The holidays are a special time where generosity becomes infectious. But while gift-giving is part-and-parcel of the season, the focus on items can be a lot of extra pressure. Even as the clock counts down to the most significant days, people make last-minute runs into the cold and dark to find the “perfect gift.” These gestures are kind, but they can take a lot out of you and your wallet. Unfortunately, it’s just the norm that people run themselves ragged during this time and then have to deal with financial impact in January. You don’t have to make a perfect holiday to enjoy the most wonderful time of the year, though. Here are six ways to minimize holiday spending without losing the magic of it.

Establish a Holiday Budget

Making decisions as you go is one of the easiest ways to overspend. So, the best way to start a holiday season that won’t hurt come January is to pre-plan your expenses. Sit down and set a firm budget on what you’ll spend and where. If you have someone you share expenses with, such as a spouse, it may be best to do this together. That way, everyone is on the same page.

This practice doesn’t apply to just physical gifts. Whether you’re the host for the family dinner or you have a charity you keep in mind during the season, you’ll want to take all of your expenditures into account.  You may find this process helpful beyond the guidelines it gives you. It can help give you a sense of control during one of the most hectic times of the year.

Put Limits on Gifting

Not every year can be a gift-giving extravaganza. Create a list of people that you intend to buy gifts for this season. As you work through the list, try to write down the gifts you’re capable of buying for each person. This varies depending on what you have in mind for them. It’s not necessarily about deciding on the number of gifts for each, but the overall amount you can afford to spend on them.

You can even include yourself in this list and mark down what you can reasonably gift to yourself this year. That can be an item you’ve been wanting, or it can be something that makes your month easier, such as a night of takeout. This suggestion might go well with the budget planning session, so see if you can make time for both.

Set Expectations

After you’ve established a budget and made clear what gifting will look like for you and your loved ones this year, you’ll know what your boundary lines are. These limits can seem disappointing or strict at first, but they will help you manage your expectations. Furthermore, if you have people or children that look to you to make their holiday season what it is, you may want to communicate what this year will look like for them. Being forthcoming can help everyone adjust beforehand so that no one’s disappointed on the big day.

However, keep in mind, that there is no “right” way to celebrate this season, so don’t let a limit make you feel guilty. Remember, the holidays shouldn’t come at the cost of your health or financial security.

Track Spending

That impulse shopping can put a big dent in your holiday budget. Instead, try tracking your spending. If you decided to use the “Holiday Budget” suggestion, you could check the spending you note against your pre-made plans. This approach will help you avoid impulse purchases. That isn’t just a financial tool, but an emotional one as well. Because you already sat down and decided what your loved one needed as a gift, seeing new things won’t have as much appeal. You can walk away without guilt hanging over your head, then.

Tracking your spending can also be a useful trick to bring outside the winter holidays, such as for the back to school season.

Focus on Quality Family Time

Above all, the heart of the holidays is the time you share with those around you, which costs nothing. Another way to minimize holiday spending is to focus on the moments you spend with your loved ones. A hot cup of cocoa and a festive movie may seem small in comparison, but it’s something that can truly set the scene for your holiday spirit.

You may have seen how much they love the buildup to the big holidays if you have kids. The waiting is part of the magic to them, so use that time you have together. Suppose they have trouble sitting still for something like a movie, set up a family activity. For example, working on Christmas cards or building ornaments together can be a fun and simple way to make memories. Plus, crafts are a great way to start a tradition you can carry through the years. 

Get Comfortable Saying “No”

It can be hard to limit holiday spending because we can internalize that as a failure. We may tell ourselves, “I didn’t do enough” or “so-and-so deserved XYZ.” But this is a season about taking care of one another, and making sure you don’t spread yourself too thin is part of that. The holidays are for you too, after all. If a gift suggestion exceeds what you can afford, or someone starts demanding too much from you, you may have to step away and tell them no. A “no” during the holidays may feel like a taboo, no matter how kind, but you’ll find that establishing boundaries can drastically improve everyone’s experience.

Finding the Spirit

You’ve worked hard all year long, dealing with stress and responsibilities every day. The holidays should be, at the least, the one time a year you get to escape from some of that pressure. When you minimize holiday spending, you have an opportunity to treat yourself a little kinder. Create the boundaries and budget you need to makes this successful all around, not just for one day. If these few weeks should teach us anything, the spending and gifts are one part of the celebrations. The real spirit of the season is found with those you love, enjoying each other’s company.

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