Manage Your Spending this Holiday Season

How to set a budget, make a list and track your spending without sacrificing holiday spirit.

A woman in a white sweater sits under a blanket by a fire at home while using her laptop

Get your holiday spending off to a smart start

More than three in four Americans overspend during the holidays. And with over half expecting to go into debt as a result of gift-giving, the current economic climate is likely to exacerbate these holiday spending pitfalls. The good news is that with some planning now, 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 need to create a budget, visit this short interactive course on Creating Budgets to get more comfortable using and sticking to a budget any time of year.

If you need to find more money in your budget, consider tweaking expenditures—for example, cutting or lowering expenses you have control over, such as ordering out and streaming online entertainment. Try this calculator to see how much you are currently spending and how much you could save by spending less.

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—extra food buying, holiday travel if any, charitable donations, or group gift contributions.
  • 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 special sales, 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. To better understand how to establish good credit and manage your debt for the future, check out these short, easy Credit and Debt interactive courses. It's also important to know how to avoid common credit mistakes to help keep money in your pocket and credit available when you need it most.

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. Know how to avoid becoming a victim of identity theft by learning how to protect your information, and how you can get free comprehensive digital identity protection with any People's United Bank personal checking account.

Tools to help make better
decisions about your finances.


AlwaysChecking digital identity protection from People's United Bank

At People’s United Bank, we’re committed to your security. That's why we offer FREE AlwaysChecking digital identity protection with all personal checking accounts. Give yourself the peace of mind that comes with having your and your family's most important assets continuously monitored - your personal, financial and digital information.

More resources

People's United Bank is proud to collaborate with the AARP Fraud Watch Network to give consumers of all ages access to resources and information to fight identity theft and fraud.

AARP Fraud Prevention Partnership

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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