8 Simple Ways to Keep Your Holiday Spending on Track This Year

A smiling woman holds up a holiday-themed money pouch with cash sticking out of it.
Carmen Mandato/ The Penny Hoarder

Everyone knows it’s almost inevitable that you’ll gain a few pounds during the holidays. But what about your finances? Whether you’re treating yourself or someone else, all those transactions can add up to some unwanted financial weight.

Many Americans even put themselves in debt over the holidays. And those who did in 2017 averaged debt of more than $1,000, according to Magnify Money. That doesn’t feel very merry.

But despite the tempting deals and holiday events, it’s totally possible to make it through the holidays without going broke.

Laura Adams, host of the podcast “Money Girl,” compiled 8 ways to make the holidays less expensive to help us come out the other side of the holidays with a little less financial strain.

How to Make the Holidays Memorable and Less Expensive

1. Create a Holiday Giving Plan  

Just like Santa, you gotta make a list and check it twice. Put anyone you plan on giving a gift to during the holiday season on the list. Estimate how much you plan to spend and calculate your total gift-giving budget. If you’re overspending, make necessary adjustments.

Try ranking the list from the most important gifts to the least important, so you can see where you might save. Consider inexpensive and thoughtful presents like baked goods or homemade ornaments. And don’t forget to include spending for decorations, party clothes or potlucks into your plan.

2. Remember Your Values

The holidays can easily tempt you away from the financial goals you set earlier in the year. To combat this, earmark funds to continue paying off debt or put a little extra into your retirement account. Help keep your money goals at the forefront of your mind by sticking a post-it note on the mirror or setting reminders in your phone or calendar.

3. Shop Strategically

A woman carries Christmas shopping bags as she walks down a sidewalk.
Carmen Mandato/ The Penny Hoarder

You’ve already budgeted a set gift amount for everyone in your giving plan. Take that list with you when you go shopping. Better yet, leave your debit and credit cards at home and put cash in envelopes for everyone on your list to help you not overspend. If you do, you’ll be forced to take from another envelope and avoid going over your total budget. You won’t have your debit or credit cards to lean on.

Skipping the brick-and-mortar crowds and shopping experience altogether has perks, too. Shopping online saves on gas and maybe even dine-out costs. You’ll likely face fewer impulse-purchase temptations. You can also avoid shipping fees by bundling purchases and you can earn cash back, rewards or Ebates.

Just remember to only take the credit card route if you can pay off your balance in full, or else you’ll start off the New Year in debt.

4. Avoid New Retail Cards

Saving an extra $10 when you sign up for a store credit card at checkout might sound like a good idea, but it’s usually not.  These cards come with high interest rates and a hard inquiry on your credit that will lower your credit score. Unless you frequent the store and can pay off the balance every month, then politely say, “No thanks.”

5. Don’t Shop for Yourself

The struggle is real. It’s so much easier to shop for yourself than everyone else. But this leads to a downward spiral of spending. If you’re set on buying yourself something nice while all the sales are ripe, set a cap amount on your “treat yo’self” splurge.

6. Be Creative

A group of friends have a fondue holiday dinner.
SolStock/Getty Images

As broke teenagers, my friends and I made a holiday pact: In lieu of gifts, all you had to do was show up to a group dinner and pay for your own meal.

Applying a similar approach to holiday festivities can help everyone feel a little less pain in the pocket. Some ideas might be to set up a Secret Santa so you’re only buying one gift, have the family buy presents for the kids only, set a dollar limit on gifts, donate to a charity or choose an experience like a vacation or a trip to the aquarium.

Switching things up might create new traditions and some pretty great memories.

7. Maintain Savings

Balance holiday spending with saving. Dec. 31 is the deadline to max out your 401(k) contributions for the year. Add any bonuses and holiday money before the deadline.

Start on your money goals for next year. Commit to raising the contribution on your retirement account by 1% or to paying off your credit card every month.

Adams also suggests preparing yourself for the holidays next year by setting up bank account and depositing a little bit from every paycheck into it. That way, you’ll have all the spending money you need for gifts when the holidays roll around next year.

8. Practice Gratitude

Expressing gratitude extends well beyond Thanksgiving. Incorporating a regular gratitude practice into your daily life has been shown to have mental and physical benefits — as well as a positive effect on financial habits.

Find something to be grateful for every day. It can be as simple as fresh air or your pet. Write it down in a journal or jot it in the notes on your phone.

Stephanie Bolling is a staff writer at The Penny Hoarder. She’s saving money by making DIY gifts this holiday season. Read her full bio here or say hi On Twitter @StephBolling..