Staying Off the Naughty (Spending) List

Eight ways to manage your finances and avoid post-holiday regrets.

The holidays are upon us, bringing all the familiar images and memories we cherish— the glow of the menorah, the fragrance of home-cooked meals and sugar cookies, and the sounds of the season in holiday songs, laughter and shrieks of joy from kids discovering Santa’s generosity.

For many of us, however, there are a few not-so-joyous holiday sights and sounds, such as a purse overflowing with credit card receipts and the ca-ching of cash registers signaling our escalating debt. These negatives can easily outweigh all that we love about the holiday season, especially when we consider the financial consequences we’ll still be suffering long after the last gift is opened.

What if you could have a wonderful, memorable holiday season and avoid the financial hangover? Guess what? You don’t have to join the spending frenzy. Here are helpful tips on how to keep your holiday spending in check.

Find an alternative to gift-giving.

Instead of giving tons of toys to your kids this year, let each child choose an outing or event that he or she gets to enjoy with you one-on-one. Children will look back on the valuable time you’ve spent together a lot more fondly than they will on any toy or video game that’s used a couple of times and then tossed aside.

If you must buy gifts, cut your expenses elsewhere.

Perhaps you can dine out or go to the movies less, or maybe you can forego that new pair of shoes you’ve been wanting in order to afford gifts for the grandparents. It doesn’t matter where you make cuts to your spending, just be sure that you make them.

Set a budget and keep tabs on what you are spending.

Most people don’t realize that well before they buy all the presents— plus wrapping paper, cards, food for entertaining and decorations— their holiday spending has added up to a ridiculous amount. Having a budget that you know you must stick to allows you to keep your impulse spending from getting out of hand and helps you focus on the most reasonably priced holiday items.

Plan what you are going to buy, and don’t get any extras.

Don’t go shopping for someone’s gift until you know exactly what you are going to buy. It’s easy to head to the stores with no plan, see something you like and get it because you have no idea what else to get for a hard-to-buy-for relative, despite the gift’s significant price.

Use the season to set a good example for your kids.

Have your children give some of their allowance or gift money from relatives to a local charity. Another idea is to encourage your children to participate in a program where they buy and wrap gifts for underprivileged kids, or to volunteer at a soup kitchen. It can be an eye-opening experience for kids to see that not everyone has enough money to have an enjoyable holiday or even a hot meal with loved ones.

Leave the plastic at home.

Use your budget to figure out how you can purchase the gifts you want to purchase without putting them on your credit card. If you are so cash-strapped that you think it is difficult to avoid charging presents, then you may want to sit down with friends and family members to propose a limit on how much gifts can cost this year.

Give the gift of you to your kids.

The holiday season offers great opportunities to show your kids how much you love and care for them. For example, you can make time with them each week to watch a holiday film or TV show, escort the kids on walk to see your neighbors’ holiday lights and decorations, or take the kids caroling at a local retirement home.

Remember that meaningful gifts don’t necessarily have a big price tag.

Sure, it might be nice to give your mother a brand-new TV. But she’ll cherish other things even more, like a photo album with candid shots of her grandchildren or a painting or something else the kids have created for Grandma.

By keeping your spending under control, you can have a great holiday season and avoid the sick feeling in the pit of your stomach that grows each time another credit card bill arrives in the mail. If you prepare properly, you can achieve a happy balance of spending and saving during the holidays. That’s a great gift in and of itself, for both you and the people you love.