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How to Stick to a Holiday Budget

Nov 05, 2019 3 min read Heather R. Johnson

Key takeaways

  • Remember to include non-gift expenses in your holiday budget.
  • Saving as little as $50 a month, year-round, can cover most holiday expenses.
  • Take advantage of savings apps, credit card rewards and holiday sales to stretch your holiday savings.


It's easy enough to create a holiday budget. Sticking to it is the challenge.

Here's how to create a realistic holiday savings plan (for next year, if not this one) without becoming a Scrooge.



Open a holiday savings account

If you haven't established a holiday savings plan yet, hop to it! Set aside money each month to put toward your budget.

Author and speaker Trisha Trixie of Denver, Colo., says she and her husband each deposit about $100 a month into a holiday savings account. "My kids have grown, so we can splurge on each other a bit," she says. "Each year, we ask each other, 'What do you really want right now?' It might be electronics. Last year, I wanted a particular pair of shoes. Having the savings account allows us to spend on these things."


Track your expenses—all of them

To create a realistic holiday budget, write down every gift you need to buy or a dollar amount per person.

Next, factor in holiday meals, decorations, wrapping paper, cards and stamps. Once you have a good idea of expected expenses, you can start saving, tracking and adjusting.


Make a list and check it twice

Just like a grocery list helps keep you focused in the supermarket, a shopping list keeps you from overspending on gifts. Before you leave the house, make a list of either what you're buying, for whom and for what dollar amount.

Don't veer from the list if you see a sweater your daughter will love. Follow the same process when shopping online.


Take advantage of deals

It's generally better to pay cash for holiday purchases, but if you do use a credit card, use one with generous cash-back deals. Credit card companies offer reward points for travel, gas and Amazon purchases, among other deals. Discover offers a match program for first-year cardholders, matching the points earned at the end of the year. Other cards offer big bonuses for new cardholders.

When buying gift cards, explore sites such as Gift Card Granny Opens in new window, which offers Starbucks, Kohl's, Target and other gift cards for up to 25% off. Buy one for Aunt Mabel or use them to pay for other gifts.

Trixie keeps her eye on Cyber Monday deals, when she can often find good discounts on electronics. Despite some unbelievable Cyber Monday sales, Trixie says she sticks to the plan. "We don't allow ourselves to get sucked into the splurge mentality."


Use apps to save

Holiday savings apps can help you save money and track holiday spending. You can use Earny to get cash back on online purchases. When you buy online, Earny Opens in new window searches for price drops. When it finds one, it files a refund request with your credit card company and credits your card the difference.

Camelcamelcamel Opens in new window, an Amazon price tracker, lets you set price alerts so you can buy gifts at the lowest price. Free apps such as mint.com Opens in new window and budgetsimple.com Opens in new window make it easy to create and track a holiday budget.

Please remember that giving companies access to your personal information always comes with some risk. Make sure that you are comfortable on how these apps protect and manage your personal information.


Start saving for next year

If you're late to the holiday savings party, don't fret. You can still keep your spending in check with a holiday budget. By setting a goal and tracking your holiday purchases, you'll also have a better sense of how much to save for next year.

Trixie and her husband set up automated withdrawals so they aren't tempted to skip a holiday savings contribution. Any money left in the account after the holidays carries over to the following year. Occasionally, they use the extra for practical reasons, such as an unexpected hospital bill.

Saving year-round gives you time to save for bigger-ticket items. When you can celebrate the season in a way that brings you joy, without the stress of credit card debt, you'll enjoy the most wonderful time of the year all the more.


What you can do next

Set goals and track your expenses for the holidays. Be on the lookout for any deals that can help you save further.



Heather R. Johnson writes about finance, small business and healthcare from Oakland, Calif. Her work has appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle and Houston Chronicle, and with brands such as Bank of America, Wells Fargo and RE/MAX, among others.


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