Couple putting holiday lights on a tree in their loft.

How to spread holiday cheer (without going over budget).

It’s the most wonderful time of the year, full of merriment, good tidings, gift-giving – and expenses. Without a plan, you could end up spending the next year (or more!) paying off this year’s holiday bills. Here’s the good news: It’s possible to spread holiday cheer without overspending. The tips below can help you ring in the new year with your budget intact.

Start with a plan.

Create a holiday budget by reviewing your income and expenses. Be realistic about how much you can afford to spend. To help prevent overspending, pay with cash or load a prepaid debit card with an amount of money you’ve set aside. Opening a separate savings account for holiday expenses can make it easier to track and manage spending. If you do plan to use a credit card for holiday shopping, decide in advance how much you’re willing to charge and have a plan to pay down the debt quickly. The longer you carry a balance on your credit card, the more you’ll pay in interest over time.

Make a list.

Identify family and friends you want to buy gifts for and decide how much you’re able to spend on each person. If you feel pressured to shop for everyone from your coworkers to your trivia team, you could suggest a gift exchange for each group instead. Chances are your friends and colleagues are trying to avoid overspending, too.

Don’t overlook other expenses.

Spending on other holiday items like cards, decorations, travel and entertainment can add up quickly. Maybe you want to take Mom and Dad to a Broadway show when they’re in town or know you need to buy a flight home. Prioritize your expenses from essential to optional. Tackle your top priorities first and then work your way down the list.

Look for deals.

Take advantage of promotions and sales from your favorite retailers. Set up alerts or app notifications for when items you’re looking for go on sale. Look for deals on discount sites like Groupon, price comparison sites like Google Shopping, and coupon apps like RetailMeNot.

Stretch your budget.

You’re taking on extra expenses for the month, so consider cutting back temporarily on non-essential spending. For instance, you can bring your lunch to work and make coffee at home to stretch your holiday budget. Instead of buying a new outfit for that New Year’s Eve party, spruce up something from your closet with a new accessory. Host a party at home instead of going to a New Year’s Eve party at a bar.

Get creative.

Plan creative, low-cost ways to celebrate the season — like hosting a holiday potluck with friends or a cookie exchange party for coworkers. You could also tap into your talents, like baking or photography, to make DIY gifts that won’t break the bank.

One of the best presents you can give yourself is a healthy bank account to start the new year. With a little planning now, you can enjoy celebrating the season with family and friends — without stressing about your finances. If your finances feel stretched this year, consider starting earlier and saving more money for the holidays next year.