By Cammie Jones

It sneaks up on me every year. All of a sudden, I am making a list of all the gifts I need to purchase for the holidays and it is overwhelming. When I say overwhelming, it is not just from a lack of time perspective, it is also the amount of money I am about to spend. It makes me a little nervous, but there are some great and clever ways to budget for the holidays ahead of time so that you can enjoy those festive weeks of hustle and bustle and avoid those January regrets.

1. Determine your Budget
Most people start buying before setting a budget and this can get you in over your head. It is crucial to make a budget first, taking into account all the extra stuff like postage for holiday cards, home decorations, costs of hosting a party and travel. Look at your finances and decide how much you want to spend. You can do this one of two ways — have a  budgeted amount per gift per person or a lump sum that you don’t want to go over. Whatever your budget amount is, stick to it.

2. Stash Money Now
Your friend pays you back in cash for something — take this money and put it in your “underwear drawer.”  A little bit of cash here and there that you won’t miss can add up quickly. Put it away in a hiding place that you will not dig into and you will have a little stash of cash to use for the holidays. You can even start a holiday bank account that is used only for gifts and holiday needs. This would be separate from your checking account and would be a great way to control what you spend.

3. Make Early Purchases
If you see something that is perfect for that certain friend or family member, buy it now. Don’t wait until December to make all your holiday purchases. Designate a closet or bin of some sort where you can start collecting. The key is not to forget about what you purchased and where you put it. A little gift here or there will ease the crunch time during the holidays. Not only will you spend less in December, you also won’t be panicking about your long shopping list. Go ahead and knock it out!

4. Make a List & Check it Twice
Using your set budget, make a list of every person to whom you need to give. This will allow you to know exactly what you are looking for when you are shopping or on a website looking for items. Put this list on your phone or print a copy that you can keep in your purse when you are out and about for reference. Update it as needed as you mark someone off the list.

5. Watch for Sales
We all know about Christmas in July, Black Friday Sales and various sales on websites and in stores. Look for these sales and use them to your advantage. Clip any coupons or shop at various one day sales on a particular store’s website or location. Again, look at your list and see what you are looking for and then “stalk” the item to get the best deal.

6. Cash Only
I hate to get that January bill from my credit card company. Avoid this hassle by paying mostly cash for gifts this year. Clark Howard, co-author of the book “Get Clark Smart: The Ultimate Guide for the Savvy Consumer,” says to set a limit, take that money out of the bank and when it is gone, the holiday buying is over. Paying cash for stuff will eliminate the post holiday blues and bills that hit us in January!

7. Get Crafty
There is nothing nicer or more unique than a handmade gift.  If you are artsy, use your talents to make something special for your friends and family. This is a great way to save money and put thought and a personal touch to a present.

8. Start Baking
We all know the holidays are full of really good comfort food and sweets. A homemade treat is an appreciated gift during this busy holiday season.  A breakfast casserole that can be frozen and served to guests on Christmas morning is a great gift to give to neighbors and coworkers. If you can set aside a day to bake and cook, the time involved can be controlled as well. Instead of running from place to place looking for that perfect gift, you can hang out at home, listen to holiday music and enjoy the aromas of the holidays.

9. Donate Time or Money
Reyna Gobel, author of 8 Tips to Help You Control Holiday Spending (www.investopedia.com) says, “Your friends probably struggle with overspending as much as you do over the holidays.” Instead of buying something for everyone, get a group of friends together to volunteer at your local food shelter or soup kitchen. Make a day of it and go to lunch or dinner after to celebrate or you can have everyone over later that night for appetizers and drinks. “You’ll get to spend quality time together, plus you’ll come out of the day feeling proud of your efforts rather than suffering from buyer’s remorse.”

You can also give a donation in honor of someone to their favorite charity or a charity that is close to your heart. With the recent hurricanes in our country, making a donation for those affected may be the way to go this year. ‘Tis the reason for the season!

With a little pre-planning and budgeting, this holiday season can be a less stressful on your mind and your pocketbook. Take time to enjoy the holidays this year!

This article appears in the November 2017 issue of Augusta Family Magazine.
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