Fall may just be getting started, but savvy spenders already have their sights on their gift-giving budget for the holiday season. If you haven’t already started squirreling away money for holiday parties, family gift exchanges, and updates to your decorations, don’t panic; we have some great budgeting and saving tips you can start using now to get ahead.

  1. Figure out your budget. Saving for holiday spending is like saving for anything else: it’s best achieved by making frequent deposits into a designated account. You can set a total goal, or simply save as much you can between now and December. There are a couple of ways to meet whatever your goal is: you could divide the amount you already save each month and put some in your holiday fund or save money you’d usually spend on entertainment or frivolous purchases. The sooner you start saving, the less it will affect your usual budget as you enter the holiday season.
  2. See what you spent last year. To help figure out a realistic holiday budget, look back and see what you spent last year. If you used credit cards to buy most things, you can look back at your old statements. Ask if you have any regrets about what you bought and what you’d like to do differently this year.
  3. Make a list. Make a list of all the people you’d like to get gifts for and charitable causes you’d like to donate to. Put people into categories based on the amount of money you imagine spending on their gift—it can be as simple as a tier system of large, medium, small, and smaller. Then, with the holiday budget you’ve already figured out, assign dollar values to each gift category. You may move some people or you may have to shrink the amount per group, but in the end, you’ll have a clear idea of how much to spend on each person.
  4. Comparison shop and be ready for Black Friday, Cyber Monday, Giving Tuesday, and Small Business Saturday. The best way to take advantage of holiday sales is to be prepared. If you have specific items on your list of gifts for yourself, friends, and family, start comparison shopping online and in stores as soon as possible. Often seasonal items like summer outdoor gear and sports equipment will go on sale in October, before most people are looking for holiday sales. By widening the timeframe you’re looking for sales, you are more likely to catch the best deals. You’d hate to realize that the new electronic you were planning to buy for your partner went on sale in September and you started shopping in November or December.
  5. Consider homemade gifts. For those smaller gifts for coworkers, distant cousins, and even your hair stylist or postal worker, consider homemade gifts you can personalize and make in bulk to save money and time deciding what to buy. You can also plan gift alternatives, like inviting friends over for a baking date, board game night with snacks, or holiday movie night in—a time you can spend with friends in the holiday spirit that doesn’t require buying everyone a gift.
  6. Track your spending. The final key to sticking to a budget is to track spending and deposits. Keep your gift list and budget with you on your smart phone so you can easily reference it. Use a cash-only system for gifts to easily see what you’ve spent or pick one credit card to use so you can see all holiday-related charges on one monthly statement.
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