The holiday season is right around the corner. And as wonderful as this time of year may be, it can wreak havoc on your finances. (Don’t worry, we’re not about to suggest that you start baking fruitcakes for everyone you know — unless you want to, of course.)

Still, as much fun as it is to splurge on friends and family, no one wants to go into the new year saddled with debt. The following are some easy-to-follow ideas to consider to create a smart holiday shopping plan that won’t have you paying off those presents until the end of 2018.

Take back the word ‘budget’

“The first thing you need to do is figure out how much you can afford to spend on the holidays,” says Cameron Huddleston, Money + Life Columnist at GOBanking Rates.

When many of us hear “budget,” our first response is to reel back in horror. We end up thinking of it as something that’s going to limit us and suck the holiday joy right out of shopping spree.

In reality, a budget can be your holiday shopping BFF because it can save you from making mistakes (cashmere barn jacket, I’m looking at you!) you’ll end up paying for long after you’ve left the mall or closed your laptop.

Add up your essential expenses — such as rent or mortgage, monthly bills, food and transportation. Then subtract that amount from your monthly take-home pay to see how much you have left to cover holiday costs. Voila, you made a budget.

“If you don’t think the amount is enough to cover the amount you expect to spend, you either need to look for ways to trim your holiday spending or other nonessential expenses,” Huddleston says. “Otherwise, you’ll end up racking up debt to get through the holidays.”

Shrink your spending

Start by asking yourself if you really need to give a gift to every aunt, uncle, cousin, neighbor, or friend you have.

“You might be able to dramatically reduce your holiday spending if you’re willing to limit your list of gift recipients — and limit the amount you spend on each person on your list,” she says. “Suggest to friends or family members that you draw names so each person in your group only has to give one gift. You might be surprised how many other people will breathe a sigh of relief at this suggestion.”

Don’t procrastinate

As soon as you’ve narrowed down the list, start looking.

“Make your holiday gift list as soon as possible so you can start comparing prices and hunting for deals,” Huddleston says. “If you wait until the last minute to do your holiday shopping, you’ll be more likely to overspend. That’s because you won’t have time to shop around for the best price, you might have to pay higher shipping fees for expedited delivery.”

Leave your plastic at home

…if you can help it! To stick to your holiday budget, consider taking only the cash you plan to spend to the store and leave your credit card at home.

“If you do use a credit card to avoid carrying around a lot of cash or to earn rewards points, log onto your account to pay off purchases immediately to avoid paying interest,” Huddleston suggests.

At the very least, save your receipts so you have a running tally of what you’ve already spent. Remember: Knowledge is power!

Stay on track

Even if you start with the best of intentions, it’s easy to get swept up in the holiday spirit and find yourself spending a bit too freely. One way to ensure that you stay within your means is to track your expenditures.

Go old school by saving receipts and creating a spreadsheet that shows exactly how much you’ve spent. Or, you can opt for more high-tech tracking by using apps.

Gift It allows you to make a list (and check it twice!) of the presents you’ve purchased, how much you’ve spent so far, and what — and for whom —you still need to buy.

iSpending is another app that lets you see exactly where your money is going. If your holiday budget includes things other than gifts, such as festive ensembles, holiday parties, and Ubers home, this app allows you to add and label expenses. So, if you’re spending too much in one area, you’ll know sooner rather than later, which gives you time to make any necessary adjustments to stay within your budget.

This doesn’t mean you can’t treat yo’ friend

Maybe you’ve got a really great gift idea (Hamilton tickets, anyone?) or someone super special on your list this year, and you really want to go all out. What’s a gal to do?

“Consider getting a part-time job or picking up a side hustle during the holidays to earn extra cash,” Huddleston advises. “Plenty of retailers hire seasonal workers, and you might also be able to score an employee discount that will help you save money on holiday purchases.”

 

But before you start polishing your resume and shooting off applications, take a look at what you already have in your home: you may be sitting on a gold mine and not even know it.

See what you no longer need or use and can potentially sell, Huddleston says. You just may have clothing, furniture, or other household items that you could sell on consignment to bring in a few extra bucks and offset some special splurges.

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