Santa sprinkled with a bit of Scrooge

It's the holidays! Everywhere you look there are decorated trees, mesmerizing lights, and the smells of cinnamon and pine. For many individuals, this time of year is not as exciting as it is for others though... It also means buying gifts and spending money they may not have. While it may not seem like a large amount, an extra $20 here and there can add up quickly.

As the holidays approach you may find yourself in a bit of a bind: Consumers are in a spending mood this year, with plans to hand over 4.1% more than they did during the last holiday season. That puts the average of $1,000 per shopper, according to the National Retail Federation. Everyone wants to be a Santa, but it pays to throw in a bit of Scrooge. Here are some tips to help make sure your holiday spending doesn't go from "Ho, Ho, Ho" to "Ho, Ho, Holy cow I spent how much?"

1. Have you made a holiday budget? 

Before hitting the checkout lanes, it's a good idea to create a list of people (and pets) you plan to buy gifts for, including a budget for each person. That will help keep the spending within reason. A list also helps wrap your head around how much you are actually spending overall. While $10-$20 gifts for your co-workers doesn't sound like much, it can add up quickly. Make sure to keep a line item for those last-minute gifts you may have forgotten about. Already have your shopping underway? It's not too late! Even doing this after the fact can be a helpful lesson to be mindful of gifts purchases in the future.

2. Have you started shopping? 

Shopping throughout the year is a great way to level out your spending and snag some great deals. If you see the perfect gift for a friend on sale in July, grab it now and stash it away until the right time. This doesn't just apply for Christmas shopping, but for birthdays, anniversaries, or any other gift-worthy mile-stone. I tend to buy things on clearance and stash them in a spare closet. When the time is right, they get a great gift, and I have saved a lot of money.

3. Do you have rewards points to cash in?

Many stores, or cards, have loyalty programs that you can cash in this time of year. For instance, I have an Amazon Visa, and throughout the year I use it for almost all of my purchases. Gas, groceries, household items, items for the office, travel, etc... I allow the points to accumulate, and when the holidays roll around, I have already built up a decent amount of points that convert into dollars on my Amazon purchases. This year I handled almost all of my shopping by cashing in my points. It's a great way to save throughout the year, while still purchasing those much-needed items.

4. Be cautious of the sites you shop on...

When it comes to sales, the old saying "you can go broke saving money" could not be truer. While a merchant can throw a sale sign on just about anything, make sure you can't get a better deal somewhere else. It's important to check bargains against the original site to see if the deal is really a steal. Sites like Ebates or Wikibuy are great resources to check for deals and coupon codes. The run all of the published coupon codes and let you know which apply to your purchase. Even though I'm pretty thorough in my frugal research, I have even been surprised with a better deal a few times. (Side note: By clicking the links above, I may benefit monetarily)

5. Want a fun gift idea?

I've never really understood the whole White Elephant holiday gifting game. I mean, you buy a random gift with no particular person in mind and pass it around a certain number of times until you wind up with something you may or may not like. Yes, there are some laughs to be had, but I think those would probably be had regardless if I were having a gift "stolen" from me. 

How about giving gifts that every recipient will truly appreciate and love? Grab multiple pairs of socks, gloves, toiletries, and snacks to create holiday gift bags to hand out to those less fortunate. You can have those same laughs watching your friends and family decorate the gift bags, or make it a game and divide into teams to see who can bag the most items.  It's a great way to enjoy that gift-giving feeling and helping out someone in a time of need. 

6. Bringing it home...(made)-

Instead of putting your finances in a bind for the next year, consider gifting items you've created on your own. Don't get me started on the number of ideas Pinterest has, and there are plenty that you can involve the kiddos with as well... 

Michelle Kuehner is a Registered Investment Advisor Representative and President of Personal Money Planning. She is also a Certified Credit Counselor and Certified Financial Health Counselor, writes Fix Our Budget blog, and has over 25 years of experience in the financial industry.

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