By Rebecca Mathison, Guest Blogger

The holidays are expensive. Money tends to take the “happy” out of “happy holidays” for a lot of us. Food, traveling, presents, special events, time off of work…a lot of things tend to impact your wallet during this time of year. After flying home, buying presents, going to holiday parties, and purchasing fancy food for big meals, I begin to feel overwhelmed by the spending. Last year a friend of mine helped me to sit down and generate a REASONABLE budget and it has made all of the difference in the world. Here’s how we did it:

Analyzed my current budget 

First, we looked at my regular monthly expenses and saw what I was saving and where my money was going. From there, he was able to help me find ways to cut back during the holidays so I could move money around for seasonal items. After having a clearer picture of my money situation, I was able to start cutting back a few months ago to really give myself a leg up this holiday season. By seriously looking at my finances, I was able to see how much I could reasonably save and spend on the holidays. My original budget plan would’ve set me up for failure because I had completely cut out things like my coffee splurges and going out to dinner COMPLETELY. Yeah, that wasn’t going to happen, but cutting those budgets down quite a bit did help me cut back and still allowed me to keep my basic routine going.

Prioritized spending

After figuring out how much money I could realistically save, he helped me figure out what I wanted to spend my money on. My priorities were gifts for my immediate family and having enough money to travel with. I was able to find more creative alternatives for things like hostess gifts for the parties I went to and cut out several of the holiday shows and parties that I used to go to.

Stuck to spending plan

I made sure to keep myself focused on my end goals. For example, I saw that extra money sitting in my account and that LBD at the mall popped into my head and then I quickly reminded myself WHY I was saving this money and got presents instead of that impossibly perfect LBD. Aside from the selfish side of staying focused by not spending on myself, I remembered I only had a finite amount of money to spend and if I went way over on my brother’s gift, then I wouldn’t have as much to spend on everybody. Unfortunately  some perfect presents had to get passed over for this year because I just couldn’t swing the extra cash.

Tweaking for next year

This is my second year doing this and I’m even more motivated to start budgeting and planning for next year. It really was a huge blow to my spirit that I couldn’t get my bro the present I wanted to get him. With any luck, and with enough planning, I won’t have that problem next year. All of the reasonably priced gifts will be within my budget and my holiday experience won’t appear as though I’m on a budget.

Hopefully you can learn from my mistakes. Don’t go broke this holiday season! It’s all about having a realistic plan and sticking to it. My buddy who helped me wishes to remain anonymous (lame) but he knows who he is and knows I’m grateful! Perhaps you should have a non-biased friend help you budget your money like I did so you can have lots of cash on hand for next year’s holiday season!