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University of Minnesota Extension

Holiday spending

Holidays are definitely the time for giving and spending. And for many, holidays are also a season for taking on too much debt. It doesn't need to be that way if you develop a game plan ahead of time.

Start by setting a holiday spending limit. Staying under limit will help relieve the stress of being broke after the holidays. Here are some ideas to use:

  • Make a budget of how much you want to spend and who you want to spend on. 
  • Have family conversations about limiting the number of gifts or limiting their cost.
  • Limit the use of credit cards since they make it very easy to spend more than planned. 
  • Some stores offer layaway plans. Layaway helps you get the gift when you see the sale and then spread out the payments over a certain period. You must pay in full before you can pick up the item.
  • Buy Now, Pay Later plans are also offered at many stores or through your credit cards. These plans allow you to take home the item today and pay in installments after purchase. Look carefully at the fees and interest rates for these plans and make sure to look at the total cost.
  • Watch for sales and coupons for gifts and holiday decorations and food items. Many free shopping apps can assist in getting the latest deals. 
  • Challenge stores to price match when you can.
  • Buy items early when you see them on sale if your spending plan allows. Or take advantage of year-end sales for gift purchases that can wait until after the holiday. This may be particularly helpful for saving money on big-ticket items.
  • Homemade gifts are a great way to personalize a gift without breaking your budget.
  • Give a gift to an entire family or group instead of each individual. This option may save money as well as time searching out gifts for each person.
  • Gift cards can also be a welcome gift, but try to give cards for retailers that the receiver frequents. 

There are many ideas for smarter spending, or not spending, at holiday time. Find the ways that make sense for you and avoid paying holiday expenses months after the event.

Lori A. Hendrickson, Extension educator in family resiliency

Revised by Sharon Powell and Sam Roth, Extension educators

Reviewed in 2023

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