It’s happening. Next week is Thanksgiving. Meaning that IMMEDIATELY behind it is Black Friday. And Cyber Monday. And all of the other ridiculously titled corporate named shopping events. The holidays are knocking at our door, which means it’s time for cheer, decorations, non-stop festive tunes, unlimited red cups from Starbucks, and a feeling of unease that may creep in surrounding the financial flood gates that are about to open.

With the holidays upon us, it’s important to keep in mind that it doesn’t have to be a free for all. And there definitely doesn’t need to be guilt around what you can or can’t spend. This is a season that’s about spending time together and remembering to be thankful for those in our lives. That said – the expenses can quickly and easily add up. Read on for 4 steps to keep you and your cash outlay in line this holiday season:

  • Know where your money is going. I’ve said this before and I’ll continue to say it. You can’t appropriately save or spend money without first having an idea of where it is currently going. Creating a spending plan using an excel spreadsheet, Mint or simply using your online banking system will draw attention to the areas you can cutback on and free up some funds to allocate towards gifts, decorations and travel expenses.
  • List it out. Santa creates a list. Why shouldn’t you? In all seriousness though, kick-off the holiday season by creating a list of all of your upcoming expenses. This includes gifts (be sure to indicate the “who, what and amount”), decorations, holiday parties and happy hours, tickets home, meals and more. Assign a dollar amount to each line item and prioritize. What ranks higher – big gifts or spending time with family?
  • Do your research. If you’re feeling overwhelmed by the grand total, start to dive into the details. Check out the Black Friday ads, price compare and decide between online and in-person shopping. Use sites such as Amazon.com or Cnet.com, with user reviews and ratings to find the best products. Look for coupon and discount codes to enter at checkout using a simple Google search with the store name.
  • Get creative. Pinterest is popular for a reason. (However, so is Pinterestfail for that matter). Truly though – we all know it’s the thought behind a gift that matters and it’s what actually makes giving FUN! Look into options for DIY crafts and ways to fund purchases such as with credit card points or freelance work. Host gift exchanges and tack on a theme such as “$15 bottles of wine” or “board games” to keep it fun and reasonably priced.

The holidays can be a stressful time, but it doesn’t mean your expenses have to add to the situation. Crafting a plan, having some organization and using a bit of creativity can help to make the season more enjoyable and keep your financial house in tact.