Every year we make a promise to ourselves that we won’t go bankrupt for the holidays, but every year we find ourselves smashing the piggy bank, and if you’re like us, you might be running out of piggy banks. If that sounds like you, then this article might be for you- the following are a few ways to stave off the debt that can accrue over the holidays by shopping smart.

Don’t Set a Realistic Budget

Bear with us on this one, everyone says that each holiday season, they will set a budget, and nearly everyone does. The problem is, these realistic and sensible budgets are inevitably overrun almost every time. Just setting a budget isn’t enough, be unrealistic, set your budget lower than it should be, and when you inevitably go over some, the damage may not be as bad. Do your best to stick to your budget like you would any other year though, and your results should be either within a realistic budget’s boundaries or not as devastating.

Get More Into the Spirit of the Season

Whether your holiday of choice be Christmas, Kwanzaa, Hanukkah or just celebrating the season, remember it is more about spending time with your family and expressing love and appreciation than gift-giving. Expensive trinkets and cards aren’t the only ways out there, and besides simply spending time with family, check out sites like this one or Pinterest for inexpensive gift ideas. Lastly, think of things you can do as favors, offer to babysit or make a double batch of cookies so you can take half of them to your neighbor. These kinds of gifts can go a long way even without any wrapping paper.

Make a Comprehensive List

After having set an ‘unrealistic budget’ and exploring the other kinds of gifts you can give, sit down, with a significant other if you have one, and make a list of everyone you need to get a tangible gift for. Some of these people you may already know what you want to get them, and using the Amazon and Google, you should be able to get a rough idea of what those gifts will cost you. For other people on your list, try and set mini-budgets for them- E.G. “Let’s plan spending $20 on Grandma and $150 on each of the kids.” Focus on the amounts, not on what you are getting. Be responsible, you may want to get grandma that horrid cat sweater as payback for years of garish clothing gifts that she will love regardless of how ugly it is, but if it costs $40 and you were planning only $20, then you need to look into alternatives.

Don’t Feel Compelled to get Everyone a Gift

Now that you have a list, start crossing some names off if possible, not everyone expects to receive a gift from everyone they know, and consider the inexpensive or intangible gifts like in the examples of #2. Look into starting family traditions like every sibling being assigned another sibling, (or their significant other’s being included) for gift giving so you don’t end up in a giant gift loop.

Start Shopping Earlier

Every year we complain that stores market the holidays too early, and that our current holiday isn’t even over yet, but that works out in your favor. Black Friday alone offers incredible deals that you can take advantage of, and your standard Christmas deals start early too. Take the initiative and start shopping early. Otherwise, odds are, you’ll end up paying more the closer it gets to the holiday, and last-minute-shopping can turn well-tended budgets on their head mere hours before the celebrations. Regardless of the reason, budgeting your time is also budgeting your money, don’t let the holidays get ahead of you.

Work With Your Kids on Lists

Whether they are writing a list to Santa, or they’ve grown past that, help them make realistic lists within financial boundaries. Allowing them some input on what they want will help you to be more likely to get them a gift they’ll appreciate, and keep you under a budget.

Invest in the Meaningful Instead of the Price-Tag

For other adults in your life and on your list, consider gifts that have meaning over how shiny or new something is. Words and gestures can be worth far more than a new TV or set of earrings for some. Consider the kind of gifts like giving someone a smooth stone, a ‘little boulder’ for them to carry as a reminder to be confident in themselves, to “Be a little bolder”.

Consider a Cash-Only Holiday

If none of the above seems to be effective in cutting down costs for you, here is the hard-line. Go to the bank and leave your cards at home. Set the budget and then take that amount out in cash and then only allow yourself to spend the cash you’ve withdrawn. Once the cash runs out, so does the shopping. While this may be a bit extreme, it may be what you need so you can still afford groceries and the car payment come January.

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