Ask the experts: How do you curb your holiday spending?

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Ask the experts: How do you curb your holiday spending?

Merry Christmas!

"But it’s not even Thanksgiving yet," you say.

True, but it’s after Halloween, which officially makes it the holiday season: Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Christmas, Kwanzaa. And you know what that means…

It’s time for holiday spending. A lot of it.

Or is it?

Sure, between travel to visit friends and family, presents for friends and family, decorations to entertain friends and family, food for friends and family to eat – they really are a bunch of moochers, aren’t they? – we usually end up shelling out a pretty penny toward the end of the year. Holiday spending is predicted to be as high as it has been since the 2008 recession hit. AAA is predicting that 47 million Americans will travel for Thanksgiving, with the most by car since 2007, and surely more will travel in December, adding more costs.

But there has to be a better way, right? Is making the last two or three months of the year such a money pit (that’s a pit where you lose money and, sadly, not a pit that’s full of money) a requirement to enjoying the holidays?

The answer, of course, is no, but it doesn’t always feel that way. It takes a little willpower and a little ingenuity to save during the holidays, which is easier said than done. That’s why we asked our favorite personal finance bloggers how their money habits affect their holidays.

Grayson Bell – Debt Roundup

Grayson Bell, founder of Debt Roundup, has opted to forego pricey presents altogether.

"Over the years, my money habits have changed how I view the holidays. We don't buy lavish gifts for the family," Bell said. "We look at creating experiences and enjoying each others' company."

It’s a solid concept. Want to save money on gifts? Avoid the expensive ones – even if that also means not participating in one of America’s unofficial holidays: Black Friday. (And Small Business Saturday. And Cyber Monday. It’s out of control.)

"We've stopped looking for great deals on gifts we don't need."

That’s one of the big mistakes people make when trying to save or budget. Saving money doesn’t necessarily mean you’re saving money. Sure, you can get 40% off something, but you’re still spending money on something you’d probably not buy otherwise.

Kathleen Celmins – Stacking Benjamins

Still feel the urge to put something under the tree? Why not take advice from Stacking Benjamins’ Kathleen Celmins and make the gifts yourself?

"My personal money habits keep me away from the malls and make me head to the kitchen to make homemade gifts for friends and family," Celmins told us.

Her solution to spending big? Cooking.

"This is the eighth year of ‘Kathleen's homemade Christmas’ and I'll be making my famous caramel sauce along with some other treats."

Some people are wary to give out gifts that can be gobbled up quickly, but the thought of the effort, the memory of the treat, and the anticipation of getting another homemade goodie next year dwarf any trinket or gadget you’d get.

This goes back to Bell’s point: it’s the experiences that really count.

Cooking is a great choice, but what if you’re not kitchen-inclined? There are other do-it-yourself gifts you can give. Check out Etsy or Pinterest for a never-ending parade of homemade presents you can try your hand at.

Or, as any grandparent will tell you, a nice framed photo of the family is an instant winner.

David Carlson – Young Adult Money

David Carlson of Young Adult Money makes his rest-of-the-year habits work for him during the holidays and does what we should all be doing anyway: making (and keeping) a budget.

"The habit of closely tracking my spending on a regular basis has had a positive impact during the holidays," Carlson said.

One of the biggest issues that arise when you’re trying to be smart about your money is getting people on board. Maybe you have friends that want to go out to eat every night, or family that wants to be everyone on your Christmas list an Apple Watch. That can make it hard to stick to spending habits. But Carlson makes sure he and his wife are on the same page.

"Before buying any gifts my wife and I sit down and set a budget for every person we plan to buy a gift for."

John Schmoll Jr. – Frugal Rules

Frugal Rules’ John Schmoll Jr. also teams up with his wife to curb holiday spending. "My wife and I view our holiday spending like we do any other spending - we plan and budget for it. We pull out money each month to cover for what we expect to need and use that as our guide."

Setting aside money throughout the year means no big changes when November rolls around – you’ve prepared throughout the year and are ready to roll. Carrying over your regular budgeting exercises to the holidays will save a lot of headaches. If you use apps to manage your spending, work in holiday purchases to your budget.

And what do you use with leftover money that you don’t use on gifts? As Schmoll told us, you invest it in the future, of course!

"What we don't spend on our children goes into their respective 529 accounts and the rest goes into our family vacation fund."

There are a number of ways you can lower your expenses during the holidays, whether it’s by limiting your spending, budgeting ahead of time – throughout the year or before you hit the stores – or cutting out some gifts entirely and making your own presents. The most important thing is to have a plan and stick to it so you don’t end up buying a lot of things you really can’t afford.

And there was one thing that all of our financial experts had in common: their everyday money habits carried over to the holidays. Sure, you might see a little spike in spending – after all, the holidays are an exceptional time and not the norm – but that doesn’t mean you should forget what you know about money. Budgeting, being thrifty, and showing a little restraint are year-round skills.

For more ideas on how to keep your spending in check during the holidays, check out our guide on giving gifts on a budget.