Start planning early for a wallet-friendly holiday

5 ways to get ahead of the fun and festivity-induced end of year budget crunch.

The holidays may be two months away, but now is the perfect time to start stuffing your savings stocking to pay for them. (Plus, with resolutions around the corner, why not start your new year debt free?) From gifts, to travel, to attire for parties, holiday spending can get out of control. These five tips for holiday budgeting will help you keep your cool so you can start off the new year feeling shiny and bright.

Set a budget and stick to it

Hate being told two weeks from the holidays that you should’ve been budgeting all year? Us too. Get more of a head start this year by setting an action plan now. You may have visions of pumpkins dancing in your head rather than sugarplums, but holiday costs can add up and it’s easier to manage expenses if you plan ahead.

To get started, set a budget for the winter holidays and commit to sticking to it. Start by jotting down everyone on your gift list and how much you want to allocate to each for gifts. Don’t forget to account for the people in your life to whom you want to show appreciation beyond your immediate family, such as teachers, neighbors, and colleagues. In addition to gifts, set a target for other holiday expenses, such as new dresses for New Year’s Eve and travel to grandma’s house.

Try it tip: Get the kids in on it, too! Use holiday gifting to teach children about the value of a dollar by identifying ways they can help out around the house to earn extra cash to spend on gifts for family. Many communities and schools offer pop-up holiday shops, specially made for kids to shop on their own. This is a good opportunity for little ones to practice budgeting, and to learn that giving is as fun as getting.

Shop for gifts throughout the year

Between parties, school concerts, and family festivities, the hustle and bustle of the holiday season really gets going in November and December. Holding off on gift buying until the busiest months can add stress to your calendar – and your wallet. Instead of waiting for Black Friday or Cyber Monday, start your holiday shopping now. Shopping early will not only make the experience more enjoyable, it will also be easier to stick to your budget by avoiding impulse buys.

Try it tip: Make your list and check it (at least) twice; get a head start on gift buying by brainstorming ideas for everyone on your list early on. With gift ideas top of mind, you’ll be able to watch sales throughout the year.

Plan your travel early

If you know you’re going to be traveling, start scouring for the best deals now. According to Hopper Research, flights around the winter holidays can be as much as 75 percent more than any other time of year. Most experts recommend that holiday travel plans are booked by Thanksgiving; prices only climb as the holidays approach. To save on air travel, avoid flying on the days immediately surrounding the holidays. Some of the most cost-effective days to fly are the holidays themselves. If you choose to fly on Christmas, you’ll also enjoy calmer, emptier airports (and on some airlines, free drinks!). Try apps like Hopper and Flight Centre to seek out savings, and use Google Flights to compare costs.

Try it tip: The holidays are a good excuse to cash in on rewards to offset the cost of higher priced flights. Try saving your travel rewards each year, and come December, you’ll have a sizable stockpile.

Make sure everyone is on the same page

Heightened expectations brought on by the holidays can create stress. According to the American Psychological Association, feeling additional anxiety around this time is common. To lessen stress, the APA advises setting expectations with family, such as revisiting gifting responsibilities (including budget and quantity), and divvying up holiday meal planning, traveling, and hosting. Initiating these, sometimes tough, conversations will help keep your budget – and your sanity – in check.

Try it tip: Suggest Secret Santa as a friendly way to set a spending limit while trimming your list. Secret Santa generators, such as ElfsterSneaky Santa, and Draw Names, make it easy to host a group gift exchange, even across the country.

Host a holiday clothing swap

Last year’s ugly sweater was so awesomely hideous that no one could ever forget that you wore it. With your hand-knit, light up Rudolph pullover already all over Instagram, you simply can’t wear it again (#SoLastYear). Not to mention, you’re about to see invites stack up for holiday soirees and other events where cocktail attire is a tad more appropriate. Now is the time to take stock of your closet to determine what can be reworn and what’s in need of an update. Planning ahead gives you more options, such as hosting a holiday clothing swap among friends.

Knowing calendars fill up quickly around the holidays, pick a date in early November to exchange your most-loved holiday duds for goodies from your friends’ closets so that you can avoid running to the mall at the last minute for a new red dress. Anything that isn’t snagged at the end of the party gets given to charity – just in time to claim your donation by the end of the year.

Try it tip: Pair the clothing swap with a more traditional holiday cookie exchange for a fun and festive party. By the end of the event, you’ll have new holiday gear, and enough cookies to last you until the new year!

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