There’s so much to love about the holidays: the festive food, the memorable music, the timeless traditions with friends and family, and the gifts galore. It’s easy to blow your budget when you’re caught up in the holiday spirit.

We typically spend generously around the holidays, an average of $942, according to Gallup. And this season, that amount is only expected to increase.

Celebrate the holidays without breaking the bank by using some of these proven ways to keep your spending in check.


1. Make a holiday spending plan.

We often don’t consider everything that goes into our holiday spending. It’s more than just gifts- decorating, food, and entertaining can all add up. Planning ahead will help you understand what you typically spend, and how to make more savvy decisions.

    • Decorate with your budget in mind. You can reuse décor from years before or stop at your favorite dollar store for new items. Homemade decorations offer a personal touch that is extra special.
    • Consider your holiday activities. Some traditions, like watching holiday movies or going to worship services, are free while others come with a cost. Budget for the ones that are important to you.
    • Look at options for holiday entertaining. Consider scaling back your celebrations or rethinking how you gather. Maybe you’d like to set up a group volunteer afternoon rather than hosting a holiday party.
    • If you’re traveling for the holidays, make your plans as early as possible to save money. Include this expense in your holiday spending budget as well.
    • Determine the overall amount of money you have to spend on gifts. This will be your gift budget. Set it and stick to it. (If you’re tempted to go over, see tip #4.)

2. Choose budget-friendly gifts. 

Make a list of family, friends, and coworkers you would like to get gifts for before you shop. This will help you to adjust expectations, specifically how many presents in total you will give, and how expensive they each can be.

    • Create a gift list with recipient names and a price limit for each person or pet. (Be sure not to forget gifts for teachers, coworkers, etc.) Then, write down one or two gift ideas for each name. Keep that list in your purse or wallet for easy access when you’re shopping or simply out and about and spot the perfect present.
    • Don’t forget the extra gift expenses. Gift wrap, shipping/postage, and cards can be pricey. Try making your own wrapping paper and cards to cut down on expenses.
    • Shop early. If you wait until the last minute, you are more likely to overspend. 
    • Look out for deals every day. There isn’t much difference between holiday sale prices and Black Friday or Cyber Monday.
    • Look for discounts and price check your gifts. Apps like ShopSavvy allow you to scan a bar code and check the price against other local retailers or online.
    • Make your gifts. Give baked goods and homemade candy. Create a photo album. Give the gift of your time in the form of babysitting or a home-cooked meal. 

3. Keep track of your spending.

Your holiday spending plan is your overall guide. Be sure to consult it regularly to stay on track. This is the single most important thing you’ll need to do to stay within your budget. Here are some supporting strategies that can help.

    • Consider opening a bank account for your holiday spending. Deposit the money in that account that you have budgeted. Then, draw upon that account for your gifts, décor, and holiday activities. Some banks and credit unions offer a short-term account just for this purpose. Typically, you set it up at the beginning of the year and save a little bit each month until the holiday season.
    • Stick to cash only for all of your holiday spending. Take out a sum of cash and divide it among different envelopes for gifts, décor, activities, etc. Then use the cash in the appropriate envelope for any related expenses.
    • If you are using a credit card to make purchases, choose one where you get cashback.
    • Keep track of your purchases with spreadsheets or budgeting apps. Some popular apps include iSpending and CashTrails.


4. Earn extra money.

There’s an easy way to make room for a little more spending this holiday season—and still stay within budget. That would be to add some extra income. 

    • Take on a seasonal job. Retailers are hiring for the holidays and you can get a part-time job that not only brings in money but could earn you employee discounts.
    • Sell your unwanted stuff. Go to websites or apps like eBay, Poshmark, or Facebook Marketplace and sell the things you no longer use or need. This has the added advantage of decluttering your home for the holidays.
    • Give up an indulgence temporarily. If you stop to buy an expensive coffee every morning, now is the time to put that money into a jar. Do the same for dinner out or other indulgences.

5. Start in January for the next holiday season.

Saving over time is the most painless way to get ready for the holidays. Once you’ve gone through the exercise of budgeting, you can use that information to plan for next year.

    • Calculate what you spent on the holidays this year. Divide that number by 12. Then, make a plan to save that amount each month. Set up a holiday spending account at your bank.
    • Take advantage of post-holiday sales. You can get discounted décor, cards, and other holiday-themed items after the holiday. Buy them now and put them away for next year.
    • While the season is still fresh in your memory, write down the traditions that you enjoyed this year and ones that you may want to skip next year. Include any other reflections that might help when planning for the next holiday season.


Happy holidays (and happy spending) from California Casualty!


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