Planning can make a world of difference to your holiday budget. Begin now for next year to avoid buyer's remorse.
Start saving in January. If you set aside $50 a month, you'll have nearly $600 to spend in December—without whipping out your credit cards. "We used to call that a Christmas club," says Mary Hunt, author of Debt-Proof the Holidays (DPL Press). Open an interest-earning savings account (find one at Bankrate.com) and have the money automatically transferred out of your checking account every payday. Start with $20 or $25 each cycle. (Just don't forget about it in December!)
Keep track of gift ideas. "I have a list on my phone of people for whom I buy gifts, and when inspiration comes to me—whether it's in January or June—I make a note of it," says Megan Poore, a financial planner in Austin, Texas. "Then when it's November or December, I actually know what I want to buy." Having recipients in mind throughout the year also comes in handy when you happen upon a great spring sale, for example.
Resist shopping the post-holiday sales (unless it works for you). Some people think they'll save by buying next year's supplies during this year's end-of-season blowouts. Not always true. "I can't anticipate what I'll want next year," says Hunt. "Invariably I buy stuff I don't use or don't like, and worst of all, I can't recall where I put it." If you can reliably select holiday cards or an on-clearance gift for your aunt ahead of time—and keep track of everything—the year-end sales may save you money. Otherwise, skip them.
Originally published in the November 29th, 2011, issue of Family Circle magazine.