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'Tis the season for a budget: 6 ways to not overspend this year

It's supposed to be the most wonderful time of the year, but it can feel a little less wonderful when you overspend on gifts, food, and decorations. Americans typically spend nearly $900 during the winter holidays, according to the National Retail Federation, and much of it is financed with credit cards.

However, your holiday spirit doesn't have to break the bank. Follow these tips to get through the season debt-free.

1. Make a holiday budget...and stick to it

Just because the average consumer plans to shells out nearly $900 this year doesn't mean you have to. To create a budget, look through your finances to decide how much you can comfortably spend this year, then assign dollar amounts to each spending category such as gifts, holiday parties, and holiday meals. Looking at what you spent last year is a great way to get started. How did that spend impact your overall budget? Were you paying off credit card bills for months afterwards? Paying in cash can also help you avoid overspending. Plus, it'll ensure you won't be paying off holiday gifts in July.

2. Make your list and check it twice (or more)

Before you step foot into a store (or start shopping online), write down all the people you're shopping for, gift ideas, and your price limits. Remember to include teachers, babysitters, and building maintenance workers, or anyone else who you might want to acknowledge. With a list in hand, you'll be less susceptible to making impulse purchases. Plus, being organized with your gift giving allows you to take advantage of sales. When you're finished shopping for a person on your list, don't open promotional emails, click online ads, or read store fliers so you're not tempted to break your budget and buy more gifts.

3. Start planning early

Who says holiday shopping only happens after the Thanksgiving turkey is eaten and the cranberry sauce is polished off? If you see a great price on a gift throughout the year, snag it. When holiday madness hits its peak in December, you'll be glad that you’re ahead of schedule.

It may seem over the top, but you can start planning for the next holiday season right now. Break your holiday budget into manageable chunks (monthly or weekly) and save that money throughout the year. It's so much easier to find $50 a month than $600 during the holiday season. Using multiple accounts can help keep that money separate and remove the temptation to spend it.

4. Use Cash Rewards

If your credit card has rewards points or cash back, the holidays are a great time to put them to use. You can use the points you've earned to purchase gifts, travel, and more. Your card may offer extra points or bonuses for spending at certain stores or during a designated timeframe. If it aligns with purchases you were already planning to make, it's a great perk to take advantage of. However, you should only spend during those timeframes or at those stores if it already aligns with your holiday plan. Spending extra just to earn rewards doesn't make sense in the end.

5.Give non-traditional gifts

Skip the crowds by making holiday gifts at your kitchen table. A jar of pickles, a knitted hat, or a handcrafted pair of earrings are sure to delight as much as something purchased from a big box store. You can also consider gifts of time or service instead of a physical item. Set aside time to help a family member with a project like organizing their home or family photos or organize a family volunteer outing to give back to your community.

6. Keep it in perspective

The holidays are stressful. Don't add to the frenzy with overspending. Sticking to a budget may mean celebrating differently than you have in the past. Talk to your kids and family about the changes you plan on making and other ways that you would like to celebrate. Do what you can to stay on budget and avoid debt, allowing you to focus on the things that matter—your family and loved ones.

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