10 Simple Steps To Survive The Holiday Season On A Budget

10 Simple Steps To Survive The Holiday Season On A Budget - It is possible to make it through Thanksgiving and Christmas without going into debt. Even though Black Friday and Cyber Monday offer great deals, these steps can make sure you don't go overboard.The holiday season has already kicked off this year. Your wallet or purse is already screaming in pain as it sees Christmas decorations and gifts on store shelves.

Can you survive the holiday season on a budget?

These 10 tips will help you survive the holiday season without busting your budget.

1. Don’t Buy New Clothes For Holiday Events

The first way to survive the holidays on a budget is to avoid buying new (or used) clothes whenever possible.

The holidays only come around once a year, so why have many different holiday themed clothes?

Instead, stick with clothing that you can wear during the rest of the year but fits with the holiday theme and colors.

Another option is to wear holiday themed clothing you’ve already bought in the past.

No one will remember what holiday themed clothing you wore to last year’s party.

2. Make A List Of All Events You Will Attend

One of the bigger budget busters most people forget to consider are holiday events. Whether you have parties with family and friends or you attend a fancy party at work, events can add up quickly.

To fix this issue, make a list of all of the events you’ll likely attend along with what is involved. Do you have to bring a food dish or a gift?Think of anything that might cost you money and list it next to the events you’ll attend.

Now that you’ve thought of these events in advance, they shouldn’t bust your budget. You’ll use this list again in a later tip.

3. Make A List Of Every Person You’d Like To Get A Gift For

Gifting is a popular tradition around the holidays, but costs add up fast. In order to get a good idea of how much the holidays will cost you, make a list of every single person you intend to get a gift for.

Don’t forget to think about friends, extended family, coworkers, people at holiday parties, neighbors and anyone else that normally makes your gift list.

Next, write down how much you intend to spend on each person. This doesn’t have to be an exact figure, but you’ll need to stick to the total amount for gifts.

If you go over budget for one person, you’ll have to take money from someone else in order to make this work.

4. Consider Your Travel Plans Well Ahead Of Time

Travelling around the holidays can be painfully expensive, especially if you’re flying. In order to find the best deals possible and prepare your wallet or purse for extreme pain, start looking for travel deals as early as possible.

Make a list of the dates you’re planning on travelling and where you’re travelling to. Whether you’re driving or flying, make sure to budget for gas, plane tickets, hotels, food and anything else you may need to buy.

Your goal is to be as prepared as possible for the holidays and having an accurate travel budget will help enormously.

5. Set A Reasonable Budget You’re Ready To Stick To

Once you have a list of all of the events you’ll be attending, a list of everyone you want to buy gifts for and a list of everywhere you plan to travel, it’s time to make a master holiday budget.

This can be a super fun or super painful experience depending on how you deal with your money, but it is necessary no matter what. Add up all of the costs for your events, gifts, travel and any other holiday costs you can think of.

Next, compare that to the cash you’ll have available for the holiday season. You’re not allowed to go into debt for the holidays, so if you don’t have enough cash to cover your list of expenditures, you’ll have to cut back somewhere.

It may be painful to admit, but people will understand if you must give up getting gifts for everyone in order to travel to your family reunion for the holidays. Cut back your list until you have a manageable budget that won’t put you into debt.

6. Set Expectations For Friends, Family and Coworkers

Now that you have a budget in place and you know what events you’ll be able to attend, where you’ll be able to travel, who you’ll be buying gifts for and a rough idea of how much those gifts will cost, it’s time to set expectations for your friends, family and coworkers so everyone is on the same page.

There is no shame in telling others that you won’t be participating in gifts, events or travel (depending on what you budgeted for) this year because you’re saving up for a down payment on a home or you’re working on paying off credit card debt.

People are probably experiencing the same dilemmas you are and will be thankful you started the conversation.

Make sure to set expectations for your family as well. If you won’t be spending as much money on Christmas this year as you have in the past, make sure your family knows ahead of time so they aren’t disappointed when there aren’t as many gifts under the tree this year.

7. Keep Track Of Your Spending In A Readily Available Place

It’s super important to keep track of your spending in a readily available place. Why? Because as soon as you make a purchase or spend a dime on a holiday expense, you need to track the spending.

You can keep a piece of paper handy in your wallet or use a smartphone app. Regardless, make sure to always be comparing how much you’ve spent to how much you’ve budgeted to spend on each item.

If you go over budget on a particular item, you’ll have to make up the savings somewhere else or return the item and find a cheaper alternative. You are not allowed to exceed your total budget. If you do, it’s time to take back some gifts and get a refund.

8. Try To Find Great Deals And Actually Save Your Savings

Part of holiday shopping is embracing the amazing deals that can be found this time of year. Whether you shop online or in brick and mortar stores, amazing savings can be found on Black Friday, Cyber Monday and the holiday season in general.

Rather than using these savings to buy even more gifts as retailers hope you will, actually save the money and don’t spend it at all. By doing this you’ll get amazing deals on exactly what you planned to buy without giving in and spending more money than you intended.

Your wallet or purse will thank you and so will that piece of paper you’re tracking your budget on.

9. Don’t Focus Solely On Your Budget

Sticking to your budget is super important for your wallet, but keep in mind why you’re attending events, buying gifts and travelling to visit friends and family.

Don’t buy a gift for someone just because it fits your budget. Instead, try to find something that fits the person perfectly while still fitting within your budget.

If you can’t find something to buy within your budget, consider making a personal gift for that person or gift them a service you can provide for them.

Always keep the holiday spirit in mind and then try to figure out how to make it fit within your budget. Sometimes your presence is the best gift you can give and that can be free.

10. Have Fun And Enjoy The Holidays

Even though sticking to your budget is important, it should only be a small part of your holiday experience. Enjoy the season. Have fun with the festivities. Cherish the time spent with family, friends and coworkers.

Once the holidays are over, you’ll have many fun memories to think back on. If you stick to the plan above, your wallet or purse won’t be stretched to the max, either.

Getting through the holidays on budget without incurring a penny of debt is an awesome accomplishment, so make sure you celebrate on New Year’s. Just don’t go into debt for the party.

What is your favorite tip to survive the holiday season on a budget? Anything I didn’t mention here? If so, please share in the comments!

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About Lance Cothern

Lance Cothern, a Certified Public Accountant (CPA) licensed in the Commonwealth of Virginia, is the founder of Money Manifesto. You can read more about him here or connect with him on Facebook, Twitter, Google+ or Pinterest.


  1. We really set expectations. My in-laws are pretty broke, and we don’t like to spend a ton on the holiday. So we agreed to a $25 limit to spend on each person. It makes you get creative, and it means I avoid busting the budget.

  2. Throughout our marriage we have not spent a lot of money on birthdays or vacations so Christmas has always been pretty big. In January we plan how much we want to spend the next Christmas and divide by 12, putting that amount into a special Christmas designation in our reserve fund. Not rocket science but it does take discipline. Since we retired, the number of people we buy for has decreased. We’ve also lost several family members over the years so we really have a very small number of people we buy for. I did buy A LOT of wrapping paper last year on sale so not have enough to probably last us 5 years!

  3. So important heading into the holidays. Great post.

    My wife and I went overboard last year. The holidays aren’t nearly as merry in January when the bill arrives. This year, we’ve set a goal of spending 25% less. If we meet the goal, we’re going out for a nice dinner in January. Will probably spend a little of the savings on the dinner, but we’ll enjoy it a lot more than the ridiculous stuff we spend on during the holidays.

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