From travel to presents to hosting unforgettable parties, it can be easy to break your budget over the holidays. "There are more external forces that may push us to internally trigger spending above our means," says Clare Dubé, a Certified Financial Social Worker and financial therapist. "While it is best for our bank accounts to be mindful of our day-to-day spending, it is key to be more focused during the holidays."
Here’s how to avoid overspending this holiday season, and what to do if you find you’ve missed your target.
Check in with your emotions
It’s particularly easy to let our emotions take charge of our wallets during the holiday season. “Social pressure, family traditions, and media can all affect emotional spending during the holidays," says Dubé.
Plus, as we all know, life can be very chaotic during the holiday season, and stress can make it easier to overspend— especially if spending feels like a solution, like finding the perfect gift to please a picky in-law coming to visit.
That’s why it’s helpful to understand what your emotional spending triggers are, says Dani Pascarella, a Certified Financial Planner and founder of OneEleven Financial Wellness. Ask yourself what drives you to spend money. Do you spend more when you’re happy, lonely, stressed, or sad? These are common feelings during the holidays and could affect your spending.
Be mindful of your triggers. “Once you have that knowledge, it makes it easier to avoid those types of purchases, because now you have realized a behavior," Pascarella says.
Create a holiday spending plan
According to Dubé, having a plan is key to keep from overspending. Look at your budget and see what you can comfortably afford for gifts and holiday plans. Next, decide who and what the money will be spent on.
Quick tip: Having a clear spending plan in place will make it easier to sidestep temptations.
It can also be helpful to hold off on wrapping gifts for a few days. That way, you can give more thought to whether you made a good purchase, and you can return it for something less expensive if it pushes you beyond your budget.
Sidestep the “it’s a special occasion” trap
Pascarella shares that it's easier to justify overspending during a special occasion because we can think of it as a one-off occurrence rather than part of our lifestyle. But that kind of thinking can steer you off course. “It's important to treat yourself and your family, but planning and being mindful are key,” she notes.
Consider gifts that don’t cost a thing
“Quality time spent together during a time when life can get crazy may be the best gift you can give,” says Dubé. Think of ways you can help your friends and family, and make gifts of your time or skills. For instance, you can:
• Babysit for a friend so they can go to dinner with their significant other.
• Bring popcorn and drinks, and watch a movie with a loved one.
• Set a time to help someone with a project they’ve put off.
Don’t let a misstep sabotage everything
If you realize you spent more than you should, it’s important to remember that you can still take back control of your money.
“Don’t let one instance of overspending turn into a spiral. Take a deep breath and reset. Identify what triggered you to overspend in the first place so that you can [keep] it from happening again," Pascarella says.
If you went into debt or dipped into your savings, Pascarella recommends creating a plan to pay off the purchase or pay yourself back. Set up an automatic transfer on your payday so you can prioritize this, and move on.
“Don’t get caught in a shaming, spending, shaming, spending cycle,” Pascarella advises. “Remember that you are in control of your money, not the other way around.”