Avoiding a Holiday Budget Breakdown

The holidays are supposed to be special, and spending money isn’t a sin. But you can avoid a lot of the craziness and the large price tag that comes with it.

Remove the financial sting and make the season special again with these helpful hints.

You can’t follow a budget if you don’t make one
“I think we’ve all gotten used to going into the holiday season without any kind of list of who we’re really getting gifts for,” says The Associates Group CEO Alan Nadolna. “It’s not unusual to be getting gifts for everyone ranging from the mail delivery person to service staff at clubs and so on.”

Nadolna recommends a couple of steps prior to determining a budget—first, do what is hard—pull out last year’s credit card bills and take a good look at what was really spent, and where. “If we don’t know—and we probably don’t—what we spent last year, it’s hard to really determine how to make your list manageable,” he says.

Next? Determine your priorities. “We’ve all established expectations on the part of our gift recipients, for example, our kids,” Nadolna says. “If your finances have taken a downturn, it’s not a bad idea to have a conversation with them. Tell them things aren’t as great, hopefully it’s temporary, but that gift giving is going to be pared back.”

You can spend less and give more
Nadolna says these conversations, especially with your kids, can lead to inspiring ideas. It’s making them part of the decision-making, and increasing their level of involvement, that can make a big difference.

He says, “Sometimes, when you have that conversation with your kids, they come up with ideas about doing things for others,” he says. “Kids will often say, “Why don’t you get me less and we do something for someone else?

Organization never takes a holiday
Once you’ve placed a ceiling on your holiday spending, get it and everything else on paper. Shopping, baking, cleaning, wrapping, decorating—basically every verb in the English language with an “-ing” attached.

“Nothing spreads holiday cheer like a spreadsheet,” says Creative Organization Solutions proprietor Tory Day. “List everyone you need to buy for—don’t forget your kids’ teachers, the UPS guy, and your mother-in-law. Enter the estimated or budgeted price, and where you might buy the item. Keep track of everything you buy and how much you spend. This will help you avoid the trap of worrying at the last minute if you have enough gifts for everyone, and, with kids, that the loot is equal.”

No one likes a martyr
More often than not, women try to make the holidays the one time of year they attempt to live up to some scary ideal—perfect presents, perfect treats, perfect home, perfect you. Give yourself an inexpensive but oh-so-valuable gift this year—cut yourself some slack.

“Kids don’t care if your cupcakes come from Jewel,” says Day. “If baking isn’t your thing, don’t stress over it.”

Another way to gift yourself? Avoid the $150 cupcakes, says Day.

“Time is money. If ordering gifts online or buying instead of baking frees up your time to earn a living, then you save money in the long run. Those homemade cupcakes could be costing you a lot more than you think if that’s time you could be spending on your real work.”

Looking for a few quick tips and gift ideas that’ll save a little green?

  • Keep that receipt. You can’t always wait for something to go on sale. Buy it, then if you see it go on sale, ask for a price adjustment.
  • Keep in mind stores that sell great last-minute gifts. “Stores like Pier 1 and World Market have unique items that can be picked up last minute and will not break your budget,” says Day.
  • Instead of a long weekend away, how about one at home? Alone? There’s something to be said for your significant other piling the kids in the car to go to Grandma’s house, leaving you home with your favorite book, DVR full of unwatched episodes of “Mad Men” and scrapbooks that haven’t been touched in two years.
  • A box doesn’t have to be big to have a huge impact. College kids always need restaurant gift cards and fast food coupons, athletes are always losing water bottles, and little girls still get giggly over lip gloss and hair bands!