Keeping Your Budget in Check this Holiday Season

Even the most diligent budgeters can overspend when the holidays arrive. After all, no one wants to feel like Scrooge when the atmosphere is full of holiday cheer. In 2014, Americans spent more than $616 billion on holiday shopping in stores, and nearly $102 billion shopping online, according to the National Retail Federation. With so much holiday spending going on, how can you stay on budget and avoid overspending this holiday season?

These tricks can help you stick to a budget while still sharing gifts with your family and friends:

  • Create a holiday shopping budget and stick to it. In addition to your regular monthly household budget, set up a budget for what you’ll spend on holiday shopping. Assess your current finances and decide what you can afford to spend on holiday gifts. Avoid going into debt to fund holiday purchases. Ideally, holiday expenses shouldn’t linger longer than the decorations!
  • Make a gift list. It’s just not practical to buy for everyone you know. Limit your gift-buying to those who are nearest and dearest. Share holiday cheer with acquaintances through cards, personal notes and home-baked treats. Many larger families and groups of friends pick names or do fun gift exchanges to keep costs down, while still helping everyone feel included. Decide how much you’ll spend on each person and stick to that budget commitment. Keep your list on hand when you’re shopping.
  • Take charge of online charging. Online shopping grew nearly 7 percent in 2014, according to the NRF. People shop online for convenience, variety and great deals. For security reasons, you should always use a credit card for online shopping, but be aware that credit card use may tempt you to overspend, and could potentially impact your credit score if you max out your credit cards on holiday purchases. Stick to your budget when shopping online.
  • In person, use cash. No one likes to carry a wad of cash during the holidays, but paying with cash in a retail store has some major advantages over credit. Seeing actual bills leave your hands may make you more dedicated to your budget. Plus, you’ll be paying for the item only once, rather than potentially paying interest on a credit purchase after the holidays. Finally, you may find merchants offer incentive or discounts for cash purchases. They may even be more willing to negotiate a deal, since a cash sale means they don’t have to pay the transaction and service fees associated with a credit card purchase.

Generosity is a hallmark of the holiday season. By following a budget and being aware of how you use credit during the holidays, you can give your loved ones great holiday gifts – and give yourself a more financially bright new year.