Syble Solomon

Now is a good time to start thinking about the holidays. Instead of just thinking about how much money to spend, think about how you spend your money. Here are seven questions to ask yourself that can help you have less stress, more fun and more money in your pocket.

1. Who do you give gifts to? Make your list of friends, family and people in the community who provide services to you. If it’s just in your head, you may forget about your Great Aunt Milly or the mail carrier. Last minute gifts tend to be more stressful and more costly.

2. Why are you buying a gift for each person on your list? Is it time to cross off some names? You’ve given gifts to your niece for the past 25 years, but now that you give gifts to her three kids, is that still necessary? Don’t wait until December, talk to your family and friend groups now to start new traditions. Instead of giving everyone a separate gift, agree to choose one gift recipient. If you’re giving out of guilt or obligation, remember giving gifts and spending more money doesn’t change relationships or make difficult situations go away.

3. When do you like to shop? Do you love having all your holiday shopping finished by Thanksgiving? That’s great and you can get some super deals. But if the thought of buying holiday gifts early turns you off and takes away all the fun, don’t do all your shopping early. If you love the holiday shopping experience, leave some things for December. Otherwise you may end up spending more because you’ll still go out shopping and will want to buy extra things.

4. Where do you like to shop? Discount stores, malls and specialty stores, catalogs, TV and online shopping provide limitless choices. Think about which type of shopping brings you the most joy and least stress. Shop there and plan to avoid the shopping environments that entice you to spend more or buy extras whether it’s the mall, online or specialty shops.

5. Which presents did you give last year that were the easiest for you to buy, caused the least stress and were well received? Maybe you can establish a tradition of giving the same type of gift to many people on your list every year—a calendar, sweater, socks, a book or tickets to a show. Having a specific type of gift in mind makes it easier to focus, keep track of sales and know a good deal when you see it. Best of all, it takes less time!

6. Who are you with when you find the best buys and feel more in control of what you spend? Is it when you shop by yourself or with certain friends? Avoid shopping with others that influence you to spend more or go to more expensive stores.

7. How do you pay? Get enough cash to cover what you expect to spend. Did you know that people generally spend 30% less if they pay with cash? Do you pay with credit cards and tend to overspend and not be able to pay off the credit card bill in full each month? Instead, get a secured credit card or buy a VISA gift card to limit what you can spend at any time without going into debt.

Here's to happier, less stressed and debt-free holidays.

This article is contributed as a part of the Bitterroot Financial Education Coalition. Syble Solomon, M.Ed., BCC, is the founder of LifeWise Strategies, LLC. She can be reached at syble@lifewise.us or 406-361-8012.