The holidays are right around the corner, and this is usually the time of year when we throw our budget right out the door. You have too many people to buy for, or you want to show people how much you care about them. Maybe you’ve found a great shopping deal you can’t possibly pass up. Or, your child has now entered middle school and now needs gifts for six teachers instead of one. You have family gatherings and meals to prepare and Secret Santa gifts to buy. Your outdoor decorations were fine last year, but your neighbor had such a great display that you should probably buy a couple more things for this year. No wonder we are so stressed this time of year! We have so much to keep track of, and it can get expensive fast.

What can you do? Plan ahead! Start by creating two separate “wish lists.”

On the first list, write down what your ideal holiday experience would look like. Think about who would be sitting around your table or spending time with you. Think about the emotions you would like to have and how much time you would like to spend with your loved ones. Really think about the entire experience – the who, what, when, where, and why.

On the second list, write down all the people to whom you would love to give a gift. Be honest. Don’t include anyone you feel obligated to give to. Think about who you listed on your first wish list. Think about those who you love spending time with and really care about. This list should make you feel good and thankful to have the ability to give these individuals or charities a gift. When you look at this list, you can’t wait to go out and find them something special.

If you were paying close attention, you might have noticed that I haven’t mentioned anything about a budget or spending limits yet. There is a reason for that. We feel so stressed and anxious around the holidays that we hardly have time to sleep. But by taking the time to compile these wish lists, you have made the season so much easier because you are now focused on what matters. And, if you look at those lists again, I bet many of those people or charities would rather have your time than money.

Now that you have your two lists, figure out how much you would like to spend and then allocate an amount to each person on your list. Then, I would like to challenge you to do something more. I want you to think outside the box. Maybe come up with an agreement with the person to surprise them with a gift sometime during the year instead of at the holidays. How cool would that be if a holiday present showed up in May? If you are crafty, make them something special – a one-of-a-kind piece of art. If you are handy, offer to come to their house and fix a couple of small things that are particularly annoying to them.

A little planning can go a long way toward helping you keep your budget, and make it the best holiday season ever.

Here are a few things to keep in mind as you are going through your wish lists:

  • Use those two lists as your filter for the season. If it isn’t the experience you are looking for or a person you want to gift, it doesn’t make the cut.
  • Beware of a perceived obligation: This person gave me something, so I have to return the favor.
  • Old patterns can be hard to break. Just because you did it in the past doesn’t mean you have to continue the pattern. Be open with the other person and let them know that you are doing something a little different this year.
  • Having a “budget buddy” is a great way to stay accountable and to have some fun!

There are a lot of ideas here, so find one thing you can easily implement and get to it! The hardest part is the first step, so I am cheering you on and hope you have the best holiday experience possible!

Author Anne M. Mank Director of Financial Planning

Anne co-hosted the weekly radio show, Money Sense, and is a Certified Integrative Holistic Coach.

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