Make a budget. This includes more than just gifts: think travel expenses, decorations, gift wrapping supplies, and food and drink if you’re hosting dinner or taking a dish to a gathering. List out every category you anticipate spending money on, and prioritize them. Then you can set aside money to each, and be able to cut or reallocate as necessary based on importance.
Be aware of retail tricks to get you to spend money you don’t need to. Make a list—and stick to it—to avoid impulse buying. Big box retailers will send you all kinds of shiny, glossy advertisements with huge sales; check them for items on your list, and if they don’t have what you need, do yourself a favor and throw away or recycle the advertisement to remove temptation.
If you use credit cards, redeem your rewards points or cash to give your budget a boost. Almost every card offers some sort of rewards system these days, but almost a third of Americans don’t use them. Points tend to lose value over time or expire, so using them often gets you the best bang for your buck. Likewise, keep your best credit card at the top of your wallet—the one with the lowest interest rate or best rewards, for example—so you remember to use that one when you’re shopping.
Set gift expectations, and stick to them. For older or extended families, a Secret Santa gift exchange is a great way for everyone to feel included, but takes a huge financial burden off everyone. For kids, try the 4 gift rule: something they want, something they need, something to wear, something to read.
Think outside the box for gift giving! Not everything has to cost money. Consider giving things like help with spring yard cleaning, a night of babysitting for a friend, or play dates in the park. Make homemade coupons or write your gift in a card to be able to wrap it up. Giving your time or experiences as gifts can help your wallet, but more importantly, have a longer lasting impact than buying something at the store.
Limit self-gifting. This is a trend that has been on the rise in recent years, and while self-care is important, holding off can have two benefits: first, you might be given gift cards that you can use to buy what you have your eye on. Or, you might find what you want in post-holiday sales and score a better deal.
Watch out for convenience costs like rushed shipping for a last-minute gift, or adding extra things to your cart to get that “free” shipping. Likewise, keep your online shopping time to a minimum, as more time spent means you’re more likely to buy more than you meant to.
Finally, track your spending. Not only does this help you keep your budget in mind, it helps you do better next year. Perhaps you sorely underestimated your travel expenses this year—now you know, and you can prepare and save up so next year you aren’t caught in a lurch.