The holidays are one of the most joyous times of the year, and often, one of the most stressful and expensive.

In 2021, Americans spent $886.7 billion during the holiday season, which averaged out to about $1,131 per person. A nationwide survey by MoneyGeek found that more than one-quarter of Americans regretted their level of holiday spending. By mid-February of this year, 40% of Americans had not paid off their 2021 holiday debt.

One way to make things less stressful – both during the holidays and after – is by having a plan and a budget.

Start out with a list of who you need to buy for this year. Fill in gift ideas and, most importantly, a spending amount for each person on your list. Then, just like Santa, check it twice.

A good way to do this is through google sheets or Excel. That allows you to save links for Christmas gift ideas so you can find them again. It’s better to gather ideas first as opposed to just buying on-sight.

Next, make a list of all of the other expenses you’ll have this holiday season; events, travel, clothes, decorations, etc.

Whatever budget you set, stick to it. 

Before buying a gift, give yourself 24-hours. Impulse buying is the easiest way to go over budget. What seems like a great gift idea in the moment, may seem less so after stepping away from it for a little bit.

Speaking of waiting, even if you prefer to get your shopping down sooner rather than later, don’t feel like you have to make all of your purchases right away. With the decreased impact of Black Friday/Cyber Monday, more retailers are stretching out their deals throughout the season. Some start earlier – even into October – while some of your best deals will come in the final weeks leading into Christmas. 

Try to avoid using credit cards. They can obviously be helpful, but avoiding credit card debt will not only help you better spend within your means, it will make the months following Christmas a lot easier. Just like you’re setting a budget for what you’ll buy, set a hard limit on the amount of credit you'll use throughout the season and don’t spend more than you can realistically pay off.

Do it early. The sooner you can make your budget, the more buying power you have. Along with being able to set some funds aside you won’t be forced to put as much on the credit card at the last minute.

Finally, these good habits you’re developing to help make the holidays easier, can improve your everyday financial situation. Don’t stop once the holidays are over; keep them going all year long!