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How do you avoid a money meltdown as the calendar year comes to a close?

 

1. Buy gifts for people because you want to, not out of obligation

Make a list of everyone you would possibly want to buy a gift for. Sleep on it. Think about what you might get for each person. Would you be excited to give them the gift, or would you simply be getting them a present because you traditionally exchange gifts at the holidays?

As an aside, you’re asking for trouble if you count on a bonus check or gift money to cover your spending, or if you buy items with your credit card.

 

2. Create your own holiday cards

If you’re only sending cards, not buying gifts, then ditch the expense of stamps and cookie-cutter boxed cards. Your friends and family won’t keep them. (Do you stow away all of the cards you receive?) Instead, try making creative, personal cards by using photo apps like Instagram or draw inspiration from Lil Sugar.

 

3. Buy early

Keep this time in mind for next year: instead of waiting for November and December to start shopping,  purchase items for those on your “must” list throughout the year. Have a designated area where you store presents, and mark each gift with the name of the recipient. Don’t forget to cross their names off your list so that you don’t buy multiple gifts for the same person or buy too much.

 

4. Use the internet

Sign up with websites like bfads.net to receive advanced notice of Black Friday deals and other major sales. You’ll know what’s going to be on sale—both online and in the stores—before the general public.

Once you buy something that you think is a great deal, never look back. There’s nothing worse than continuing to look at more deals after you’ve already made your purchase and realizing that prices kept falling. Be content that you found a great deal and move on to the next gift.

 

5. Go the non-traditional route

Here are three more suggestions for enjoying the holidays, while avoiding a money meltdown.

Host a holiday or New Year’s party. Welcome friends into your home and indicate in the invitation that spending time together is your way of celebrating your friendship. If you also let guests know that there will be a signature drink, or perhaps red and white wine only, then you won’t have to worry about providing a fully stocked bar.

Host a cookie exchange. Invite friends to bring their favorite recipe for a cookie or other holiday treat (e.g., bark, fudge, Chex Mix)—the one that they make best—as well as some of the specific ingredients. You provide the essentials (butter, flour, sugar, eggs), the utensils, and some snacks. Everyone takes home some of the freshly baked bounty, and you instantly have a kitchen full of goodies for the holidays. You can even find decorative bags at a dollar store to package and distribute the different treats among the bakers. You can also share recipes.

Donate your time or money to a worthy cause. Encourage your friends to spread good cheer with you, through charitable acts. You can find more information and opportunities at Volunteer Guide, which is designed for those with little time, but the desire to help.

 

If you decide to scale back this year, then you might feel awkward if someone gives you a gift. Be grateful and send a thank-you note, but don’t feel bad. The person giving you the present thought of you and shouldn’t expect something in return.

You might be wondering whether there are different rules for a single person, as opposed to a couple. It shouldn’t matter whether you’re living in a single- or a double-income household. Buy only what you can afford. Those in a single-income household shouldn’t feel the need to keep up with others who are faring better monetarily.

I’m a pen-and-paper kind of girl, but for those more technically inclined, several apps are available to help you budget for the holiday season. USA Today’s money column put together a great short list.

If you find yourself gaining anything this holiday season, then I hope it’s a larger bank account. Have a safe one and see you next year!

 

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