Don’t let holiday spirit undo your budget

We’ve both served in the Army, and we’ve both worked in results-oriented sales jobs. So we understand that execution is everything. Visions, plans and preparations are important, but without proper follow-through they quickly become pointless. With that in mind, we’ve got four tips to help you execute your gift-buying plan with precision this year.

Budget is the bottom line. Determine how much you can afford to spend for gifts before you shop. Ideally, it’s money you’ve already set aside, but regardless, shop within your means.

Make a shopping list. One of the easiest ways to get off track is to get caught up in the holiday spirit. Music, sales and a generally festive atmosphere can cause even the best plans to come unglued. Let your shopping list be your guide and guardrails. On sale or not, if an item is not on your list, it’s a no-go. If you build a list that falls within your budget and stick to it, the beginning of the new year can be as enjoyable as the end of the old one.

Go cash only. Tote the vault. We love the convenience and rewards that credit cards offer, but when it comes to holiday shopping you may want to leave home without them. They offer the greatest opportunity to spend what you don’t have or didn’t plan on spending. Stick to cash, and when it’s gone, you’re done.

Creativity is a good thing. Put thought over money. Make no mistake: there are no gifts being crafted at our houses. But maybe that’s something you do. The idea is to create some gifts that don’t cost a lot, but show that you care. These could be baked goods, coupons for services (babysitting, lawn mowing), or even cool photos that capture an important moment or friendship. Remember, the goal is to finish the holidays with no more debt than you had when you started.
Incorporate these techniques and you’ll be smiling all the way through the holidays and right into the new year – without a big chunk of new debt.

June Lantz Walbert and J.J. Montanaro are certified financial planners for USAA, The American Legion’s preferred provider of financial services. Submit questions for them online.

This material is for informational purposes. Consider your own financial circumstances carefully before making a decision and consult with your tax, legal or estate planning professional.USAA means United Services Automobile Association and its insurance, banking, investment and other companies. Banks Member FDIC. Investments provided by USAA Investment Management Company and USAA Financial Advisors Inc., both registered broker dealers. USAA Financial Planning Services® refers to financial planning services and financial advice provided by USAA Financial Planning Services Insurance Agency, Inc. (known as USAA Financial Insurance Agency in California), a registered investment adviser and insurance agency and its wholly owned subsidiary, USAA Financial Advisors, Inc., a registered broker dealer. Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards, Inc. owns the certification marks CFP® and Certified Financial Planner TM in the United States, which it awards to individuals who successfully complete CFP Board's initial and ongoing certification requirements.