Set budget to reduce holiday stress

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Trimble County Extension agent

The holiday season – with all the work, stress, expense and fun – seems to start earlier every year.
Experts say you can reduce that stress, though, by preparing early and planning your holiday shopping within a solid, affordable budget.
According to the National Retail Federation, the average shopper spends $832 on holiday gifts, food and decorations.
Before you start your holiday shopping, take time to determine how much money you have to spend this year and develop a budget for gift-giving, food and entertainment expenses.
Planning ahead gives you time to shop for the perfect gift at the right price, and perhaps even take advantage of pre-Christmas sales.
 The first step in making a holiday budget is to make a list of all the friends and family for whom you normally buy gifts. Then, talk with them about setting a spending limit. This will help everyone budget and shop more efficiently.
Each time you get ready to head to the store, set a dollar amount that you will spend on each person.  But be strong: Holiday sales can be tempting, but once you are in the store, stick with your original budget.
You also will want to think about how you will pay for your holiday shopping. You are less likely to overspend if you pay with cash, as opposed to using a credit card.
Shopping with a credit card can be convenient, but when you use cash you can actually see how much you are spending. Once cash is gone, it’s gone, and that means you are finished with your holiday shopping.
Another option to consider is using a store layaway plan. These once went the way of the dinosaur, but in the past couple of years many stores have been bringing this option back.
If you decide to use a store layaway plan, be sure to check their return policy and keep track of all payments and receipts.
As the economy remains slow, these days everyone may be watching their budget more closely this year. So, talk to your family and friends about setting new holiday traditions.
Instead of traditional gift-giving, consider a “Santa Swap,” where everyone in the group draws a name and buys only for that person, sticking to a monetary limit set by the group.
Often, the best part of the holiday is really spending time with loved ones rather than receiving gifts, so you may consider a nice dinner out where each person pays for his or her own meal. This can relieve the burden for that one family member who usually hosts the traditional holiday meal. A potluck dinner, in which everyone brings a dish, will also lighten the load for that person.
Either way, have a Happy Thanksgiving next week!
Jane Proctor is Trimble County’s Cooperative Extension agent for family and consumer services. This week’s source: Jennifer Hunter, Extension specialist for family finance at the University of Kentucky.