The approach of the holiday season brings with it the anticipation of a month filled with family togetherness and merry memory making. Each year, we promise ourselves we won’t repeat the mistakes made in years past: guilt from overspending, exhaustion from overbooking or frustration over kids who misbehave or act ungrateful. As the holiday music starts to play anew each year, we promise ourselves that this is the year we’re going to do things different. And yet…things always seem to stay the same.

The key to enjoying a really meaningful holiday season with your family is to plan ahead and do it purposefully. Most families get into trouble in three major areas: finance, time management and what they do (or don’t do) with their kids. If you’ve got a game plan in place before the madness starts, you’ll not only be able to rise above the fray—you’ll be able to make the holidays truly meaningful.

Today’s tips deal with finances.

1. Budget in advance. Admit it: You’re guilty of spending twice what you should have on your mother’s gift to make up for the fact that you didn’t visit earlier in the year. Or grudgingly shelling out way more than you anticipated for the large number of “obligatory” gifts on a list that seems to grow with each passing year. Perhaps, like millions of other consumers, you’ve succumbed to the gorgeous packaging, clever marketing, and can’t-pass-them-up deals that stores have to offer this time of year.

Before you head out to do your shopping, know what the hard numbers look like, and map out in advance what sort of cash reserve you’ll have to dip into. A great way to keep yourself accountable is to put your budgeted Christmas cash on a pre-paid card. You’ll watch your budget more carefully and when the money is gone—it’s gone. You’ll be less tempted to add just one more gift to the pile because of a super sale. If you don’t think you have the strength (or willpower) to go it alone, try the buddy system. Have a budget-conscious friend or thrifty family member be your accountability partner. Having someone else in the know when it comes to your budget and holiday spending will make you that much more accountable and less likely to go spend-crazy.

2. Be honest about any financial changes. If you have to downsize your holiday expenses, it’s better that you—and your family and friends—know it now instead of when the credit card bills start rolling in. There’s no shame in readjusting the scope of your gifts in order to avoid a sackful of debt. If your loved ones truly care about you, that’s the last thing they’ll want! And they might be relieved to know that breaking the bank is not this year’s expectation.

3. Don’t be afraid to ask your neighbor for more than a cup of sugar. Say you’re planning on hosting a gathering at your home for your thirty closest friends…but you don’t have a punch bowl, enough serving platters, or a good variety of holiday music CDs. The temptation is to rush out and buy these items, but wait—is there anyone from whom you could borrow them instead? You can return the favor at your neighbor’s New Year’s Eve bash, and your wallet will thank you. 

4. Think outside the gift box to all the “other” holiday expenses. If you’ve sat down with your own personal version of Santa’s list and a copy of your latest bank statement, pat yourself on the back for a job responsibly done. But don’t breathe a sigh of relief just yet—there are other expenses to think about too! And when it comes to the holidays, if you aren’t careful, some of the more costly aspects of the season will sneak up on you and your wallet—and will leave you paying for it (literally!) in January. Whether you’re feeding your family, bringing a dish to the office potluck, or hosting an event, grocery bills can add up at an alarming rate this time of year. Don’t forget about the little “extras” like the holiday tip for your hair stylist and mail carrier or the gifts for the kids’ soccer coach or piano teacher. And those twinkling Christmas lights give your power bill a boost—so think ahead for the next month’s budget. Try to anticipate what you’ll need to spend—down to the tiniest of details—and plan accordingly.


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