Your 5 Best Budgeting Bets for the Holiday Season

It seems like school started just yesterday, and yet holiday shopping is already on everyone’s mind. This is partly due to the fact that stores are aggressively showing what they have to offer for the Q4 season, and also because many shoppers are not quite sure how they will stretch the paycheck to find affordable gifts for everyone on their list.

Whether you are looking to save on entertaining, the perfect present, a holiday getaway, or a fireplace upgrade, here are some strategies you can rely on to make your money count. 

1. Begin with a realistic budget. Are you one of those people who set a modest budget but have a hard time sticking to it? Whether you tend to go overboard on impulse purchases or you simply fail to keep enough in your emergency fund, not having a clear plan of what you’ll need to buy during the holidays can quickly put a damper on responsible financial goals. Know yourself well enough to budget in those pumpkin-flavored lattes, the extra gifts you’ll buy out of guilt, or the gloves that go so well with your boots. If will-power is a work in progress, admit it, own it, and prepare for it.

2. Avoid extra fees. We know that ATM fees and overdraft charges are signs that we’re not keeping up on our finances, but the holidays can leave us stressed and short of time. Instead of making excuses that your schedule doesn’t leave room for balancing your checkbook or planning to get cash at your own bank, rely on your mobile bank and credit card app to do some of the heavy lifting for you. Access to past, present, and scheduled transactions will keep you updated so you don’t go in the negative, and some even offer ATM maps to help you navigate traffic and easily get cash at fee-free locations all over the U.S.

3. Understand pricing strategies. It’s no secret that items tend to get priced lower as we approach the major holidays of December. So how can a shopper pull the trigger on a luxury good when it’s possible it may go lower after the buy? Most stores are aggressive about their price matching strategies, and some offer to give you the lowest price even after you’ve purchased. Shop stores that offer to meet any competitor’s advertised deal, and watch the ads in the weeks following your shopping trip to recoup any refund you’re owed as part of their price-matching guarantee.

4. Shop post-season. If a pile of gifts under the tree is part of your “perfect holiday”, you’re not alone. As families find it harder to get together on the official holiday, however, many have accepted that some gifts may be given well in advance of – or even after – the shopping spike. Use late get-togethers to your advantage by holding off on purchases until items are deeply discounted. Look for merchandise that is considered seasonal (such as stocking stuffers), but that can be given year-round, for the best deal. Getting 30-70% off at least a few special gifts can help increase your odds of keeping spending in line.

5. Charge with discretion. Layaway, cash discounts, price matching, and sales are all great ways to get more for your dollar, but many people will still find their budget is a little short come Christmas. If you must “buy now, pay later,” do so responsibly. A little reliance on credit can be manageable, but cracking open your line of credit isn’t a free pass to overspending. Keep on your budget, no matter what the tender.

You can avoid a post-holiday financial hangover by treating each purchasing decision as equally important. Start your shopping now by making a plan, and use these next few weeks to bring out your best shopping skills. Avoid buying when short on time, tired, or hungry, and take moments to check in with your budget and make adjustments when needed. By treating the next month or two as a marathon – not a sprint – you can keep a level head about your purchases and correct mistakes as they happen, leaving you with less guilt and a happier holiday!