Take control of holiday spending

Exchanging gifts, entertaining family and friends, and extending goodwill to others are the activities that make holidays joyful. But sometimes the enjoyment is followed by financial headaches. January’s bank statements and credit card bills bring the unhappy realization that you lost control of your finances.

How can you prevent this financial hangover? Start with a budget. Estimate the cost of what you plan to purchase. Include gifts, holiday decorations, entertaining, and special events. If the total cost is manageable, stick to your budget as you shop.

But what if the cost grows – and grows some more? There’s no need to resort to miserly behavior to trim that out-of-control gift list. One option is to draw names of family members and give one nice gift to each person, rather than multiple small gifts to everyone. Elderly relatives might appreciate “gift certificates” that can be redeemed for your help with home or garden chores. Other cost-saving ideas: make or bake gifts instead of buying them; give combined gifts from parents and children instead of individual gifts; agree on a spending limit with close friends.

While you no doubt want to splurge on the kids during this time of year, don’t feel you have to give your children every gift they ask for. When they make their list, have them prioritize the things they really want. At the store, take a lesson from your own childhood, when your favorite gifts were simple toys that encouraged you to use your imagination.

Remember, too, the holidays are more than gift-receiving time. Create a family tradition of choosing and wrapping a present for those less fortunate. Encourage your children to make gifts for family and friends. Arrange family outings and fun activities so the holidays become a series of enjoyable events.

An emphasis on holiday experiences in place of shopping extravaganzas will let you enjoy the season more – both this month and next, when the bills come due.