Tips to stay on budget during the holidays


Katy Klopfenstein/Iowa State Daily

When shopping for holiday gifts, be sure to know what your budget is, use cash rather than credit, think about homemade gifts and be smart on Black Friday.

Erin Malloy

The average shopper will spend $804 on holiday items this year, according to the National Retail Federation’s Holiday Consumer Spending Survey.

Being conscious about your budget and what you are buying can help to avoid overspending this season, said Jeanna Nation, a lecturer and financial counselor at the Iowa State Financial Counseling Clinic.

Use these six tips to help keep your budget on track during the holidays.

1. Know what your budget really is.

“It’s easy for people to get caught up in ‘Oh, they would love to have that’ and not really establish the budget before they look at products,” Nation said.

Nation recommended establishing an overall holiday shopping budget and then setting a cap for every individual on your list.

2. Think non-traditionally about holiday giving.

“People get wrapped up in buying material products, but some of the most meaningful gifts can be those that are handmade,” Nation said.

Alexis Zaborac, sophomore in graphic design, said her family makes the majority of gifts they give each other.

“We’ve done things like turning Scrabble letters into magnets to spell each other’s names, drawing on coffee mugs with Sharpies and doing crafts with chalk and chalkboards,” Zaborac said. “I go to Pinterest for a lot of my inspiration.”

The Workspace at the Memorial Union provides tools and supplies for students to make their own crafts. Students can stop in and paint their own pottery, make jewelry or glasswork, paint ornaments, create buttons and magnets, use the woodshop and make their own canvas quote artwork with vinyl letters.

3. Use cash, not credit.

Instead of going to the store with a debit card and swiping until you think you’re out of money, Nation said to set a limit and get that much money out in cash.

“When your cash is gone, then you’re done shopping,” Nation said.

If you’re going to spend $20 per person, Nation recommended putting $20 in an envelope with the person’s name on it so you can keep track on an individual basis.

4. Download a budget app.

Downloading a personal finance app to your phone can help you set a budget and log your spending on the go. Some of the top-rated, free budgeting apps include Mint, Level Money and Goodbudget.

Nation said to be aware that budget-planning apps don’t necessarily stop you from overspending; they just keep track of how much money you’ve already spent.

5. Have honest conversations about your budget.

As appealing as it might be to buy really nice gifts for your family or friends, it might not be in your best interest financially.

“A lot times I encourage students to have conversations with their family and say, ‘I can’t really afford to go all out this holiday season,’ or whatever event you’re celebrating,” Nation said.

Consider starting a new holiday tradition. Draw names and only buy for one person or do a white elephant gift exchange and recycle an old gift you have around the house.

Nation said expectations are usually high around the holiday season, and there can usually be some guilt if someone feels they can’t provide the right type of material gift.

“If you start to have those conversations earlier, I think it eliminates some of that guilt,” she said. “Most likely other people are strained financially as well, but you have to open up the door for that conversation first.”

6. Be smart on Black Friday.

While there can be some great deals on Black Friday, Nation said it is important to stick to your overall budget and your per-person budget first, and then if an item is on sale within that price range, go for it.

“It’s easy to get caught up in, ‘I don’t really need it, but it’s a great price, so I’m going to buy it anyway,’” she said. “You have to establish the priorities.”

Nation said typically the priorities should be overall budget first and individual budget second, and then find the deals that fit within those parameters.