Festive parties, twinkling lights, and gifts under the tree - the holiday season is a wonderful time of year. But between parties, decorations, and gifts for the whole family, it’s easy to spend much more than you planned and end up in debt at the start of the new year. If you’re looking for ways to avoid damaging your credit and your bank account, here are some tried and true methods for saving money during the holidays. Make the most of your finances by learning smart ways to celebrate.

Create a Budget

The first thing that most people do when they start thinking about Christmas shopping is make a list of people they have to buy gifts for. This is a surefire way to get over your head. Instead, decide on a realistic amount of money you can afford to spend on the holidays. Remember to add in things like food shopping, decorations, postage, and all the little extras that can make a real dent in your wallet. Once you’ve settled on an amount, make the list of people you need gifts for. Then you can decide how much to spend on each person and adjust accordingly.

Don’t be Afraid to Edit

What usually happens during gift-giving season? You think of one person you should get something for, and it spirals - you remember more and more names, from your child’s teacher to your postal worker. Cut yourself some slack. Some of these people would be very happy with a card, and others can be given homemade gifts like baked goods or arts and crafts. Learn something new like how to make scented candles - these can make great gifts for a long list of people in your life! Eliminating names or trimming the amount of money you’re willing to spend on someone doesn’t make you a bad person. Remember, the expression “it’s the thought that counts” is actually meaningful.

Make Smart Credit Card Choices

It’s easy to feel like you will save money by using credit cards to purchase big-ticket items and bail you out during a financial crunch over the holidays. But this is a slippery slope that can lead to debt. Shopping smart means you should use cash whenever and wherever you can. Set yourself a limit, and stop buying when your limit is reached. However, this is often easier said than done, and sometimes you have to pull out some plastic to get through. In this case, use the card with the lowest interest rate and plan to pay off the purchase as soon as possible. Credit card transactions are like short-term loans, and you’re not meant to let the amount you owe accumulate over time.

Don’t Spoil the Kids

For younger children who still believe in Santa Claus, it might be tempting to splurge on toys and gadgets. But don’t go overboard. Make sure they’re getting the most important couple of items on their Christmas lists and let everything else be a compromise. As children grow older, they should understand the real-world financial limits of the holidays, and that they won’t be getting every single toy they want. Help them set realistic expectations for gifts, and teach them the value of giving as well as receiving.

Don’t Spoil the Adults Either

As you get older, the holidays become less about presents and more about family and friends. Never feel like you have to impress your relatives or people close to you with glamorous, overpriced gifts. It’s okay to focus on thoughtful gestures, personal touches, and presents that have real meaning. An adult should appreciate the gift of something you found at a thrift store that really reminds you of them far more than that expensive catalogue item they won’t really use.

Budget Time as Well as Money

Sure, maybe you didn’t start your holiday shopping in July. But you can still make room for what needs to be done so that you’re not scrambling around at the last minute. If you plan early for shipping, decorating, and grocery shopping, you are sure to save money. And you especially don’t want to be caught at the mall a few days before Christmas trying to find the perfect gift, because that’s a sure way to end up paying more.

Think about Weddings

If you’re getting married, November and December are excellent times to find bridal gowns, bridesmaid dresses, and all sorts of wedding decorations at premium prices. There’s simply not a lot of demand for wedding items in the winter season. If you know someone who is getting married like a child or niece or nephew, contributing to the ceremony can end up being an affordable gift idea. It’s even affordable to get married over the holidays. An intimate ceremony can be held at a church already decorated for Christmas, and since it’s the off-season for weddings, many venues will have budget packages ready. You just have to find a DJ who isn’t booked up with holiday parties.

Consider Holidays for the Holidays

Sometimes you want to spend your winter vacation away from it all. The holidays are also an excellent time for a getaway, because cruise lines and resorts are in need of customers and willing to offer surprisingly great deals. Instead of planning your family’s summer vacation, save money by going in December. Any tropical destination you think of is warm all year round, and there will be plenty to do. You can save on car rentals, rooms, and more.

There are so many ways to cut your budget over the holidays, and all it takes is some careful planning to explore them. Don’t get in over your head with debt this year. Your family will thank you for spending wisely and getting 2015 off to a great start.

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