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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 the expenses that come with it. 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 for a holiday budget.

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. And remember, the longer you carry a balance on your credit card, the more you’ll pay in interest over time.

Make a holiday gift 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, white elephant, or Secret Santa for each group instead. Chances are your friends and colleagues are trying to avoid overspending, too.

Don’t overlook other holiday expenses.

Gifts aren’t the only expense to accommodate for this holiday season. Don’t forget about the money you may be spending on other holiday items like cards, decorations, travel and entertainment. These 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. And if you are the host, don’t forget about the extra food expense.

Look for deals to increase holiday savings.

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. And starting early can help divide the cost over multiple pay periods.

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.

Give the gift of an experience.

Rather than focus on material items, give your friends and loved ones the gift of an activity or event they can participate in! This can be especially great for the person who is hard to shop for or the person who seems to have it all. Popular options include yoga retreats, tickets to a play or museum, indoor skydiving, tickets to an escape room, national park passes, or you can even arrange a shoutout from their favorite celebrity via Cameo! Instead of an item which might collect dust, give the gift of a memory worth holding on to!

Gifts can be educational — share in knowledge.

As the holidays are right around the corner from the new year, help your loved ones by giving them a gift to better themselves. With these gifts, your friends and family can expand on their skills and knowledge to learn something new! Give the gift of your favorite book, a cooking or painting lesson, or even a subscription for an online class with lessons available on any number of subjects. This is also a great way to shop local — look for your local culinary institute’s or painting studio’s options.

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.

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