Piggy bank with a santa hat and calculator

The silver bells of the holiday season certainly take their toll on your wallet. In a study from the NPD Group found that 29 percent of US consumers plan to spend more on holiday shopping than they did last year, with holiday shopping estimated to rise 3 percent during the traditional November and December holiday shopping season and 5 percent when the season is expanded to include October and early January.

And the spending doesn’t stop with gifts – the holidays come with a host of other expenses, including food, entertaining, decorations, holiday travel, cards, and charitable giving. Add it all up, and you could easily spend thousands of dollars on your holiday cheer – and start the new year with crushing credit card debt.

If you want to start the New Year with no debt hangover, the best strategy is to make and stick to a holiday budget. Careful planning is the key to enjoying your festive time.

Creating a Holiday Budget

The process of making a holiday budget is much the same as creating a household budget. Figure out how much you have to spend, then work out how to divide up that money among all the things you want to buy. If the amount you have and the amount you expect to spend don’t match up, keep fiddling with the numbers until they do. Utilize coupons, discounts or increase your income with a side hustle.

The best time to start your budget process is early on, before the holiday season hits full steam. Go into the season with your budget all laid out so you know exactly how much you can afford to spend for everything on your list. Then, as you shop, refer to your budget often to make sure you’re staying within its limits.

Step 1. Set a Spending Limit

The first step in setting up your holiday budget is to figure out how much you can afford to spend in total. Ideally, this amount should come entirely out of your available cash so you don’t have to rely on debt at all this season.

First, look at all the money you’ve already set aside expressly for holiday expenses. Perhaps you’ve been stashing away a little money each month in your FVSBank holiday club account all year long in anticipation of the holidays. If you had the foresight to start planning early, you could already have a comfortable nest egg built up to start marking your gift list.

If you don’t have any dedicated holiday savings, consider what other sources of money you have to draw on. Include things like year-end bonus from your job or money in your savings account that isn’t earmarked for other financial goals. Add it all up and the total is the amount you have to spend on your winter holidays!

Step 2: List Expenses

Once you know how much you have to spend, the next step is to figure out what you need to spend it on. Write out a list of everything you’re likely to buy, including:

  • Gifts
  • Wrapping paper and trimming
  • Cards and postage
  • Food
  • Decorations
  • Clothing
  • Travel Expenses
  • Holiday Activities
  • Charitable Giving

Make sure to include all the little ‘extras’ on your list: hostess gift, gift exchange, ugly sweater themed party, sleigh rides, etc. After you have made your full list, check it twice to make sure there are no expenses you have overlooked. If possible, add a line to your budget marked “other” to cover any unexpected costs that pop up during the holiday season.

Step 3: Keep Track

Getting your budget down on paper doesn’t mean your job is over. You still need to keep track of your spending as you shop to make sure you stay within its limits. By keeping a running tally of how much you’ve spent in each category and how much you still have left to spend, you won’t risk blowing through your entire budget in one shopping trip.

Setting up a specific FVSBank checking or savings account specifically for holiday spending can help you stay within your overall budget. Take the total sum you’ve set aside as your spending limit, put it into this account, and then draw money from that for all your holiday shopping. If you have the FVSBank mobile banking app on your phone, you can easily check it at any time – even as you wait in line for the cashier – to see how mu