The holidays are near. From gifts to travel to every category of your holiday budget, here’s how to strategize ahead of your spending.

We can’t believe it either, but the mad dash of the holiday season is approaching — fast. Though it’s always smart to plan ahead for the many expenses this time of year brings, in 2022, it’s particularly important to be mindful of your budget. Sadly, with inflation at a multi-decade high, more and more people are living paycheck to paycheck, putting many families in an extremely vulnerable position, says Brian Walsh, CFP, a senior manager of financial planning at SoFi. As he puts it, normally, it’s helpful to spread one-off costs (like the holidays) throughout the year, but now, it might be critical.

“Beyond spreading expenses across a longer period of time, planning can help reduce overall expenses by finding deals and prioritizing spending against other goals,” he says.

Here is a guide to the most impactful money strategies you should implement for each budget category — from travel and gifting to food. With these tips, you can still feel holly and jolly — and keep more money in your pocket.

TRAVELING

We all want to be around those we hold near and dear during the holidays. Unfortunately, that sometimes comes at a very pretty penny. For most people, the priciest budget item is traveling — whether it’s booking flights for the whole fam, renting a car, or even refilling your gas tank many times over. And if your extended friends and family doesn’t have a spare bedroom, you also have to factor in the cost of hotels or rental properties via Airbnb.

If you already know you’ll be commuting, it’s important to begin researching and booking what you can now, according to Julie Ramhold, a consumer analyst with DealNews.com. She suggests looking into loyalty programs with hotels and airlines that provide special perks like rewards or points. “They may also prioritize non-member guests if someone is getting bumped from a flight and may be eligible for free hotel upgrades,” she continues. “Many of these are free to join, and it’s especially wise to join if there’s a particular airline you like to fly with or a hotel chain you prefer to stay at when you travel.”

If you have any idea of when you want to fly for the holidays, Ramhold suggests tracking flights right away via apps like Hopper and Skyscanner. “They can take a lot of the guesswork out of booking and can even indicate which days may be better for your budget when it comes to traveling, especially during high traffic times like the holidays,” she adds.

Last — but definitely not least important — be savvy with your gas spending. Though it might be on your radar now, gas prices may go up as we approach the holiday season. “You can look for discounted gas at places like Costco and Sam’s Club if you have a membership,” she recommends. You can also consider the app Checkout 51, which Ramhold says offers cash back on several purchases, including gas.

PARTIES AND EVENTS

You may love being the hostess with the mostess (I mean, who doesn’t?) but you probably don’t enjoy forking over the change for food, beverages, decor, and more. Since the last two years have taught us to adapt on the fly, take those learnings and apply them to holiday parties and events. Just because you’ve ‘always’ organized your shindigs in a certain way doesn’t mean you have to continue.

One idea is to go with a potluck approach this year, says Lauren King, a certified financial planner and managing partner at Compass Advisors. “Instead of everyone making a casserole dish ala the 1980s, a 2022 spin on potlucks would be for everyone to bring a ‘Board.’ Think charcuterie board, dessert board, cheese/crackers board, fruit board, crudités board,” she recommends.

You can also take the burden — emotionally and financially — off yourself by divvying up the hosting tasks between a few friends or family members. You can choose a restaurant or someone’s house, and then divide and conquer. Not only is this more cost-effective, but it’s more fun, too, King says.

Maybe you’re less of a planner and more of a follower. AKA: you will be invited to many events — and you’re tempted to buy a new outfit for each. “Not only can our holiday wardrobe feel like a point of stressful glitz and glamour, but it can also be a financial point of conflict,” says Lauren Young, the head of growth at future.green.

This year, instead of buying new clothing and accessories for events, Young says to look at holiday engagements as an opportunity to shop your own closet and get creative. “If an ugly sweater party is inevitable, head down to your local thrift shop for some great vintage finds,” she says. “This way of looking at these events saves you money, is more sustainable for our planet and can lift your spirits.”

Also, if you need the nudge and permission: it’s also okay to say no! As King puts it, conflicts happen, or you may have too much on your plate.

GIFTING

It’s the most wonderful time of the year to amble aimlessly through Target, wondering what in the world to get your great aunt you haven’t seen in five years. Gifting often comes with high expectations — and price tags that can rob you blind. That’s why it’s important to not only be picky about who you decide to get a gift for but also to get started ASAP, says Steve Sexton, a financial consultant and CEO of Sexton Advisory Group.

The first step is to make a list of everyone you want to buy a gift for — family members, friends, co-workers, mail carrier, and so on — and set a budget for all your gifts. Sexton says to factor in potential shipping, gift-wrapping and travel/gas costs if you’re shopping in-store.

Then, before you type in or swipe your credit card, do some prep work to learn about upcoming sales, promotions or other ways to save. Sexton typically, you can find see the best deals on items under $100 the week before Christmas.

Most importantly, be flexible and remember, your affection for someone isn’t determined by how much you shell out during the holiday season. If you don’t have room to splurge on everyone — that’s more than okay. “Consider meaningful alternatives instead of buying gifts this year, like baked goods, personally curated music playlists, or arranging potluck-style holiday celebrations,” he continues. “Secret Santa or White Elephant is also much more budget-friendly and takes the pressure off gift giving this year.”

MENTAL HEALTH

Though mental health might not seem like a financial expense, it can end up nagging at your budget if you don’t manage your stress. How so? You may impulse buy when you’re feeling anxious. Or you could overspend because you feel pushed to the extreme. Worse yet, you could sink into depressive symptoms that really require therapy or medication. Long story short: don’t let this happen by being proactive with your coping strategies.

Ramhold recommends mapping out what your holiday season will — probably — look like. This allows you to envision the big picture and prepare for potentially stressful situations, experiences and expenses. “You’ll be more easily able to avoid overspending because you’ll have accounted and planned for most purchases,” she continues. “It’s a good idea to leave some wiggle room for unexpected things to arise, but even allowing for that, you’ll still be able to cut back on stress overall and keep your budget intact.”

As you’re editing your schedule, incorporate downtime, too. “When things get hectic, it’s important to remember to decompress, but that can be hard when you’re busy and feel like you need to get everything done at once,” Ramhold says. “Rope a friend into taking downtime with you as it’ll be harder to skip it with someone holding you accountable.”

Re-posted from Hermoney.com

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