Tips to avoid holiday overspending — or if you already have, what to do next year

Nothing can bring more happiness — or a bigger headache — than the holiday season.

While the fear can be scarier than Krampus, money doesn’t have to turn you into a Scrooge. When the harsh reality of January sets in, so do our credit card bills, leaving some of us wondering where all our money went.

Here are some of the best ways to combat, and recover from, financial overindulgence during the holiday season.

Set a clear budget

While it may be fun to blow an entire paycheque at the local holiday market in December, walking in with a clear budget can save you from scrambling to pay the bills come January.

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One of the best ways to combat the urge to overspend is to make a list of exactly who you are shopping for and what you’d like to gift.

As for all the treats in the grocery aisle? Add one to three items to your grocery list leading up to the holiday but leave it at that. There are treats and treasures galore from the office to your in-law’s place, so keep the food to mostly basics.

Related: The 15 best money tips to set you up for success.

Pay cash

Canada is one of the world’s biggest users of Interac and credit card technology, with few people ever keeping any cash on hand. But when you reach for your wallet this holiday season, it will be much easier to stick to your clear budget by taking out cash and spending just that.

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Why? It’s not just because we watch our money fly out faster. A 2009 study said that shopping with cash subconsciously discourages us from spending, but the use of debit, credit or gift cards actually encourages us. So, head to the bank, take out your gift budget in cash and start shopping.

See also: What is ‘cash stuffing’ and how does it work?

Buy secondhand

For some, holiday gift giving is all about the biggest, shiniest things we can find to show our love to those around us, but secondhand gift giving is seeing a huge surge. Beyond the environmental impact of shopping secondhand or vintage — which includes curbing high water usage rates, toxic chemicals in clothing and terrible labour conditions used to make fast fashion clothes— gifting secondhand items can help save our wallet and show how well-thought-out a gift can be.

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Kids especially benefit from secondhand items like electronics, gaming systems, tablets and smartphones. If you find your in-laws the perfect vintage tea set that matches their 1972 wedding registry dish set? You’ll be a hero.

You may also like: Canadians are spending less on holiday gifts in 2022: poll.

Make a list — and stick with it

Do you ever imagine a series of things you think that you might want to buy for your loved ones around the holidays? Maybe you pin things on your Pinterest board, or create a secret wish list at your favourite retailer.

But trying to keep track of appointments, parties, school events and your shopping list is better done thoroughly and clearly. Whether you jot your list down or download one of several free holiday gift list apps available, being able to plan and keep track of the things you’ve purchased will save you a headache come Blue Monday.

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See also: We’re charging less on our credit cards – but spending more in other ways: study

Say no to overindulgence

There’s a long-standing joke that we all gain a little weight over the holidays. Office bake sales, holiday parties galore — and for those of us who drink — lots of wine, bubbly and glittering holiday cocktails. But we truly don’t have to indulge in all of it.

With the average Canadian spending nearly $1,500 on alcohol and smoking in 2016, slowing down on your holiday consumption could save you some serious coin, and bring you into the new year with a lighter step and a heavier wallet.

See also: Cooking for one? Try these delicious hacks to maximize your food budget.

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Start shopping early

We all know that one person who starts their holiday shopping in June. While those keen shoppers are often maligned, they’re doing something right. By pre-planning your gift giving, you can easily find better deals and lower prices on items that may not be on sale closer to the holidays.

While you don’t have to start in June, starting as early as September can help you spread out your gift purchasing, and help save you from a mega splurge come December 1.

Reassess your financial situation

Listen, most of us haven’t been taught clear financial lessons in life, but that doesn’t mean you can’t start now.

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If you’ve been squeezed over the holidays, start fresh by taking a clear look at your financial state. While you can do it on your own, it never hurts to sit down with a financial advisor at your bank. You’ll probably end up with a better financial scorecard than you started with — and a clear conscience, too.

Related: 10 finance apps for young people to help get us started.

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Make a repayment plan

So, you maxed out over the holidays. While it’s less than ideal to start a new year in the red, once you’ve re-assessed your finances, you can start repaying the debt you got yourself into.

Start with your highest interest loans, usually credit cards, and pay down principal and interest. If you only pay the bare minimum every month, your debt will loom over your head all year, so getting organized and paying your debt off sooner will mean a headache free holiday next year.

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Look for low-cost or free family activities over the holidays

While it might seem oh-so-seasonal to head to your local holiday market or craft fair, or to take your kids to the indoor party palace during that long winter break, many holiday-themed, and family-themed events can cost a pretty penny. But you don’t have to do the holidays like one of the Real Housewives: prioritize low-cost or no-cost ways to spend your long winter nights.

Start planning for next year now

Start planning for December in January? Sounds wild, but even just putting $25 a paycheque away all year can net you $600 for the holidays.

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While it may seem a little too early to start thinking about your end of year spending just when this year’s holidays are wrapping up, planning ahead will save you money, time, and energy — exactly what each of us want. And if you’ve already reassessed your finances, you’ll know exactly what you can save, helping steer you towards your budget goals and a happier, easier holiday. You’ll thank yourself later.

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