Remember when the holidays were all about simple pleasures like spending time with family and exchanging modest gifts? Neither do I. Holidays have taken on a life of their own, turning otherwise reasonable folks into consumer zombies and blowing up the budgets of too many Americans. This year, let’s celebrate simplicity and financial solvency. Here are the secrets to a debt-free holiday season.
1. Push back against “holiday sprawl”
Ever feel like the holidays come earlier, last longer, and require more gifts, more elaborate decorations, more money, and more travel? Let’s call this endless expansion what it is — holiday sprawl. Fight back by embracing the idea of enough. Suggest (and stick to) reasonable spending limits and keep ballooning expectations in check. Your budget will thank you. (See also: 9 Things You Can Do Right Now for a Frugal Holiday Season)
2. Shop early and shop around
Bright lights, big crowds, sales of the century — it’s enough to make even the most levelheaded shopper lose control. Skip all the holiday madness by shopping early (I start in September and try to finish by Thanksgiving). You’ll have more time to compare prices, shop for sales, and space out purchases so you won’t have to rely on credit. (See also: 6 Reasons January Is the Right Time to Start Planning for Christmas)
3. Slow down
Holidays can be frantic. In the rush of activity, we often make bad decisions about what to buy and how much to spend. Slow. Things. Down. Break up your shopping excursions into several smaller trips and avoid shopping on days when you have a thousand other things to do. When shopping online, load your virtual cart, but don’t commit to buy until you’ve thought about your choices overnight.
4. Avoid gimmicks
The holiday season can make or break retailers. To help us stretch our spending muscles, almost every store features blowout sales or deals that require the purchase of multiples (10 for $10). My advice? Be skeptical. That “biggest sale of the year” probably isn’t. And what are you going to do with 10 bacon-scented candles, anyway?
5. Pay cash
Do you tend to spend more when you use credit? You’re not alone. Paying by credit card — or worse yet, smartphone — blunts the conscious connection between spending more money and having less money. Make this holiday a cash-only affair. It’ll keep your accounts in the black and make your first credit card bill of the new year a lot less frightening.
6. Make your gifts
Exchanging handmade gifts can be wonderful, even among adults. Buck the retail trend altogether and focus on your talents. Are you an expert baker? A gifted artist? An inspired brewmaster? Explore Pinterest for inexpensive homemade holiday gift ideas, then tap into your creative spirit. (See also: 10 Gift Ideas That Cost Almost Nothing)
7. Skip the greeting cards
I didn’t get the memo: When did everyone decide that $14.99 is an acceptable price for a box of holiday cards? This year, save a few bucks by ditching the costly cards and postage. Instead, send a group email or catch up with a leisurely phone call.
8. Share experiences
If money’s tight, swap traditional gifts for the gift of time together. Organize a holiday potluck, host a movie night with friends, or coordinate a charity event where everyone contributes a few hours of their time as a group. After all, what could be better than good food, good friends, and goodwill?