Remember what it's about: Tips for celebrating the holidays without going broke

Nutcracker standing near a Christmas tree
Teri Virbickis via Shutterstock

It's the season of giving, and for those who give too much, the season of debt. Financial expert Ruth Hayden shared her tips on how to have a happy and successful holiday season that won't drain your bank accounts.

The answer to this stressful spending season "is a plan for your money," Hayden told MPR News host Kerri Miller.

Below are some tips on how to avoid that spending hangover at the start of the new year.

To hear the entire conversation select the audio link above.

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Control your spending, control your stress

When you feel you have control in an area of your life, your stress goes down and you can think clearly again, said Hayden.

When you control your spending, and don't go overboard on gifts you can avoid that stress of impeding debt and bills.

That's why it's crucial to make a spending plan.

The dreaded budget, or spending plan

As un-jolly as it sounds, you need a spending plan to make it through the holidays and experience the new year without empty pockets.

You have to make a spending plan a positive experience.

"If it's all about feeling deprived, feeling like you can't show love, you won't do it," said Hayden.

If you set a limit for spending on the holidays, stay within that limit and get creative on other ways to show love you'll have a more positive experience.

"(You) can go into January free, and clear and have a wonderful holiday."

Ways to stick to that plan include setting aside money throughout the year and using that as your budget for presents, buying presents after Christmas for the following year and reminding yourself that the holidays aren't just about presents.

Remember, it's about the experience, not the gifts

Your niece probably won't remember what you get her this year, but she will remember baking cookies with you, said Hayden.

Make sure that, instead of worrying about spending money you spend time with your loved ones.

"You start with the meaning, what do we want this season to be like," said Hayden.

Practice, and you can have a successful budget all year

Use the holiday season as a practice budget.

Set up a spending plan to stick to this holiday season. If it's successful, apply it to all aspects of your financial life.

"If you can do it with this holiday, honest to goodness, you can do it with anything," said Hayden.