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3 easy ways to stick to your holiday budget

Dawn Papandrea

Year after year we put together a spreadsheet or download an app to create a careful holiday budget, but even with the best of intentions we end up overspending.

Nearly eight in 10 people in TD Bank’s Merry Money Holiday Spending Survey  overspend by an average $215. While more than half of the 1,283 surveyed create a budget, only 70 percent who do stick with it.

So why do people fall off the frugal wagon during the holidays – and what can we do fight the urge to splurge?

1. We can’t resist buying the perfect gift, even if it’s over budget.
That was the No. 1 one shopping saboteur chosen by 65 percent of the TD Bank survey respondents. I get it, and I have been guilty of doing this many times over.

The internal dialogue goes something like: “But she’s been so good to me all year – what’s another $20? It’s only once a year. If I don’t get this now, I’ll regret it. I can always keep that other thing I bought for myself.”

Holiday budget fix: Stop talking to yourself, and send a text to a relative or friend instead to see if they’re game for a group gift – that way you’re splitting the extra cost. Or, pass on your intel – and generosity – to a fellow shopper: “I already got Aunt Sue’s gift, but if you still need an idea, they have a gorgeous scarf that I know she would love. Want me to grab it for you?”

2. Stocking stuffers overstuff your budget.
Yes, I’m right there with the 57 percent of survey respondents who get carried away with extra trinkets and treats. For me it’s not so much about filling up the fuzzy socks; I’m a sucker for gag gifts. My family’s tradition is to go around the table and take turns opening one present at a time, so over the years, it’s the crazy gags that we all remember far more than the sweaters.

Holiday budget fix: Other than your own kids, for whom a visit to the dollar store is perfect for stuffing stockings, don’t let the small stuff tip the scales of your budget. As for gag gifts, I’ve set a $20 limit, so whether I choose to buy a few silly things, or one goofy gift, I have learned to draw the line.

3. Spending on yourself – while buying for others adds up.
In this season of giving, why do so many people spend selfishly? For 52 percent of those surveyed, it’s just a small treat such as coffee or snacks while holiday shopping. But 49 percent make an unplanned purchase for their own gift pile.

Holiday budget fix: While I’ll admit it’s hard to resist a peppermint mocha after a long day at the outlet mall, I stash a couple of small snacks and a water bottle in my purse so I avoid the pretzel stand. I also refuse to buy anything for myself until after the holidays (when stuff is on sale, and I have gift cards to use). Instead, if I see something I love, I add it to my holiday wish list (Amazon is my preference since it lets you add items from other retailers, too). Or, I subtly (OK, maybe not so subtly) drop a gift-for-me hint to the hubby that he can use or pass on to someone else.

If you enjoy giving gifts to your loved ones more than receiving them, it might feel as if you’re going against your nature to rein in your holiday spending. Plus, it’s easy to get caught up in the moment or lose sight of your holiday budget (especially when you’re using credit cards). When you’re tempted to overspend, repeat the old cliché but with a twist: It’s the thought – and sticking to your budget – that count.

See related: 7 ways to unstuff your holiday budget, How four families rein in holiday spending.

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