Manage Your Spending this Holiday Season

How to set a budget, make a list, and track your spending without losing holiday cheer.


Give your holiday spending a head start


More than three in four Americans will overspend during the holidays. And over half expect to go into debt as a result of gift-giving. The good news is that with a little planning, the most wonderful time of the year won’t leave you with an empty wallet. 

Set a budget 

The secret to smart holiday spending is staying within your means.

Start by determining a holiday budget that doesn’t cut into your monthly expenses. If you’re unsure of your monthly expenses, or would like more information on quickly calculating a budget, visit the U.S. Federal Trade Commission’s Consumer Information article, “Budgeting for the New Year” It’s useful any time of year.

If you need to find more money in your budget, considering tweak your expenditures—for example, cutting or lowering expenses you have control over, such as eating out and entertainment. 

Our online calculators can also help.

Make a list

A list can keep you organized, save you time, keep you on budget—and can even help you squeeze more out of your holiday spending. 

  • Include gifts and other holiday expenditures—parties or other events, holiday travel, charitable donations, even office grab-bag items.
  • Discuss your gift plans with other family members and friends. Agreeing on a mutual gift budget is a great way to plan and helps everyone manage expectations.
  • Price out each gift. The best prices are often online, but brick-and-mortar stores sometimes have better prices, and will often match an online price.
  • Add it all up. If you’re over your budget, that’s OK—fine-tune your list, either by finding a better price or by replacing that item with something just as desirable but less expensive.

  • Track your spending

  • If you like the ideas of using a list to plan your holiday purchases, you’ll also see the wisdom in tracking what you actually spend. It ensures you’re not going over your holiday budget.
  • Use a notebook, an Excel spreadsheet, or another method you find easy to access and update. You’ll quickly discover if you’re spending beyond your budget—and be able to correct your course.
  • If you’re shopping wisely, you may find you’re coming in under budget and can save that money, add someone new to your list, or spend up on that special someone (even if that someone is yourself).

Cash or credit?

When it comes to holiday spending, there are advantages to both.

Using cash to pay for holiday gifts is a great way to stay on budget. That’s probably why three quarters of Americans use cash for most of their holiday purchases. For example, you can limit the cash you bring shopping to the amount you’ve budgeted for the holiday gifts you’re purchasing on that trip.

Credit cards have their upside, too. Many credit cards offer purchase protection in case the merchandise you buy is defective or damaged. It’s also easier to deal with a lost or stolen credit card than lost or stolen cash. If you’re good with credit cards and can resist using them on impulse, they’re simply more convenient than cash.

If you choose to pay with credit, do it wisely. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau provides helpful information on how to shop for a new credit card and how to manage your credit card wisely.

Keep Your Holiday Cheer

How to avoid some of the shopping season's pitfalls.

Check your impulse

Are you prone to impulse purchases? Here’s a helpful technique.

When you find yourself tempted by an item, don’t say yes or no. Just make a note of it.

Then, come back to your note a few days later. You may find the purchase isn’t nearly as tempting. Or you may find that you’re doing a great job shopping wisely, and you have the budget after all.

Either way, you’ve avoided making a knee-jerk decision. And getting through the holidays making smart decisions, and without overspending, can be a wonderful gift to yourself.

Steer clear of the Grinch

The holiday season (and the coinciding tax season) often sees an increase in fraudulent emails, identity theft, and other cyber crime, in part because so many people are online.

Don’t let bad actors steal your holiday. Don’t let bad actors steal your holiday. For more on how to prevent fraud and identity theft, visit our AARP Fraud Watch Network.

Tools to help make better
decisions about your finances.


This article is for informational purposes only and is not intended for use as legal, accounting, tax or professional financial advice by People’s United Bank or any of the bank’s subsidiaries. Financial calculators are for illustrative purposes only. Always consult your legal, accounting and/or tax advisor to fully understand how information may or may not apply to your personal or business financial situation.

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