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Now that the season is behind us, it is time to start planning for next year’s Holiday Season.  It may not feel ‘magical’ to plan for the Holidays but it could certainly help make them less stressful and hence more ‘magical’.  In an effort to avoid the splurge, overspend, and then regret scenario, I am outlining several ideas below.

No one will deny that the United States has a culture of materialism.  It’s easy to get caught up in buying all the “things” and forgetting what is most important.  Our families and our friends want our time and our love more than anything else.  Recently, there has been a push to provide more “experience-related” gifts: a dinner out together, a special weekend getaway, tickets to a show, or a gift card to art classes.  These gifts don’t take up space and provide memories instead of material things that only pile up and create clutter in our lives.

It’s okay to feel both excited about giving gifts and a little stressed out about the expense of doing so.  Here are a few tips on making sure you stay focused on the holiday spirit without breaking your wallet:

  • Plan ahead & spread out your spending. Sure, people often poke fun of those shoppers who begin their search for gifts early on in the year, but it makes good financial sense.  If you see a gift in June that would be great for your family member, pick it up and save it for Christmas.  This way, you’re not bombarded with 100% of the holiday expenses in one monthly credit card bill.
  • Set up a holiday savings account. Many people choose to save throughout the year in a separate savings account and only use that money for spending on gifts.  Work with your bank to set up this small separate account and contribute to it automatically throughout the year.
  • Use a credit card that provide points. If you use a credit card that provides points for cash back or redeemable gift cards, it can save you the stress of overloading your credit card.  If you accrue points all year, redeem them during the holidays to provide a little extra cash for gifts.
  • Make a strict budget. Especially when you’re purchasing gifts for your own children, it is so easy to keep spending and spending.  Set the limit for each child and stick to it.  They won’t care if they had 5 gifts or 15 gifts, as long as the one thing they really want is right there under the tree.
  • Curb the adult gifts. Many adults don’t really need more things and especially when you get into buying someone a vacuum cleaner, it can feel pretty uninspiring anyway.  Agree to exchange experience gifts instead of things, or simply enjoy each other’s company in lieu of gifts.  Many times, one or more family members also incur travel expenses during the holidays.  Cut those family members some slack and let them know their visit is gift enough.
  • Limit the Number of Gifts or Consider a Secret Santa Exchange. If your family still really enjoys opening gifts as adults, be sure to set a budget together for each person, or consider a Secret Santa or White Elephant gift exchange instead of giving a gift to each family member.
  • Consider Online Shopping. One benefit of online shopping is that you can see your total cost right there in your “cart.”  When you’re shopping in the store, it’s easy to just keep throwing things in the cart, but when you see the total in black and white online, it’s easier to stick to your budget.  If you still really love shopping in person, stock up on your coupons and keep track of those price tags!

Whatever you do to alleviate your spending stress, remember next December to focus on your family and friends.  Put down your cell phones, don’t argue about politics, and engage in your time-honored traditions.  Being present and showing your love is the greatest gift of all.