With unemployment at historic lows, rising wages and consumer confidence at an 18 year high consumers are understandably in good cheer and ready to go out and spend this holiday season.

But for you, the thrill of the deal can quickly turn in to despair over the debt if you go overboard with your holiday gift giving.

Here’s how to keep your budget in check during the holiday shopping season.

What’s the best way to approach holiday shopping if we don’t want things to get out of hand?

Well, if there’s one thing that I hope people ask for, and get, this Christmas, it’s discipline. All the budgeting “tips and tricks” in the world won’t help you if you can’t control yourself.

Yet, relying on willpower alone won’t be enough to get the job done. You need a system.

Here’s what I suggest:


  1. Build a Budget– This sounds simple, but on one likes to do this. You have to go into shopping season with a set amount that you’re committed to not outspend. When you do this, be sure to include ALL of your costs such as wrapping, shipping, travel, etc.


  1. Save All Year– You do realize that Christmas happens at the same time every year, right? So why do you seem so surprised when Black Friday rolls around and you haven’t set aside any money for gifts?


Americans are expected to spend $1000 on average during the holiday shopping season.  That’s $80/month or $20.00/week you should save in advance.

 3Create a Separate Account – Don’t keep your “gift” money in the same account as your “bill” money. Open a free checking account or put money onto a prepaid debit card that will only be used for your holiday shopping. When it’s gone, it’s gone.

4. Never Use Credit – Buying something on sale, but using credit to do so and paying the minimum each month totally defeats the purpose of getting the deal in the first place. Only use your credit card if you’re getting points or rewards and you’re going to pay it off in full when the bill comes.

Ok, but what if we didn’t save up much money for Christmas, what should we do then? 

In that case, it’s time to think about generating some extra cash. Luckily, since there’s so much spending going on during the holiday season, there should be lots of opportunities to do this.

For example you can:

Convert Old Gift Cards – Check your wallet for unused or partially used gift cards. Use the balance for gifts, or use a site like to convert those balances to cash.

Sell Your Junk! – Go through your garage and your closet to find things that still have tags or haven’t been used in a while.  Sell these things on eBay, Poshmark, etc.

Donate Items – Donate the things you can’t sell to Goodwill, etc.  You’ll get the advantage of the tax deduction, which may put extra cash in your pocket at tax time.

Ok, what if people are expecting expensive gifts?

Look, you have to take charge and set the expectations up front.

With Your Kids – This is a great time to discuss needs vs. wants and priorities with your kids.  They may not be able to get everything they want, so give them a say in what is most important to them.

With Your Family – Perhaps set up a Secret Santa gift exchange where each family member only has to buy one gift. Try or Elfster to set up your exchange.

With Yourself – Buying great presents won’t make you a better friend, spouse or parent. Have a real discussion about what the most important people in your life really want, and you might find that it may not cost you anything at all.


Rob Wilson is the Chief Insight Officer at Wilson Insight and a frequent contributor to CNN, CBS, NBC and Fox.

For more important lessons on improving your finances, connect with Rob on Twitter @robwilsontv or at his website

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