Posted on by Anastasia

The holidays are the most joyful time of the year, but they can also be the most stressful, especially when your money is stretched thin. But with a little planning and foresight, you can ensure you enjoy your holiday season without going broke. Here are five ways to help keep your expenses in check this season.

Budget, List and Stick (To It)

The most important tool for reigning in holiday expenses is a list and a budget. First, make a list of everything you think you’ll be purchasing over the holidays. This not only includes gifts for everyone on your list, but also holiday cards, wrapping, decorations, food, and beverage. Once you have this all down on paper, it’s easier to begin to see how quickly costs can add up. Figure out what you can reasonably afford for each of your expenses, and set a price limit on each item on your list. Keep your list and budget handy throughout the holiday season (especially when you are shopping) and be conscientious about remaining within your budget.

Envelope Budget

One easy way to help you do this is to use an “envelope budget,” where you essentially use cash for every cost on your list. The most basic way to do this is to gather the total amount of cash that covers your listed budget, then divide it into separate envelopes for each individual item on your list. Then, pay with this cash every time you make a holiday purchase. When the cash from each individual envelope is gone, you have no more money to spend on that item. If dealing with hard currency and envelopes sounds like too much of a hassle, there are a variety of apps and software that will allow you to set up an envelope budget digitally.

Homemade / Gift of Time

If you are crafty, handy, or have a particular hobby or skill at which you’re proficient, homemade gifts and services are a great alternative to store bought items. Are you a great baker? Spend a day making your specialty cookies, and dole them out to neighbors, co-workers, and friends. Good with cars? Take an afternoon and give your grandfather’s car that much-needed tune up. Thoughtful gestures like these often mean much more to your friends and loved ones than another scented candle or necktie ever will.

Secret Santa / White Elephant

If you have a long list of people for whom you typically buy gifts, you may be able to cut down on costs by instituting a “Secret Santa” or “White Elephant”  (also sometimes called a “Yankee Swap”) gift exchange among a group such as co-workers, or a bunch of adults in the same family. In a “Secret Santa” everyone draws a name from a hat and buys a gift for that person. Oftentimes, a price limit is set on the gift so everyone’s gift is of more or less the same value. Everyone receives something, and you only need to buy one gift. A White Elephant / Yankee Swap works similarly, but where everyone chooses an unused or gently used item from their home and “regifts” it. White Elephant gift exchanges can be quite fun, and a simple Google search will even show you how to make it into a fun party game!

Post-holiday Sales and Strategic Shopping

One of the best ways you can “save” for the holidays is by planning for next year. The day after Christmas, all wrapping, cards, and decorations that remain in the stores go on sale. This is an excellent time to stock up on the items you need every year at a fraction of the costs. Stow these things in your closet or attic until next year, and you’ll feel such a sense of relief at being already prepared next December. Also, pay attention to your loved ones throughout the year. If they express a want or need, make a note and buy gifts slowly through the winter, spring, and summer months. This also gives you an opportunity to take advantage of sales that may fall outside of the holiday season. And, by the time it comes around to gift-giving once again, you’ll already be done!

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