of giving; donations of time or second-hand goods are also greatly appreciated by many non-profit organizations. Try organizing a volunteer experience or a closet clean-out with your friends!

3. Set a budget

While this is a great way to avoid overspending year-round, a budget can be especially helpful during the holidays to figure out how much you can spend and only spending that amount. Download our free, fillable Holiday Expense Tracker to get started!

Here are some ideas on how to make all of your holiday spending fit within your budget:

  • Set price limits on presents. Remember, it’s not how much you spend but the thought that counts. There are tons of great gift ideas for $20 or less that a few Google searches can inspire.
  • Make your gifts. Nothing says you care like a homemade gift. Try baking, sewing, woodwork, arts and crafts, or even creating a music playlist.
  • Opt for reusable wrapping. Bows, ribbon, wrapping paper, bags and cards can really add up even though they all seem inexpensive on their own. Not to mention, single use wrapping is no gift to the environment. Instead, re-use wrapping materials from last year, upcycle newspaper or gift in a reusable shopping bag (which can be a handy gift itself).
  • Limit unnecessary decorations. You don’t need to be Martha Stewart to feel festive during the holidays. Wait until after the holiday season and stock up on decorations for next year at a fraction of the cost.

4. Focus on what’s truly important

With the hustle and bustle of the holiday season it can be easy to spend more time at the mall than with loved ones. Don’t lose sight of what the holiday spirit is really all about; enjoying the company of friends and family. Perhaps instead of buying gifts, organize an activity for you and your loved ones to do together such as hiking, touring light displays, volunteering at a non-profit organization or a holiday movie marathon.

To get more tips on avoiding holiday money stress, see our blog post 5 Tactics to Minimize Money Stress Over the Holidays or contact us to ask Sybil a specific question!