While nearly everybody looks forward to Christmas and the holidays, it can be an especially stressful time financially. With buying Christmas gifts and Christmas dinner, Christmas can put you way over budget.

Christmas doesn’t have to be a nightmare

But don’t be tempted by festive fever and spend money you can’t afford unnecessarily. Have a plan and a budget. This does not make you a Grinch, it just helps you avoid Christmas debt. It’s much better to live within your means than head into the new year with financial stresses hanging over you and ruining your summer, and possibly Christmases to come.

How to keep the ‘Ho Ho Ho’ in Christmas

We’ve put together a list of 10 practical tips for budgeting for Christmas and some things to keep in mind so you can enjoy the season without the money stress.

1. Limit the number of people you buy gifts for

It is best just to be honest. Just say, “We are having trouble keeping in control of Christmas and we can’t afford to give gifts to everyone.” Chances are you’re not the only one feeling this way. Being open about your finances can help others be more understanding and it removes the pressure on them to get you a gift. They’ll probably be delighted! Talk to your family about cutting back, setting limits, or even doing away with individual gifts and going doing one big charitable donation. With family, or at work, you could decide to rotate who buys each person a present. Or do a Secret Santa where each person is assigned someone to buy a small gift for, typically costing no more than a set amount. This site makes Secret Santa even easier. It’s amazing what you can buy for under $20, or even $10, and the challenge of finding cool gifts is fun. At our Christmas gatherings, we play ‘Stealing Santa’, a gift exchange game. It is a load of fun and takes ages.

2. Manage your shopping list

Make a list of the people you want to buy for and how much you plan to spend on each of them. Write the amount beside their name. So you don’t overspend, you need to track all your spending as you go. After you’ve got what you need for someone, cross them off your list. If you have spent more than you intended, you need to adjust how much you’re going to spend on someone else.

3. Shop for Christmas gifts as early as you can

Keep a lookout for sale items that would make perfect gifts and avoid that Christmas rush.

4. Have a plan before you hit the shops

Go into the crowds with a clear, overall budget in mind. Know what you can afford then choose off-peak times to do your shopping. Eat first, take a bottle of water, and keep calm. It takes time and energy to make good choices, stick to your plan, and look for the best deals out there. Every dollar you save on one gift is a dollar you can spend on someone else or Christmas dinner.

5. Shop online

It’s very easy to get caught up in the Christmas excitement of lights, and ‘too-good-to-miss’ deals. Conversely, it’s also very easy to just throw your hands in the air and buy whatever you first see so you can escape the madness. By shopping online, you may find it easier to

stick to your list and you can compare prices more easily. Don’t forget the ‘deal’ sites. Yes, you might be paying for shipping, but that will probably cost less than the emergency drink or food stop you may need if you’re out shopping in person.

6. Take it easy on wrapping and decorations.

Save the planet and your wallet. Christmas should be festive without ruining the environment. Each year, enough disposable Christmas crackers are chucked out to equate to 1,220 Mount Everests stacked on top of each other. That doesn’t even include the plastic junk inside them, wrapping paper, or Sellotape. Wrapping gifts takes up a lot of budget and time. Why not use brown paper, kids’ artworks, old maps or even better tea towels, scarves or cushion covers? You can get some lovely ones from op shops and they’re handy and reusable.

7. Give gifts that are handmade

Handmade gifts can be some of the most appreciated and least expensive. People recognise the time and love that go into them. You could make recipe books, batches of biscuits, sweet treats, herb and vegetable boxes, pickled vegetables, recycled jars filled with delicious homemade marmalade or jam or funky ‘garden art’.

8. Gift your time

Gift jobs you’re willing to do to help, such as housecleaning, babysitting, manicures, lawn mowing, dog walking, car washing or gardening. Or, if you’re vocationally inclined you may be able to offer haircuts, repairs, building, photography, computer training or web work.

9. Give gifts that are essentials, not just treats

Give stuff that stops people from spending their own money. Getting gifts like clothing, hair products, coffee and other essentials means people have more of their own money to spend on whatever they want. Why not give vocational tools such as computer gear, software, stationary or tools?

10. Plan your Christmas dinner and share the load

One of the biggest expenses at Christmas is food and treats. If you plan your lunch or dinner menu carefully and buy what you need as early as you can, you will save money. You won’t get sucked into so many, last-minute, tasty ‘extras’ and ‘just-in-cases’, nor will you have to make any last-minute dashes to potentially more expensive shops. Also, one person shouldn’t have to shoulder the entire financial and emotional load of the Christmas lunch. This is Christmas after all. Don’t be afraid to ask your guests to bring a plate or drinks. Or you could allocate a budget of $10-25 per adult, and each adult has to prepare a dish for the family to share. Your friends and family will probably be more than happy to help, and they’ll be delighted it will be easier for them when it’s their turn to host Christmas.

Making Christmas merrier

You’ll find Christmas is much brighter when you can stick to your budget. A sure way to add worry and frustration to life is to load up on credit card debt by spending first and stressing about the fallout later. It is a rough place to be, and I wouldn’t wish it on anyone, particularly not my loved ones.

Do not buy what you cannot afford. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that you’re not being a good parent, friend, or partner if you don’t buy expensive, lavish presents. Gift-giving isn’t about the cost. It is about the thought, the exchange, and the token of love for that person. You can still gift all your

important people something special without a huge post-Christmas financial hangover. It just takes a bit of planning and discipline.