The holidays are a notoriously expensive time of year. Many people will be facing a credit card hangover in January, but you can avoid sharing in those regrets if you take charge of your spending now. Figure out your overall budget for the holidays, then plan your spending in advance. Even if it doesn’t seem possible to stay within your limits, keep chipping away until you have a workable plan.
Remember that all holiday spending falls in the “luxury” category. You don’t need to spend a single dime on gifts, decor, or entertainment to stay alive through the season, and your loved ones genuinely don’t want you to go into debt for them.
However, if you follow these six tips, you can probably manage to buy some gifts.
Set Your Gift Budget
First, decide how much you can realistically afford to spend on gifts. Then make a list of the people you’d like to buy for, and set a budget for each person. The numbers will add up quickly, and you may feel overwhelmed, but keep taking breaks and coming back until you have a workable budget. If you have children, talk to them honestly about budgets and help them achieve realistic expectations. Keep them focused on giving instead of receiving by helping them make gifts for their family members. Christmas cards can save a lot of money.
Eliminate Some Gifting
If your funds are limited, reserve them for those closest to you. If you’ve gotten in the habit of exchanging gifts with acquaintances, coworkers, and neighbors, talk to them about eliminating the gifts and suggest getting together for lunch after the holidays instead. They will probably be relieved, and spending time together is so much more valuable than the trinkets you would buy for each other.
Give Shared Experiences
Adults who feel close to each other often feel compelled to overspend in order to show their love, even when everyone involved has more material possessions than they can possibly store. If this is your custom with your spouse, romantic partner, siblings, parents, or friends, talk together about it. Suggest that you pool your funds and enjoy a special experience together instead of buying each other more things. Set a budget together and splurge on a spa day, weekend getaway, live theater event, or concert tickets. If money is really tight, plan to cook a meal together, take a hike, or visit a museum on a free day.
If you ask adults to tell you what they remember about Christmas from their childhoods, they’ll rarely talk about the gifts they received. They’ll usually start by saying “My family always . . .” and then relate several traditions that bound them together as a family. Your children will do the same when they’re grown. They won’t remember whether there were two presents or ten under the tree in any given year, and they won’t remember what was inside most of them. Instead, they’ll remember baking cookies with you, making gingerbread houses, or driving around looking at Christmas lights. Put your effort into creating the family rituals that your children really crave instead of worrying about spending on gifts.
Upgraded Tech for Teens
If you have teenagers in your family, they are no doubt clamoring for the latest mobile devices, such as the Samsung Galaxy S7 edge, as gifts. Check your carrier’s website to see whether any of your family members are due for an upgrade, and you may be able to make those dreams come true on a dime.
Try a Financial Starvation Diet
The idea of saving up in advance for a big expense may seem old-fashioned, but it’s still the best strategy available. In the weeks leading up to the holidays, declare a moratorium on personal spending. Other than buying groceries and gas and paying bills, see whether you can get through one day at a time without spending a single dime on personal shopping, restaurant meals, coffee shops, or entertainment.
Decide in advance not to give in to the pressures of a commercial holiday. Focusing on your connection with others and the rituals of the season instead of on gift-giving may boost your holiday spirit in addition to protecting your pocketbook.