Cut your holiday expenses

Published: Thursday, December 20, 2012 at 11:58 AM.

The closer the holidays loom, the less time harried families have to buy gifts, plan seasonal events and make travel arrangements. Unfortunately, when time is at a premium and you're forced to make last-minute decisions, it's usually your budget that suffers.

As an occasional procrastinator myself, let me share a few tips I've picked up over the years that can help take the expense – and stress – out of holiday planning:

Before you start shopping, calculate how much you can afford to spend on the holidays as a portion of your overall budget. If your finances are in good shape, spend no more than 1.5 percent of your annual income. But if you're deeply in debt, can't meet your regular monthly expenses or don't have an emergency fund, this isn't the time to rack up additional debt.

Once you determine an overall amount, tally up expected holiday-related expenses including gifts, decorations, new clothes and accessories, giftwrap, cards, postage, special meals and year-end gratuities. Don't forget travel-related expenses if you plan to leave town, and try to recall unanticipated expenses from last year.

If you're looking for ways to cut back, consider:

* Arrange gift lotteries with family members and friends so everyone concentrates their time, effort and money on buying fewer, nicer gifts.

* Speak candidly with friends, coworkers and extended family about placing a moratorium on exchanging gifts. They're probably feeling the pinch too.



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