If you’ve sighed at the sight of Christmas decorations sitting cheek and jowl with Halloween décor, you’re not alone. The holiday “season” seems to begin in October and last a full three months.

The longer the season, the more time consumers have to spend on gifts. So it’s no surprise that holiday spending has been rising steadily since 2008. In 2017, Americans were expected to shell out $967.13 each for holiday gifts, according to the National Retail Federation. Nationwide, Americans were likely to spend between $678.75 billion and $682 billion, an increase of 3.6 to 4 percent over 2016, according to the National Retail Federation. (It hasn’t yet updated those estimates with actual numbers, but you get the idea: December is a big month for gifts and giving, regardless of your religion or your income.)

Even careful planners and devoted savers sometimes feel queasy when they open January’s credit card bills. How about making January 2019 a no-regrets month? If you stick to a budget, you won’t have any surprises when it’s time to pay your bills. And it’s easier than you think – with no deprivation required:

  • Set your priorities. Is lavish gift giving deeply meaningful and significant to you? Or are you stuck in a gifting cycle you’d like to end? If you would prefer to earmark some of the money you typically spend on gifts for another purpose, such as a family vacation, set your intention now. You’ll be much more inspired to trim spending when you know you’re directing money to something more meaningful.
  • Check your cash flow. As my clients know, I’m a big fan of the First Step cash flow system. It helps you see where your money’s going so you can determine if your spending is aligned with your values and dreams.

If you aren’t sure where all the money has gone at the end of the month, First Step can answer that. Before you start buying gifts and loading up on décor, spend some time getting a handle on your financial picture. You’re less likely to blow a budget when you actually have a budget.

  • Think it through. I know that “budget” can be an uncomfortable word for many people. If you’re one of them, tackle your expected spending the other way: Make a list of all your holiday expenses and the amount of money you realistically expect to spend on them. Don’t forget wine/alcohol, baking ingredients/food, transportation costs, décor, gifts, charitable giving, winter gear (ski clothes, ice skates). Is your savings enough to cover all these costs? If not, how will you fund these purchases?
  • Spend less. That’s the easiest way to keep spending in check. Opt for experiences over “stuff.” Gift cards to the movies, theater or restaurants are about experiences, and you can control exactly how much you spend. I suggest keeping a few gift cards on hand so you don’t blow your careful money management if you need a last-minute holiday present.

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