As the stress of holiday shopping has come to a halt, many of us may be looking at our credit card statements wondering, “how did I spend this much?” If this is you, now is the perfect time to start budgeting for the holidays or for birthdays. As with any budget or personal spending plan, it’s important to include an element for gift giving. It’s important to not take away from savings during the holiday season. It’s also important to not put yourself into debt.

First, look over your finances and determine how much money you can afford to put aside each month for holiday and birthday related purchases. Make a spending plan with a realistic idea of how much money you can spend on your purchases. Make a list of everything that you usually buy including items like food, travel expenses and gifts. If you do not set a price limit, you risk allowing your spending numbers to grow and grow.

Second, make a spreadsheet, much like a budget, of how much money you will spend in each category of budgeting. For example, if you host Christmas Eve dinner, how much money will you spend on decorations, food, toiletries, etc. It may also help to make a list of those people for who, you plan to purchase gifts. This will help you prioritize gifts and set a price limit. This helps you trim down the list to which you purchase gifts. If you feel comfortable enough, try talking to the person and explain that you did not want to exchange gifts this year, or better yet, how about baking or hand making goods?

Third, always keep a running total of how much money you have saved for holiday or birthday purchases and how much money you have spent on purchases. It is important to not break the bank. For some, it may benefit to only carry cash when purchasing gifts. This helps with not overspending. It may even help to envelope budget the specific categories to avoid overspending. If you do overspend, take money from another area.

As always, know your limits. Set boundaries, do not allow yourself to fall into sales pitches or the latest trends. If you do not have the cash in your wallet, reconsider the purchase. Creating a list may be a good way to set boundaries, so when you are in a store you only pick up what you need. This will save time and money.

Educate yourself and be a well-informed consumer. Always remember that you can price shop and compare.

The meaning of a birthday or holiday is a time for friends and families to come together. It is important to not let financial stress get in the way of that.  Remember the greatest gift to anyone is the gift that is most thoughtful. It does not take a lot of money to make people happy.