/How to Keep Your Budget in Check this Holiday Season

How to Keep Your Budget in Check this Holiday Season

Ah, the holidays. Amid the cheer, festive gatherings with loved ones, and stress from the inevitable craziness, if not careful, they could put a serious dent on your credit cards. While it’s certainly not news that the holidays happen every year, they do have a way of unexpectedly creeping up on us.

However, with a bit of prep, you can avoid those cringeworthy “overspend” moments, and avoid suffering from holiday debt hangover. Here are some ways to keep your spending in check this time around:

Create a Holiday Spending Plan

You may have a budget, or spending plan, for your your day-to-day living expenses. Create a spending plan for holiday-related expenses to see how much you’ll need saved up. This may include traveling to see family, gifts, cards, gift card, party attire for get-togethers, and pet or kid care while you’re out.

Next, estimate how much you roughly need for each expense. I have an spreadsheet just for gifts. For each person I’ll note a few gift-giving ideas plus my spending limit. That way I don’t buy something nilly-willy, and in turn spend more than you I can ultimately afford.

Reduce the Obligations

The holidays are oftentimes a mix of obligations and stuff you enjoy doing. For instance, purchasing a gift for that less-than-pleasant relative you only see once a year, or attending your company party when you’d rather nest at home, feel like obligations. But if you love to bake, then making pound cake for your coworkers is a delightful task.

Jot down what are things you feel you need to do, and things you need to do. You could separate them into “fun” and “no fun” lists. Then go over the “obligations” list to see what you can appropriately nix. If you can’t forgo the obligation completely, figure out a way to bump down the investment of time or money.

For instance, do you really need to buy individual gifts for your uncle, aunt, and their five kids? Or will a single gift for the entire family do? Or do you have to attend every holiday-related gathering, or can you be more selective?

Over the years I’ve set a no-gift rule for my friends. Instead, we plan to get together for a low-key gathering. And I’m trying to gently nudge my family to skip gift-giving altogether (swapping gift cards or cash is kind of silly) and go on a day trip instead. Not only does this save you money, but it cuts down on the stress.

Side Hustle

If you expect an end-of-year-bonus or cash gifts during the holidays, consider taking on extra work. This is only if you have the time and energy to do it. The end of year is usually a busy time, so if moonlighting will only stress you out even more, don’t do it. In the past I’ve catsat and test proctored in December, which boosted my income by $600 or so. While it doesn’t seem like a huge amount of money, it helped me stay out of holiday debt. Plus, when I was catsatting I was still about to do a lot of my work and get my holiday tasks taken care of.

If you decide to side hustle during the holidays, think of low-stress, easy, and fun jobs you could take on. For instance, if you already have kids, maybe watching another kid or two at your home won’t feel like that much extra work. Or if you love animals, take on pet sitting gigs.

Start Your Shopping Early

If you can, try to finish before Black Friday, recommends Kristen Ricupero, a financial coach and owner of Financial Fitness Coaching. “Black Friday deals tempt you to buy things you don’t need, for yourself at a time we should be giving,” says Ricupero. “If you watch carefully, there are generally just as good sales running September to Thanksgiving.”

My mom, the expert deal-spotter she is, swoops in on deals all year long. And by November she has gifts for almost everyone on her list accounted for.

Get Resourceful

There are a plenty of ways to save on your holiday spending without making major lifestyle changes. Shop in your closet, and see if you can add a fresh spin on a fancy dress or holiday party-appropriate suit. Sometimes all it takes are fun earrings, a festive tie pair of cufflinks to breath new life into an initially drab ensemble.

I also am a big fan of using craft paper and holiday ribbons in lieu of standard holiday wrapping paper. And this year I plan to bake up a storm instead of purchasing gifts for my coworking friends and neighbors.

Host a Stuff Swap

Organize a gathering where you can swap unwanted items. You never know, you might find some great stocking stuffers, gift wrap, cards, or decorations that will save you some dough. I’m part of a local Time Bank, where we offer help in exchange for hours, and a Buy Nothing Project group, where we give things away to our neighbors.

Involve Your Family

If you have a big family, do a White Elephant exchange where each family member brings a gift that’s no more than twenty dollars, suggests Amy Schultz, financial coach and CEO of Financial and Female. Holidays with my extended family resemble that of a daycare operation—there are about 20 kids, plus a swarm of pets running around.

“If you feel the need to buy for all the littles in your life, decide what the total amount you want to spend, then divide by the number of kids,” says Schultz. “If it ends up being five dollars per kid, get creative! You want to avoid setting a budget of $30 per kid only to realize you’ve spent $500 on every kid you know.

Drum Up a Plan for Credit Debt Repayment

If you’ve done all you can to keep your holiday spending in check, but fear you might still need to accrue a bit of credit card debt, first off, accept it. Don’t beat yourself up over it. While it’s not ideal, it’s worse if you don’t pay attention to what you’re doing and go hog-wild. But if you’re going to put a few purchases on your credit card, set a limit, and commit to a repayment plan after the holidays.

By preparing now, you can avoid going overboard with the spending. And what better way to ring in the new year than by being free of holiday debt?


The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinion or view of Intuit Inc, Mint or any affiliated organization. This blog post does not constitute, and should not be considered a substitute for legal or financial advice. Each financial situation is different, the advice provided is intended to be general. Please contact your financial or legal advisors for information specific to your situation.

Jackie Lam ( 9 Posts)

Jackie Lam is a personal finance writer. Her work has appeared in Investopedia, Magnify Money and The Bold Italic, and she’s been featured in Money, Kiplinger, Forbes and Woman’s Day. She runs Cheapsters.org, a blog to help freelancers and artists with their money, and to balance their passion projects and careers.