You’re certainly not alone if you haven’t completed your holiday shopping yet. Did you know that nearly a third of us wait until the last minute to complete our holiday purchases every year?  And while you may have passed on your weekly yoga class during this hectic and stressful season, go ahead and take some deep breaths, pour yourself some eggnog, and consider these top five tips to avoid holiday financial duress this year and beyond:

1. It Begins with a Plan – Like most things in life, developing a plan is the first step to take when considering the enormity of your holiday expenses. With a spending plan in place, you’ll be able to plot when and where to shop whether it’s for your best friend Britney, your baseball fanatic brother-in-law or your fashion obsessed sister, who can never have too many scarves or shoes. Put your plan to paper (or as an e-list on your phone) and do the math.  Your best plan includes setting a realistic dollar amount that won’t break your budget (the special people on your list would NEVER want you to spend more than you can afford…). Visit your plan regularly to confirm you’re tracking every expense (helpful hint – once you capture the real expenses you incur this year, you’ll be better prepared for next year by opening a Holiday Savings Club at Advia. With a Holiday Saving Club, you can elect automatic transfers each payday of your total desired amount divided by your anticipated paydays through October of next year).

2. Plan for the Unplanned – Here’s the holiday kicker that we all know but tend to disregard … the unplanned expenses that pop up. These extra costs should include the additional purchases related to dinners out with friends and family (along with those weekday nights we simply say NO to cooking after an evening of holiday shopping), travel costs, self-gifting (who hasn’t done that? The “one for you, one for me” gift that ends up in your cart when shopping for a friend), and remembering those extra special people in our lives such as teachers, coaches, co-workers, and neighbors.

3. It’s True – The Best Gifts Don’t Cost a Ton – This is where planning is crucial, because you’ll need to reserve a bit of time for creating the gift that honestly will mean the most! These days, we have so many helpful resources to help us develop a low-cost gift that will score top appreciation from those we care about. Ideas for consideration could include a plate of your favorite homemade holiday sugar cookies with the recipe, craft (Pinterest anyone?), framed family picture, or the gift of time by distributing family coupons that allow recipients to redeem for an hour or two of house cleaning, car washing, errand running, and/or babysitting in the new year.

4. Manage Expectations, including your own (and have fun doing it) – While it may have been more appropriate to include with our first tip due to its importance, setting realistic expectations for yourself and your kids is a critical component in experiencing a financially healthy holiday. It’s easy to get caught up in the holiday spirit, but if you really want to teach those you love how to practice good financial choices for a lifetime, the holidays are no exception to the rule. When you look back, you’ll remember the most fun being your time spent together. Talk to your kids, family and friends up front to plan celebrations centered on low-cost fun which could include family games to cut down on gift exchanges, and group potlucks rather than footing the entire party bill on your own.

5. Consider the Many Ways to Save – Looking for other ways to save? Have fun with these ideas (and share with us your other ideas)! First, ‘tis truly the season for seasonal jobs to pick up extra money!’ Also, you might have extra cash sitting around you haven’t even considered such as cashing in your credit card awards for department store and restaurant gift cards. Now’s the time to redeem those points for gifts you can give to others!  When shopping, consider the value-added incentives for using your credit card (one of our favorite examples is the 5X rewards Advia is offering for department store purchases this season). When planning your shopping, consider all the bonus saving days – Black Friday, Cyber Monday, Green Monday (December 12) and even Free Shipping Day (December 16) – events that can save just a bit more on your total holiday expenses this year!

Happy holidays from your friends at Advia Credit Union.  This season, and all year, we are your advocates in helping you save money, quickly and easily.  We are here for you, and look forward to bringing in a new year together!