The holiday season is expensive, y’all. Travel, gifts, cards, parties, food, and all the little accoutrement that make the holidays so festive add up, and add up quickly. That’s why we scour these types of articles year after year, in search of that one tip that could change how much we spend.

While we’re hardly breaking new ground, here are a few reminders about how we can enjoy this time of year without going overboard with our spending.

Track Everything 

Older couple sitting down next to a christmas tree going over a shopping listFile this suggestion under “things that are easier said than done.” Tracking your spending all year is crucial to setting budgets and being aware of your finances in general, but it’s doubly important this time of year. The easiest way to monitor your spending is to have one master list where you write down what you’ve purchased, how much it cost, and who it is for. Online banking apps will help simplify the act of tracking, but they don’t always help you process the data, so making a separate list is key. (Otherwise, you’ll be grouping purchases made for Christmas with the groceries and other necessities, and you’ll be overwhelmed.) Tracking your spending can also help keep you accountable for any spending limits you’ve tried to set for the holiday season, because you will see what you’ve spent as you go.

Make a Realistic Budget

Set a budget, and be firmly grounded in reality when you do. Don’t try to keep up with what others are probably spending. On the other hand, don’t set a budget so low that you’ll inevitably break it the first chance you see something that’s “perfect for so-and-so.” Try to find the middle ground, and calculate what you can safely spend while still getting that warm, generous feeling. 

Get Creative

Box of homemade truffles in a white box, next to two mason jars of some homemade substance with a red bow around the lidBaked goods are often exchanged this time of year and for good reason: they’re usually delicious and relatively inexpensive to make. For the giver, a homemade treat can be a wonderful way to show someone that you’ve thought of them without having to spend money on something they may not even use. Baked goods can often be made in large batches, too, so you can distribute your goodies to a number of people without going broke. 

This type of gift-giving doesn’t just apply to baked goods; you could tap into any skill that you have and make a gift of it. If you’re a crafter by nature, the people who know and love you would be more than appreciative of something you’ve made, whether it’s a slightly wonky scarf or a painted masterpiece of a shared memory. Depending on the receiver, even something that doesn’t turn out like you expected could turn into an inside joke that’s enjoyed every year. If you need inspiration for DIY gift ideas, sites like Pinterest, YouTube and TikTok have millions of tutorials and inspirational posts to choose from. And don’t forget: a gift doesn’t have to be a material object, either. Acts of service and scheduled quality time make excellent gifts as well. 

Shop Year-Round

While it’s too late if you’re reading this article in mid-December, one way to save money during the holiday season is to shop throughout the year for Christmas gifts. Yes, it takes organization and an ability to remember where you hide your stash (I’m convinced that if I were to search my mother’s house I’d find gifts lost since the ’80s) but it can be done. This way your costs are spread over the whole year, you can take advantage of numerous seasonal sales, and it can reduce some of the stress of scrambling for gifts at the last minute.

Be Social Media-Savvy

Hand holding a phone with the image of a shopping cart and button selected "add to cart" in foreground. Computer with images of things for sale in background.Don’t forget to use sites like Facebook Marketplace, Craigslist, and your local Buy Nothing groups this time of year to save tons of money. These sites are wonderful for tracking down items that you could upcycle into unique gifts, if you’re crafty. Or you could use them to sell items that you no longer want in order to raise money to buy new gifts (if you’re not crafty.) And if your shopping list has children on it, they are great places to find gently-used toys and other items that would be cherished once wrapped and placed under the tree. So you could potentially de-clutter, save money, and reduce your carbon footprint, all in one go. If that doesn’t get you into the Christmas spirit, we don’t know what will.

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