The holiday season is coming soon. Doesn’t it feel like every year goes by faster than the one before? It’s crazy. You know what else is crazy? How much we spend on the holidays every year. If you’ve spent many Januarys digging out from under bills and credit card statements (and who hasn’t?), these holiday saving tips are for you. 

Come Up with a Budget

You should decide ahead of time how much you can—and should—spend for the holidays. This approach isn’t as fun as splurging on a whim, but most of us are not in a position to support impulse buying.

Look at everything you plan to do this holiday season and set a dollar amount for each activity. Giving gifts at work and at your kids’ school? Holiday entertaining? Decorating the house? Traveling to see loved ones? Make a realistic estimate about how much you’ll spend for each activity and plan accordingly.

Establish Spending Limits

Set a limit for how much you can spend for gifts at work and school. The same goes for extended family. And immediate family. And the postman. We really do try to give a lot, don’t we?

Once you have a plan and a budget for gifts, come up with a strategy. For example, Walmart offers layaway starting in September, allowing you to slowly pay off your purchases. Shopping on Black Friday is another way to save. Be sure to do research to find the best prices.

Make a Meal Plan

Whether you are hosting guests or sharing a holiday meal with your immediate family, the cost can add up. Figure out your menu and begin gathering nonperishable items ahead of time (this will also keep you from forgetting important items, like cranberry sauce).

Factor in Travel Costs

Holiday travel will require extra planning. Flight, train, bus, or road trip? Are you staying in a hotel? Are you attending shows or events? How much is gas in the area you’re visiting? If you wing it, instead of planning ahead and creating a budget, your wallet is sure to suffer. 

Regain control by being proactive. If you are flying, set up price alerts for the dates you plan to travel and let sites like Kayak and airline websites do the work for you. Make technology your friend this holiday season!

Plan for Emergencies

Expect the unexpected during the holiday season. Unpleasant surprises can range from the minor (the toy your child is counting on is sold out), to the major (you’re stranded because your flight is indefinitely delayed by bad weather). 

Set aside funds in case you have to change your plans at the last minute. Consider investing in travel insurance if you are booking flights. Have backup supplies for holiday meals in case you have a cooking crisis, or last minute guests show up. Advance planning will save you both time and money. 

What are your favorite strategies for tackling holiday spending?