McCall suggests sitting down as a family and talking about your favorite holiday memories. (If you’re single you can do this yourself or invite a close friend or two over for the same discussion.) “Most kids won’t remember the gifts,” she says. “They will remember the experience. They can also remember what their worst holiday memories are. Then they can connect the dots.” The goal, she says, is to figure out what you can take from those experiences to create the holiday you really want. “When I did this with my kids I discovered that they were unhappy that I was so busy and grumpy,” McCall says.
Write down everything you’ll need to buy for the holidays so you can plan your spending. Don’t forget things like entertaining, postage if you send greeting cards, extra groceries if you entertain, or gratuities, for example. (McCall offers a free holiday spending planner that works well for this purpose.) Then track against your plan to avoid holiday debt.
“Yes, it's great to buy gifts ahead of time, but if you forget about them, then they don't do you any good,” Rocha says. “Don't stash them here and there under beds and in closets -- that is how you forget. I have a two-drawer lateral file cabinet that locks. I use that as one storage place. I also use the trunk of my car. I keep things inside bags and covered with a blanket, then tote them around there for a few months.”
“You know you’ll need gift bags, gift wrap and ribbons come holiday time,” Bodge points out. “Buying those items early is a great way to take advantage of discounts. Try OrientalTrading.com (in the sale section) and the Christmas Tree Shoppes for deals.”
“As you purchase holiday gifts throughout the year, make it a rule to look for a coupon prior to buying anything,” Bodge suggests, noting that RetailMeNot features coupons both on its site and in its app. She says consumers report saving an average of $20 per transaction that way. “Why not put that savings into your holiday fund?” she asks.
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Credit cards can be your safest bet for online purchases, because they offer better consumer protections than debit cards. But “whether you use a debit or credit card, just use one card for all your holiday purchases,” says Renick. “This will allow you to easily identify, isolate and track your giving.” Just make sure you don’t end up with a balance close to your credit limit, which affects your credit score. (You can find out how your debt is affecting your credit for free with a Credit.com account.)
If you have good credit, consider getting a reward card with lots of bonus points or miles that could then be used for gift cards, travel or other holiday perks. Or you may want to get a card that will entitle you to free checked bags on your airline of choice. (That’s an especially valuable perk for families where each checked bag can run $25.)