Ah, the holiday season. The time of year that we eat, drink, and more often than not, spend far more than we should. Without fail, we start each new year 10 pounds overweight and with much lighter pockets… and why? Because “that’s what the holidays are about!”

With that said, if calories aren’t the only thing you’re thinking about cutting back on this season, you’re in good company. While we don’t have the stats on food and drink consumption handy, we do have the stats on planned holiday spending in 2020 – and a staggering 40% of people plan to spend less on the holidays than they did last year.

Fewer large family gatherings, less travel, less available income – there are a number of reasons this is the case. And although our celebrations may look a bit different this year, holiday shopping remains a major source of financial stress for many.

Believe it or not, worrying about money during the holidays is not a requirement. With the help of the 5 holiday budgeting tips we’re going to share next, you’ll be able to step into the new year with more financial confidence and more money in your wallet.

Make a list and set a limit

Before you think about browsing online or taking a trip to the mall, it’s crucial that you know the answers to two very important questions:

  • How much do you want to spend?
  • How much can you comfortably spend?

Answering the first question is usually pretty easy, it’s the second one that’s tougher to crack – especially if you’re the type to avoid looking at receipts while holiday shopping. To find the answer to the second question, you’re going to have to take a close look at your budget.

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If you haven’t created a budget yet, make it a goal to accomplish this year! While it may feel uncomfortable at first, it’s the fastest way to minimize financial stress in your life – especially during the holiday season. Check out our step-by step guide on creating a budget here:

Or, if you already have a detailed budget you consult regularly, great! You might find the resource linked below has some valuable tips for more effective management.

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After reviewing your budget, you should have an idea of how much you can comfortably afford to spend on gifts and other holiday items. That’s your spending limit. Whatever you do, no matter how good the deals are – do not go over the spending limit you set for yourself. Holding yourself accountable here will help you save big in the long run and keep the holiday spending blues at bay.

Now it’s time for the fun part – who gets what! Write a list of people you’re planning on getting gifts for this year and set a spending limit for each person. Remember to set aside some money for wrapping paper, holiday cards, and other supplies you’ll need as well.

Get creative

If you find that your spending limit won’t cover the gifts you’d like to buy, resist the temptation to take on the extra debt. The best gifts come from the heart, after all – why not try going the DIY route? Candles, ornaments, gift baskets, and even baked goods are all great presents to give and come with that thoughtful touch.

Because money is a bit tighter for most this year, “Secret Santa” gift exchanges have become a popular option. The rules of the exchange are simple:

  • Everyone participating puts their name on a slip of paper
  • The slips of paper are put in a bowl or hat and randomly drawn
  • Whoever you pull (don’t tell anyone!), that’s who you’re getting a gift for

The specifics are up to you and your family or friends, but most people set an affordable limit of $10-$50 per gift. Everyone saves money, everyone gets a gift, and no one feels left out!

It’s easy to forget that the meaning and thought behind a gift is much more important than the price tag. Remember, the point of the holidays is to enjoy good times with your friends and family – the amount of money you spend doesn’t matter.

Skip the credit cards, stick with cash

Research has shown that people spend substantially more money when they make purchases on a credit card instead of cash. You may have even noticed this yourself – it’s often much less painful to swipe away a large balance than it is to fork it over in cash.

The easiest way to avoid overspending? Leave your credit cards tucked in your wallet. Of course, many of us are shopping online this year, so that may not be entirely possible – but this next tip should help.

Try the envelope method:

Let’s say your holiday budget is exactly $1000. Put the $1000 in an envelope (don’t seal it!) and keep it somewhere safe. Whenever you go out shopping, take what you’ll need from the envelope to purchase your gifts. Make sure not to stray from your list, because you won’t be putting more money in the envelope – when it runs out, it runs out.

If you’re using credit cards because you’re shopping online this year, don’t worry – you can still use this method to avoid overspending. After every transaction you make, simply remove the dollar amount (don’t forget shipping costs) from the envelope. Once you’ve crossed everyone off your list, deposit the cash “spent” back into your checking account.

Whether you’re shopping online, in-store, or a mix of both, this technique provides a surefire way to stay safely within your holiday budget.

See what money-saving browser extensions have to offer

Over the last few years, money-saving browser extensions have become a big hit – and if you haven’t jumped on the train yet, you could be missing out on big savings. With one click, these extensions search for discount codes relevant to the website you’re shopping on, and bam – you just saved some serious cash. Better yet, most money-saving extensions are completely free to download and installation is a cinch.

If you’re interested in seeing what money-saving browser extensions could do for your holiday budget, consider giving one of these popular options a try:

Save early, shop early

This may come across as a “well, duh” tip, but it needs to be mentioned – to beat holiday stress next year, do yourself a favor and start saving and shopping early! Don’t wait until next November to find the $1000 you’ll be putting in your holiday budget envelope. Instead, try setting aside $100/month from January to October. By November, you’ll have the money you need without the pain of a hefty withdrawal.

Similarly, rather than waiting until November or December to get your shopping done, start purchasing gifts earlier in the year. Retailers know that many people wait until the last minute to shop and their prices tend to reflect that.

By starting earlier, you also get the benefit of tracking price changes over a longer period of time. Maybe that piece of tech you were eyeing up in July was a little too expensive at its $300 price point. After doing a bit of research, you see they have a blowout sale coming up in September where you can grab it for $200 instead.

You can price track manually, but there are a number of tools (including some of the extensions mentioned above) that do it for you automatically. Some will even notify you if a product you’re searching for is cheaper on another site, which is invaluable when you’re trying to stick to your holiday budget. Doing a bit of research on price tracking tools could be your key to saving big next year.

Happy Holidays to All

We hope these holiday budgeting tips above have given you a few strategies to keep your finances in order this season. Remember:

  • Set your spending limit, write your list, and stick to it
  • Skip the credit cards, stick with cash, and don’t forget about the envelope method
  • Save early and shop early to minimize financial stress

And before we wrap up here, we have one final note:

If you can swing it, try to support some of the small businesses in your area this season. It’s been a tough year for all of us, but small business owners have been hit particularly hard – and they deserve to enjoy their holidays as well. Major retailers are great for savings (so take advantage of their deals), but small businesses support your community and are invested in its future. They’re the ones working hard to make your town, city, or neighborhood unique and special – so throw some good cheer their way this year if you can.

We’re wishing you the happiest of holidays and looking forward to what 2021 brings. Here’s to progress!