We’re nearing the end of summer. In some places the public school year has already begun. And do you know what that means? Christmas is around the corner! Sure, back-to-school season is almost over and parents are happy, I’m sure, for the relief on their wallet.  But at the blink of an eye we’ll be gearing up again for that great shopping season that retailers and consumers alike wait all year for. In our debt-dependent, consumerist society we are most vulnerable to overspend during this time.

Christmas, for better and worse, can be a very emotional time. It raises sentimental feelings about family, friends and togetherness. Advertisers are masters at pushing those emotional buttons to create a strong impulse to buy things we often can’t afford to express to our loved ones how much we care.  The best defense is to devise a solid plan and commit an iron will, now, to resist the temptation to overspend later.  We certainly don’t want to experience another year paying off all the debt we accumulated in the name of the birth of our Lord!

Here are five things to do starting today to handle the next big shopping season like a boss!

  1.  Make a List

List all of the people (individuals, organizations, charities, etc) for whom you would like to buy a gift. Write down everyone you can think of.  You can pare down later.

2.  Get Ideas

Get an idea of what each person/organization would want or appreciate. Write down all of these ideas next to the name. If you’re really organized use a spreadsheet! As you know, vendors will be throwing huge deals at us to get our business.  This way you know what to zoom in on when your phone apps, inbox and mailbox gets inundated with offers.

3.   Estimate the Cost

So now that you have your list and some ideas about what kind of gifts each recipient may like, you can begin to put a budget in place.  Get estimates for the items.  Yes there will be sales, discounts, rewards and cash back promotions, but it’s still useful to determine how much it could cost without those benefits.  Give yourself a little cushion.  The grand total will be your Target Christmas Shopping Allowance (TCSA).

4.  Start a bank account

For the sole purpose of your Christmas budget.  This way, it won’t get mixed up with other money.  If you leave the Christmas funds in the same account that you shop and pay bills from it will be easy to have a memory lapse after a while and end up dipping into it.  Also, it will be easier to see how well you’re progressing toward your TCSA by keeping these funds separate.

5.  Save

Now comes the hard part: consistent implementation.  There are roughly three months between now and Christmas shopping season.  How much money do you need to save each month to reach your TCSA, and by what specific date would you want to accomplish that savings goal?

Knowing how much money you will need, and by when, along with clear ideas on the types of gifts you want to focus on will hopefully give you some sense of control and reduce stress when the season is upon us.  It will help with overall household budgeting as well because you aren’t waiting until the last minute to come up with a large sum of money.  You get to pace yourself.  And when the time comes you may be less likely to make hasty, financially wasteful gifting decisions.

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