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10 Ways to Control Your Holiday Spending

For many Canadians, spending habits tend to get out of control over the holidays. If you want to avoid overspending, then it’s important to keep track of your finances. Here’s some expert advice on how to create a proper budget, as well as tips to help you stick to it.

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Check Your Lists

For the sake of holiday budgeting, you’ve made your list and checked it twice. But are you looking at the right list? 

“There’s an ‘A’ list and a ‘B’ list,” says Alison Griffiths, who hosts the shows Maxed Out for W Network and Dollars and Sense for Viva. “The ‘B’ list is your gift list. But a big reason why people spend more than they want is they forget their ‘A’ list-their broader holiday expenses. That’s your blueprint for spending.”

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Photo: Thinkstock

Start Budgeting

When you budget, factor in all holiday-related purchases, including cards, postage, decorations, new clothes, food, at-home entertaining, wrapping paper, family pictures, charitable donations, and travel. It all adds up and might be more than you realize.

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Instead of gifts for certain friends or colleagues, make a donation to charity in their name, and have an acknowledgement card sent.

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Photo: Woolf Crown Copyright/Shutterstock

Know How Much You Can Spend

How much should you spend during the holiday season? A good rule of thumb is 1.5% your annual income, say Griffiths and many financial planners. So if you earn $50,000 a year, your recommended holiday budget is $750. On average, Griffiths suggests, about half your budget will go towards gifts, and half to all other holiday expenses.

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Avoid Gift Exchanges

Whether at the office or with your family, know when enough is enough for you. “One year, my kids were involved in eight or nine gift exchanges-just say no,” says Griffiths.

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Think Outside the Box

Consider giving people like teachers or coaches a heartfelt card instead of a gift. Does your child’s teacher really need another coffee mug?

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Rank Your List

It might sound “actuarial”, says Griffiths, but rank the people on your gift list, put a dollar figure next to their name before going to the mall, and spend accordingly. “The more distant the relative, the less you spend,” says Griffiths. In some cases, a call or a visit to Great Aunt Sue will mean more than a gift anyway.

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Know When to Say No

Avoid electronics for kids. Griffiths says buying electronics for younger children especially is “the thin edge of the wedge”. Prices escalate as children get older and the gadgets get more sophisticated. If a child is really pining for the latest gizmo, give them money towards it-that way, you control the amount.

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Set a Limit for the Kids

When kids are getting gifts for siblings, other family members or friends, and you’re footing the bill, involve the givers. Put a hard dollar limit on each gift, tell the children, and have them look for something appropriate. “Kids pay attention when you give them a limit,” says Griffiths. “We’re the ones who are weak.”

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Keep Track

To track your expenses, visit, a site created by Visa Canada that provides free financial resources to Canadians including a Holiday Spending Calculator. You can revise the numbers to suit your budget, or update them along the way to see where you stand.