Originally published by Credit Canada. Republished with permission.

Now’s the time to start planning for the holiday season, because with some smart pre-planning, you can enjoy the holidays without breaking the bank. Every year amid the holiday rush, you probably tell yourself that you’ll start planning sooner―but never really get around to it. Well, this year you can do it!

The following tips can help you prepare for a stress-free (and debt-free) holiday season:

1. Review your income and expenses to see what you can safely afford to spend on your holiday needs.

2. Establish a budget and remember that there's more to consider than just gifts―there’s the cost of extra food, travel expenses, gift wrapping, and postage for mailing out greeting cards and possibly gifts too.

3. Make sure your kids have realistic “Santa" lists. It's better to deal with this sooner rather than later, so they aren’t disappointed when they receive an iTunes gift card instead of an expensive video game.

4. Try a holiday potluck. You don’t have to provide all the food yourself for family/friend get-togethers you'll be hosting. Start a new tradition―encourage others to prepare and bring some of the food, too. It makes for great variety, and some people actually like to showcase their culinary skills.

5. Get crafty. Some people might think homemade gifts are hokey, but for those of us who don’t bake, knit, or do any kind of woodwork ourselves, we can really appreciate these homemade goods. My family and friends love to get their homemade gingerbread cookies with their names on them every year. And I find the number I make is increasing every year... and the recipients are adults, not kids!


6. Gift your time by offering your services to older relatives or neighbours. You could offer to shovel their snow, drive them to the grocery store or bank, clean up their kitchen, give them a manicure, etc. They’ll appreciate this much more than a trinket they'll just have to dust. Personally, I know my Grandma loved a holiday visit with her grandchildren and great grandchildren over any gift.

7. Barter for gifts. Not all gifts have to be brand new. You can try providing a service to someone you know in exchange for a gift you know a family member or friend would want. For example, if you don’t want to pay $400 for an Xbox but you know someone who has the gaming system and would like to get rid of it, you can exchange your time or services for that gift.

8. Don’t go overboard on holiday clothes as they are worn for a short period of time. Last year’s sweater may still fit your son or his younger brother or cousin. And as adults, we don’t tend to wear out our clothes as much. I have a holiday sweater I've worn for years, and I still get compliments on it!

9. Plan early for next year by setting aside some of your holiday budget this year. For example, I buy my cards and gift wrapping supplies on Boxing Day, so I never pay full price...and I send out A LOT of cards every year.

10. Stay within your budget. After all, you set it for a reason.

The true purpose of the holiday season is to spend time with family and friends, not to run yourself into debt. Your kids don’t always remember what gifts they had under the tree, but they do remember the time they spend with loved ones.

To find a Certified Financial Planner® professional in your area that will help guide you financially, use our Find Your Planner tool.

If you’ve veered off course and need advice on how to deal with your debt, contact Credit Canada at 1.800.267.2272 to book a free appointment.

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For more on taking control of your finances, read Keeping your money safe from yourself: How to curb your impulse spending, Conquer your fear of missing out to get on top of your finances and Your 30-day anti-budget: An exercise in awareness.