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How to Budget Effectively During the Holidays

Ah, the holidays! It’s the season of celebration and family time. It’s also the season of gift giving. As much fun as shopping for presents or traveling can be, the costs can add up quickly. Suddenly, the most wonderful time of the year is the most expensive time, too.

It’s no secret that almost everything costs more these days. Alongside the gifts, flights, and hotels, you still have everyday bills to pay. So, what can you do to hold on to more cash while you’re checking holiday expenses off your list? Keep reading for a few helpful holiday budgeting tips.

1. Take Advantage of Automatic Savings

Digital banking is common these days, so you may already be comfortable with autopaying your bills. It’s a set-it-and-forget-it solution that ensures you never miss a due date. What if your digital banking also helped you save money during the holidays? A debit card that offers a round-up saving feature can do just that.

With cards like these, every purchase you make funnels money straight into your savings. Every time you swipe the card, your bank rounds the price to the nearest dollar. Over time, those 1- to 99-cent increments add up. By the end of the holidays, you could see a bit more padding around your nest egg.

2. Create a List

Before you start shopping, it’s important to make a list. Figure out whom you’re shopping for before you hit the stores. Are you going to stick to your closest family and friends? Do you want to include your mail carrier or your kid’s favorite teacher?

Once you have your list, set an overall dollar limit. Then figure out how much you want to spend on each person. It might be tough, but do your best to stick to the spending limit you set for yourself. Even if you go over by a few dollars here and there, the list will help keep you on track.

3. Don’t Focus on Mega-Sales

During the holidays, you’ll hear a lot about Black Friday or Cyber Monday. For years, those two days have been considered the most important shopping days of the year. So it’s appealing to wait for those big events to complete your gift buying. That’s a temptation you should resist.

Sure, you can find good deals during the big sales, but pay attention. The prices aren’t always very different from the other everyday sales. Waiting for the mega-sales can also be risky, as the store or website may sell out of items you want. You could also be enticed to buy several things that aren’t on your list. Before you know it, you’ve overspent.

4. Go Giftless

As much fun as holiday shopping and gift giving can be, though, making purchases isn’t 100% necessary. There are plenty of ways to show your family and friends how much they mean to you. Plan a few events and make a point to spend more time together instead.

Set a date for a cookie decorating party. Schedule some time for a family game night. Block off a day for a movie marathon with hot chocolate. Just pick an activity that everyone will enjoy. After all, the point is to have fun together and make memories.

5. Use Reward Points

Do you use your credit card for most purchases throughout the year? If so, check to see whether your card comes with other benefits like cash back or bonus points. Every time you pay down your balance, those rewards add up.

These types of perks can come in especially handy if you’re planning to travel during the holidays. In many cases, you can use bonus points or cash back to pay for a flight or a hotel stay. Don’t worry if you don’t have enough points to cover the entire cost. You can still use what you have available to bring down the overall cost.

Even if you’re not traveling, these rewards can be helpful. Some cards will let you convert points to cash that you can use toward your credit card balance. Talk about an easy way to keep more moolah in your bank account!

6. Plan Your Travel Early

If you are planning to “go home” for the holidays, start researching your travel options now. The longer you wait, the more expensive flights and hotels are likely to be. Plus, there’s a greater chance that everything will be booked. That can really put a damper on your holiday plans.

If your destination is close to several airports, start looking at which one offers the cheapest flights. Book your flight or car rental early to avoid any last-minute price hikes. Flying on the actual holiday — if your schedule is flexible — is often much more affordable. It can be a simple way to save your travel dollars.

7. Control the Cost of Your Celebrations

Getting together for big holiday meals is a standard tradition for many families. As much fun as they are, they can also be pricey. There’s good news, though. If you’re hosting, you can take a few steps to control the cost without reducing the fun.

If you’re going to be in charge of the entire party, start looking for sales. Keep an eye on your local grocery store’s weekly circular. Frequently, they drop prices on expensive items like the holiday turkey or ham. These weekly deals could include buy-one-get-one offers. Stock up early, freeze the meat, then thaw it in time for your party.

To spread the cost around, consider throwing a potluck dinner. Reach out to your friends and family early. You could offer to handle the main dish — perhaps the turkey, ham, roast beef, or even lasagna. Coordinate who will bring side dishes and desserts. Voila! You have a big family meal for a fraction of the price.

For many people, the holidays are a special time. That doesn’t mean they have to knock your bank account for a loop. With these tips in mind, you can enjoy the season while feeling less of a financial pinch.

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