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Christmas is just around the corner—literally! While we’re in the last month of summer, now’s the time to begin thinking of your Christmas budget. We’re already on the countdown and it’s the right time to start thinking about how to save money on Christmas gifts and other holiday expenses.

The key is to start planning now—develop a realistic budget that covers everything from decorations, family dinners, dining out and Christmas gifts. We’ve put together some money-saving tips to help you prepare and get through the holidays.

Start Putting Money Aside Early

The first thing you’ll want to do is start putting money aside well in advance of the holidays. The holidays are one of the most expensive times of the year—there’s the food, decorations, gifts, travel and more. So, the sooner you start saving for the holidays, the better.

Start by reviewing your budget and consider how much you’ve spent on Christmas the past couple of years. Then consider how much you’ll want to spend this year and start saving money early. Financial experts advise putting aside as much as you can each month, before the holidays, in order to avoid going into debt.

If you must use a credit card for holiday spending, then make sure you’ll be able to pay off that debt directly after the holidays. Carrying that debt over the following 6 months (or more) will be more expensive in the long run, due to the interest you’ll have to pay. So, if you must pay with credit, then plan ahead on how to pay that debt off as soon as possible after the holidays, to avoid incurring hefty interest fees.

Where to Build Your Christmas Fund

While there’s always the traditional money jar to save cash, it’s better to open a separate bank account just for Christmas funds. Money left in your regular account is too easily accessible. Our brains say this is extra money, and it won’t hurt if we take just a little bit. If you do this too many times, you soon won’t have extra money available for holiday spending. So, set up an account where you’ll make a dedicated effort to save money for the holidays.

You might consider a savings account for your Christmas money. While the money probably won’t be in there long enough to earn much interest, it will earn you a little bit, which is better than nothing. Experts recommend making an effort to add funds on a weekly or monthly basis—whatever works for you. Just be sure to be disciplined and you won’t have to worry about going into debt for the holidays.

Save Money on Christmas Presents

Now you have your budget and you’re putting money aside for the holidays. Next you’ll need to consider how to save money on Christmas and other holiday gifts.

Make a list: here’s another discipline that’s not easy, which is making a list of everyone you want to buy a present for. This will include family, friends, colleagues at the office, etc. Don’t forget those you may want to give a holiday tip to such as babysitters, the doorman, the barber or hairdresser, etc.

Once your list is done, set it aside for a day or two, then come back to review who you have on the list. You may need to winnow the list down due to budget constraints, or you may find you left someone important off your list.

Next, you can then decide how much to spend on each person. This is an important exercise, for it will help you determine a large portion of your Christmas budget. Then you’ll know exactly how much money you’ll need for gifts, which will help you determine your holiday budget.

Take Advantage of End of Summer Sales

The end of summer is a great time to start Christmas shopping. Watch the sales for products and items that could make wonderful gifts for your family and friends. This is a great time to find bargains. You can find sales on everything from clothing to electronics such as mobile phones and computers.

Buying at the end of the summer or during back to school sales helps you save money and avoid the Christmas holiday rush in November and December.

Shopping Online

Shopping online is a great way to save time, money and gas when it comes to holiday spending. What could be easier than ordering online and having the gifts show up at your home? When you shop online, look for sales from your favorite retailers and don’t forget to look for web-only discounts. These may come in store newsletters via email, which sometimes contain special discounts for dedicated customers.

While we’re all familiar with Amazon, they may not always have the best prices available. It’s helpful to comparison shop other online retailers in order to find the best buys.

Get Creative

Other ways to save money on the holidays is to get creative!

  • Send e-cards: rather than spending money to send traditional Christmas cards, consider sending ecards. These can be just as fun and beautiful to send as regular cards. In fact, you can even create your own ecard for free. Not only will you save a ton of money on postage, but you’ll create a unique holiday greeting for those on your Christmas card list.
  • DIY gifts: another idea is to create your own gifts. You don’t have to be crafty—you can create a gift package or gift basket filled with lovely small gifts. If you are crafty, then you can create precious one-of-a-kind gifts that are sure to please, especially when personalized to your giftee. Another idea is to cook or bake gifts that will be appreciated. Think about what you can make yourself, and you’ll not only save money, but you’ll have the best personalized, unique gifts to give everyone on your list.
  • DIY decorations: this is another place where crafts can save you money. Design and create your own Christmas and holiday decorations.

Getting creative can be a ton of fun; however, when considering DIY gifts and decorations, make sure the cost of materials and your time fit into your Christmas budget. Otherwise, you could find yourself quickly heaping up debt and run out of time to get the gifts completed.

These are only a few of the ways you can save money for Christmas. Start out by making a budget, then set up a way to save money ahead of time. Stick to your budget and avoid debt by following these tips! We hope you and yours have a wonderful holiday season!