Walk into almost any store right now, and you’ll likely find holiday favorites like family pajama sets, seasonal home decor, and strings of Christmas lights already on the shelves.
There may even be a festive tune playing. But before impulse-buying decorations and gifts, consider creating a holiday budget—that way, you can get more for your dollar, avoid overspending, and maybe even enjoy the season greater.
It may only be fall, but planning for the holidays now, such as by making travel plans or drawing up gift lists, will give you ample time to determine how much you expect to spend and save the money you’ll need. It may also allow you to take advantage of early travel deals and other discounts. And by pondering your gift options several months in advance, you can avoid shopping right before the holidays in December, when retailers might charge you more.
If you can, start putting money away for holiday spending. One way to do so is by stashing it in a savings account designated only for these funds. Setting even a small amount aside each paycheck will make it easier to afford everything on your list when shopping later in the season. You could find ways to contribute more by reducing your everyday costs—such as by brown-bagging some lunches this fall—and putting the difference into your account.
Create your budget
Next, determine the amount you can allocate toward holiday spending by looking at your income, savings, and necessary expenses—like food, housing, and transportation—and computing how much you can save by the time you’d want to use those funds. If you decide to use your credit card for your holiday spending, avoid incurring debt you can’t pay off quickly. Otherwise, you may wind up owing extra money in interest and fees.
Divvy up your dollars
Once you have your general budget, sort your expected expenses into categories, including gifts, entertainment, food, and travel, to help you plan your spending. Under gifts, for instance, you could note each person you’d like to get a gift for, and below entertainment, you can include any holiday shows or movies you’d like to see. Once your list is complete, designate a portion of your holiday budget to each category and to each item within that category. Once you start shopping, be sure to track how much you’re spending and how much you have remaining in your budget. You could use an app like Mint to help stay on top of your bank and credit card accounts.
You could stretch your holiday budget by finding ways to make your money go further. You could cut costs by splitting the price for gifts—like getting a present for your parents with your siblings—or hosting a Secret Santa gift exchange for your family or friends, in which everyone draws a name and chooses a special item for just that person only. Reduce entertaining expenses by hosting a potluck and asking everyone to bring a dish instead of cooking everything yourself. If you’re crafty or like to bake, you could also make or bake some of your gifts. Finally, if you have extra time, consider adopting a side hustle—like pet sitting or selling your custom-made jewelry—to earn extra cash for the holidays.