How to Make Your Holidays Fit Your Budget

outside christmas tree
(Joseph M. Juarez Sr./DVIDS)

Oops! You blinked and now the holidays are right around the corner.

If you haven't been faithfully stashing cash in a holiday fund throughout the year to offset gift-giving costs now, don't panic. We have you covered with these budget-friendly shopping strategies.

Make a list. Shorten the list. You may have lots of friends, family members and co-workers but that doesn't mean you have to buy each and every one of them a gift. Not sure who to drop from your list? Refer to Dave Ramsey's Holiday Gift Giving Guide and start voting the extras off the island.

Stop procrastinating. You don't have any time to lose. If you are a late starter this year, then remember how it positively frenzied it feels and commit to avoiding it next year. You might even begin your holiday shopping in January this year and spread your purchases out over the year. Just saying. #overachievergoals.

Set realistic spending limits. Figure out how much you can realistically afford to spend on others and write the number down. Stick to the number. If you're not sure how to do that then see AmeriForce's own Realistic Ways to Craft a Holiday Budget for Any Military Family for more information.

Be a smart shopper. Impulse buying has no place in a smart shopper's world. You work hard for the money so take the time to compare prices in stores and online. Purposefully shop sales. There's an app (or two) for that you know. You can learn about them at The Best Shopping Apps to Compare Prices.

Avoid using your credit card. Leave your cards at home when you shop. Instead, use cash instead and a limited amount at that. Pack your wallet with big bills as studies have shown that shoppers who do that are more careful in spending their money.

Reward yourself. IF you DO use your credit card, only spend what you can pay off in the same month and reap the reward points. Think of it as a convenience check and not a purchase that you want to be paying on in the months to come.

Make your own gifts. Nothing says you care quite like gifts crafted from your heart with your own two hands. Channel your inner artist and paint that picture, crochet that scarf or arrange that bouquet. Need some inspiration? Check out 70 Crafty Handmade Holiday Gift Ideas.

Create a personalized coupon booklet. So you're not so good in the textile arts. That's okay. The right person will appreciate a good hug, a relaxing back rub, having their car detailed or their living room windows washed. The possibilities are endless.

Skip the dust catchers. Forget about buying expensive presents that sit around and collect dust. Instead, opt to give gifts of experiences and memories. 50 Creative Ways to Give Experiences and Memories Instead of Things can show you how. Be careful here, though. Some types of experiences may come with big price tags (read: round trip tickets for four to Europe). Make sure your chosen experiences are not budget busters.

Give the gift of your time. You can't really put a price on your time. It's invaluable and others you care enough to give a gift to will appreciate the gift of your time to them. Tap into your own skillset in the process. For example, if you have mad house improvement skills, offer to do a project for someone, saving them money and contractor anxiety. Or just be present in the moment, warts and all. For more ideas see This Holiday Season, Let's Give the Gift of Being Present.

Think Like Martha Stewart. No one in their right mind can resist cookies, cakes or scones that are already baked, or the ingredients are assembled and staged decoratively for the recipient to bake. This idea scores the trifecta of gift-giving. It's tasty, thoughtful and budget-friendly. Get ideas at 62 Homemade Food Gifts for the Holidays.

Preparing for the Holiday Season

In mere weeks, the swing of the holiday season will be upon us. As the weather starts getting cooler (in most of the country) we all start feeling the anticipation of the season. But it's not always filled with excitement. Each year, life seems to get more hectic around the holidays, more expensive, more stressful. For military families, there is an added pressure to make the season full of fun and family, since being together is never to be taken for granted.

Visiting Family

Each year there is a collective groan around the military community when, once again, the discussion of "Are you coming home for the holidays?" is asked. I'm not sure why, but it seems that even as adults with families and jobs of our own, our extended family can't quite grasp that just because we move, doesn't mean we don't have a home.

You do not have to travel every year. Do not feel guilty about it! Make your decision, independent from those who aren't actually going to be doing the traveling, and then stick to it. Maybe you can travel another time during the holiday season, or maybe you're close enough to make a day trip. Invite them all to your house! Just remember, you are the ultimate authority on whether your family travels this holiday season. Well, right after the military.

Gift Giving on a Budget

As if finding the perfect gift for your spouse, your mother and your children isn't stressful enough, adding up all the expected costs of the holiday season is enough to make anyone stop enjoying the process. In a perfect world, we'd start budgeting in January for the next December, but that hardly ever happens.

Here are some ways to keep things in check while making preparations.

• Limit the number of people you shop for

• Consider homemade gifts, especially baked goods

• Chose a set number of people you are buying for, and stick to it

• Organize a cookie exchange among friends, you all get your baking done and you can prepare fun plates of cookies to then give as gifts

With work holiday parties and teacher gifts, and all the rest of the things that come up, time and money gets tight. You do not have to attend everything, you do not have to buy a gift for everyone and you should not feel obligated to do so.

Keeping Traditions

Some of the things I looked forward to most as a child were the traditions that I could count on year after year. When I became a parent, I knew that those traditions were going to keep my kids comfortable during the holidays, no matter where we happened to be living, or visiting. I like to spread the holiday out as long as possible, so we include additional celebrations like St. Nicholas Day on December 6th, and are sure to include as many of our extended family members as possible.

The most important part about the holiday season is being with those you love, and sometimes that means traveling and other times it means staying home. What are you planning for this holiday season?

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