Thanksgiving is Over, Now the Holiday Shopping Begins: Stay in Control of Your Budget

As the Thanksgiving food coma sets in after a day of gorging on all of my favorite foods, I can’t help but think of the many people around the country who will be escaping the family gatherings to take advantage of stores opening late this evening as they ring in the official start of the holiday shopping season. Black Friday, Cyber Monday and so on.

I’m sure most of us have the best of intentions for staying on budget as the holiday season approaches, but I know all too well how as the big dates get close, panic shopping can set in with a vengeance. Here are a few tips to help keep last-minute shopping from blowing a hole a gaping hole in your monthly budget.

1. the PRICE TAG ISN'T THE FOCUS OF YOUR Gift. It’s the thought into it that counts. You don’t have to spend a lot for a gift to be meaningful. It could be a book you enjoy, a framed photograph or a personalized memento that can often be among the most touching of gifts.

2. make it your self. (If you’re me, easier said than done). A homemade treat may make a better gift for your host than an expensive bottle of wine. An offer to take a child on a fun afternoon activity or help out an older relative with a chore can be a terrific low-cost gift.

3. don't DROP UNNECESSARY DOLLARS ON PARTY CLOTHES. You’ll have just as much fun at a holiday party (maybe more) if you skip the $75 ugly sweater that you probably will only wear once.

4. be SMART ABOUT  ONLINE SHOPPING (ALL YEAR ROUND, NOT JUST DURING THE HOLIDAYS). Online shopping has become second nature – in the Amazon era, it’s so easy to get into trouble. While you can turn up some great deals it can be a real trap when it comes to last-minute purchases. Don’t order items that may not arrive on time. Go easy on expedited shipping. A great (free) option: order online to pick up in the store.

5. SHOP SECURELY (CYBER SECURITY!) Only make purchases at reputable sites, even if you’re desperate to fulfill a last minute loved one’s holiday wish-list for an out-of-stock or hard-to-find item.

6. GIFT CARDS OR CASH AREN'T THE WORST. Although it’s probably situational here, a lot of the stigma of giving a gift card or cash is gone for most people, who are happy to be able to treat themselves to something they really want. If you’re out of time, it’s a better option than picking up an overpriced last minute gift that will be returned, or worse, never used.

7. CONSIDER A GIFT TO CHARITY. For the person who has everything, a contribution in their name to a charity or social cause they care about can make a thoughtful (and easy last-minute) gift.

8. STAY IN CONTROL OF YOUR CREDIT CARD debt. A January credit card bill that is twice what you expect and more than you can pay off can really put a damper on the New Year. If shopping fever starts to set in, imagine that trip to Europe you want to take later in the year combined with an image of that out of control bill to curb your enthusiasm.