'Tis the Season to be merry and spend money! As joyful as this season is, it is easy to get caught in the trap of overspending which leads to buyer’s remorse come January when your credit card bill arrives. Here are some tips and tricks to help you have a merry holiday season without the stress and anxiety from spending too much.

1) Make a budget and stick to it. 

The main reason people get into trouble and overspend is because they don’t have a holiday budget. A holiday budget is where you list all of your upcoming expenses that are over and above your normal monthly expenses such as presents, charitable giving, and extra food to feed company. The more you can write down and itemize the better you will be at allocating where your dollars need to go. Typically, this budget should be reviewed every January so that you can put away a specific amount every month leading up to December to be able to cover your additional holiday expenses. When the holidays arrive you will already have a stash of cash put aside and no need to rack up credit card debt.

Download our fillable Holiday Expenses Planner to track your spending this holiday season then use our budget template in the New Year to get started saving for next year!

2) Avoid overspending. 

This is definitely easier said than done. Once you have identified how much you can afford to spend at Christmas and what you need to spend your money on then it’s time to have a discussion with your family on what can and cannot be on their Holiday wish lists. Remember it is called a “Wish List” not a “Needs List”. Say little Johnny wants to that ridiculously overpriced toy that is all the rage this year. Perhaps Johnny gets his wish but that could be his only gift as it blows the entire budget that was set for him. As a parent it is hard to deny your children what they have their hearts set on but it is also your responsibility to teach them healthy spending habits. Buying everything for everyone may make you look like you have it all figured out and perhaps it may even make you the best “mom” or “daughter” or “dad” for the minute that it takes them to open the present. However, would your friends and family want you going into debt to buy them an extravagant gift that you can’t really afford?

3) Find ways to save money. 

Remember the holiday season is supposed to be about spending time with loved ones. No one ever said it has to be about spending large amounts of money. Here are a few tips to help you save:

  • Consider doing a secret Santa gift exchange instead of buying a present for each person. Everyone’s name goes into a hat, you draw one name and this is the person you buy a present for. A limit can be set for the present so that everyone spends the same amount of money. Large families (and even small ones) that follow this practice end up saving money and time. It’s easier and cheaper to buy one present for $100 than six presents for $50 each. Your family might really appreciate you suggesting this alternative as you likely aren’t the only one with financial concerns.
  • Decide to limit who you buy presents for. Perhaps you choose to only buy for your immediate family and if you want to exchange gifts with friends you make something. You would likely want to let your friends know that this is what you are doing so that you don’t feel bad if they buy you something.
  • Declare the holidays to be a “DIY” celebration. This means you actually make the gifts rather than purchase them from retailers. Be careful here though as some DIY projects end up costing you more than you think. You can find lots of fun project ideas online and this is a great way to spend some fun family time.
  • Consider going gift free this year and donate time and/or money to charity instead. Send Christmas cards to those that were on your list to buy for and include a note explaining what charity you supported and why. Sharing a touching story of how your contribution made a difference might just inspire your friends and family to do the same.

4) Be smart about groceries and meals. 

When it comes to purchasing the extra groceries for the holiday cheer get-together and for when the in-laws that descend on your house for a week, the best idea is to create a meal plan. When you decide ahead of time what you are making you can look through daily flyers to see what items are on sale and buy them in advance (as long as they are non-perishable). Creating a meal plan also cuts down on food waste which is comparable to throwing your money into the compost bin. If you have family staying with you for an extended period of time perhaps request some help with the grocery bill or suggest that they contribute a meal or two.

5) Get in the spirit with charitable giving. 

This is the season when the requests for donations increase considerably. Whether it’s the kids’ holiday fundraising efforts or charities looking for a donation, set a budget for what you can afford to give and stick to it. Pick what charities or fundraising efforts to support and politely say, “I have already made my holiday donations thank you” to those you that are not on your list. It is okay to say no!

The holiday season is meant to be a time of joy not stress and anxiety. If you go into the holidays armed with a plan and a budget it will give you the confidence to say no when you need to and help eliminate the overspending that comes with impulse purchases.

Happy Holidays everyone!