The holiday season seems to start earlier every year and it pretty much begins the moment Halloween ends. It is to your financial (and emotional!) benefit to take action now to manage your holiday spending to avoid breaking the budget. The more time you give yourself to plan, the better off you will be when the biggest gift-giving winter holidays arrive.

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Consider Layaway to Avoid Credit Card Debt

If you are someone who basically lives paycheck to paycheck and can’t seem to get some cash saved for your holiday shopping before it’s time to shop – you don’t have to go into credit card debt to make it through the holidays. Many retailers have brought back layaway programs, and if you use them early enough in the shopping season, you might find it manageable to make payments on your purchases with cash.

Using Credit Cards Responsibly During the Holidays

If you prefer to do your holiday shopping with credit cards to earn rewards or to give yourself more time to pay for your purchases, you can use your cards without sending yourself into bankruptcy with some financial discipline! If you still have balances on your credit cards from last year’s holiday shopping or from other purchases made throughout the year – now is the time to focus on paying those off before you start swiping the cards for the current years’ holiday shopping. (Your credit card may come in handy for your holiday shopping.)

Reduce the amount you spend this year with credit cards, and have a plan to pay your total purchases off within three or four months of charging them to minimize the amount of interest you pay on your holiday expenses. You never want to head into the Christmas shopping season with credit card balances from last year!

Start a Holiday Savings Club

The holidays come at the same time every year, so your best method of managing holiday spending is to plan for it all year round. If that didn’t happen this year, consider opening a SmartyPig holiday savings account and contributing as much as you can between now and your December shopping period. The benefit of using SmartyPig is that you can exchange your cash savings for gift cards and earn 1% to 11% or more back on the money you save, depending on the gift cards you select. This will work out great if you shop at the retailers that offer gift cards to SmartyPig savers and you give yourself enough time to receive and use your gift cards for your holiday shopping.

Once you get through this year’s holiday season – get your holiday savings club set up with the savings account of your choice in preparation for next year. Start it before the new year, and you can figure out how much you typically spend for holiday expenses and then spread it out over twelve months. When November or December rolls around next year – you will have the cash available to do your holiday shopping completely stress free.

See What You Have Before You Shop

Do you pick up wrapping paper and tape and gift tags every year when you’re out and about without checking to see what you have at home? Chances are you have saved what you didn’t use of these items from previous years. Before you start buying, take inventory of what you already have in terms of holiday decorations and wrapping paper. Maybe you don’t need to buy as much as you think!

Consider Handmade Gifts or Holiday Events over Expensive Gifts

Take a close look at your gift list to see if there are people you could start a new holiday tradition with. It can be easy to forget that the holiday season is not really about gifts – and that there are many other ways to appreciate one another and enjoy the spirit of the season that do not necessarily involve items purchased from the store.

If you are crafty, you may decide a few handmade gifts could take the place of expensive, less meaningful gifts. You can get ideas for things to make from magazines and websites like Remember to keep the items simple, but thoughtful.

Instead of trying to buy gifts for all of your adult friends, consider hosting a holiday event instead where everyone is asked to bring something to share (beverages and appetizers). You might decide to host a cookie swap or recipe exchange in lieu of a traditional gift exchange.

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