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‘Tis (almost) the season: Preparing for holiday spending

 

Though it's only October and we haven't even hit Halloween yet, the holidays will be here before you know it. The end of the year can be stressful on budgets, but imagine saving money this holiday season without having to sacrifice any of the merry and bright memories you look forward to making with friends and family.
 
Even if you’ve stuck to your budget all year long – your debt is dwindling, retirement savings are in good supply, and you have some extra cash stowed away in an emergency fund – in the next month or so, you’ll charge full steam ahead into the most wonderful time of the year. And perhaps, one of the most expensive, with all of the shiny, pine-scented, fresh-baked expenses that come with it.
 
But there’s no need to go grinch stressing over holiday spending. Here are 5 simple tips to help cut down on dollars spent on the hustle and bustle. 
 

1. Ditch your gift budget

This one might sound counterintuitive, but when you cap the amount you’ll spend on gifts, you’re only addressing one portion of your budget. Instead, focus on setting an overall holiday-spending budget that includes all seasonal expenses, like groceries for family feasts, new outfits for parties, and postage for your holiday cards. By setting a budget that is all-encompassing, if you happen to overspend in one area, you can borrow from another. Looking at the big picture will help keep your overall budget in good shape. 
 

2. Curate your calendar

However modest your calendar may be during the rest of the year, there is often an uptick in social opportunities from October through the New Year. But remember that with each party comes its own set of financial obligations, however large or small. From hair appointments and tux rentals (for the formal) to hostess gifts and childcare, it’s easy to blow an entire season’s entertainment budget on just one or two events. So, consider which parties and open houses you most want (or are obligated) to attend and send regrets to the rest. Remember, you can’t be everywhere at once. Give yourself a break.
 

3. Tip cookies, not cash

Your list of who to thank come year end can be long. From mail carriers and pet sitters to teachers and hairdressers, there is no shortage of people to tip for a job well done all year long. But generosity doesn’t have to cost an arm and a leg. Leave cash for those service providers you really want to wow, and bake up a mega batch of cookies, candies or quick bread for the rest. Showing appreciation is about more than monetary giving. 
 

4. Don’t “personalize” for every acquaintance 

You may be tempted to choose a thoughtful gift for each and every person on your list. But one of the easiest ways to save money on gifts is by choosing one or two high-quality, one-size-fits-all items to purchase in bulk for those on your list who you maybe haven’t spoken with in a while, or who are part of your professional network. Some ideas for these types of gifts can include a case of versatile wine, mildly scented candles, or timeless ornaments. These are all practical and enjoyable and won’t break the bank.
 

5. Know when to buy...and when to DIY

Sending holiday cards. It’s one of the most thoughtful traditions but can come with quite a price tag. This year, consider avoiding a professional photo session and high-end printing costs altogether. Instead, choose a flattering candid family photo or ask a friend with a good eye and a decent phone to snap a pic. Then print your photo card on one of the many holiday-themed templates that online photo printers or big-box stores offer. Depending on your list, savings could rise to triple digits leaving you with enough extra to treat yourself to a photo ornament to mark the memory year after year. 
 
The holiday season comes with gifts, meals, get-togethers and other traditions that can impact budgets pretty quickly. But, keep in mind that time spent with family and friends is more rewarding than anything you can fit under a tree or in a stocking.
 
To help cut down on the stress and take full advantage of the giving season, plan out your financial goals early and start by setting the season’s budget. Stick to that budget using the tips above and you may just end the year with a bank balance that’s out of the red, and a wallet full of green.

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