Believe it or not, the holidays will soon be upon us. As you’ve no doubt already noticed, the local stores seem to stock holiday items 6-8 weeks before the holiday and this time is being moved earlier every year. That means the more prepared you are, the better off you will be when it comes time to buy holiday gifts.

Budget and Prepare

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The worst case scenario is that your December paychecks won’t cover your spending, forcing you to reach for the credit cards. Don’t wait until December to budget for your holidays. Instead, start saving months in advance. It’s best to have a budget, or an idea of about how much money you can afford (and want) to spend on gifts and decorations. This way you will never go into debt over holiday purchases.

How to Budget

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Few people actually decide how much they want to spend for the holidays. To start budgeting, list the people who are on your must-buy-for list. Allocate a realistic amount for each person. Don’t forget other expenses, such as travel out-of-town, decorations, and family dinners.

Pay It Like Another Bill

Once your budget is set, figure out how to save the money. Mark it as “holiday” on your budget spreadsheet. Take control of the budget by saving something out of each paycheck so your total amount is covered.

Save money just as you would for any other bill. If having the money in your bank account is too much of a temptation, withdraw the cash and stash it in an envelope specifically for this purpose. Add in extras like a coin jar that the entire family contributes to. You could even make the coin jar money for a certain purpose, such as a nice dinner or even a donation to charity.

Look for Alternatives to Spending

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The holidays should not make you feel pressured to just spend, spend, spend. Resist the pressure to make consumer goods the be-all, end-all of gift-giving. Think about alternative to just buying your family “things.” Develop new traditions, like having experiences instead. An experience could be something as simple as cutting down your own tree and spending an evening decorating it. It could also be visiting a skating rink. Get creative.

Consider alternative gifts for friends and family. Everyone enjoys receiving food, like baked goods, casseroles, special soups, candy or sauces.

Save on décor items by simply buying them early – or better yet, buy them secondhand. Thrift stores have an incredible stock of holiday decorations for up to 90% off what they cost at retailers.

You can earn extra money to buy your holiday gifts by making the fall a time when you declutter your house. Weed out clothes and shoes you no longer wear. Some can be sold for a profit at consignment stores. Clear out your books and take them to a place like Half Price, which will pay you cash in exchange for selling your books.

Also consider selling older toys and electronics on EBay, Craigslist or elsewhere. Many people shop these sites for Christmas gifts, which will earn you extra money on things you no longer want.

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