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Sort out holiday budget

Love the holidays, but dread the financial hangover?

Overextending yourself is easy to do, and almost guaranteed if you approach them wielding plastic but lacking a plan. Organization is your key to financial freedom this holiday. We know, October may seem a bit early to start thinking about the season, but if you organize some essentials now, you increase the likelihood of getting through October, November and December without overspending.

Here are a few things to organize that will help you stick to your holiday budget.

Organize a worksheet exclusively for holiday expenses. Holidays mean parties, decorating, buying fancy clothes and, of course, lots of gifts. The average American budgets about $710 for holiday spending, but nearly half will blow past that budget by about $100 because they don’t have a clear budget. Write down every holiday expense that you’re likely to incur and list a reasonable amount of money next to each item. Add it up and compare it to the actual budget you have.

Go on a financial diet this month. Give up on luxuries that you enjoy on a regular basis, like going to the movies or eating out. Every little bit counts; cutting out a $3-a-day latte habit, for example, can yield big dividends over the next few weeks.

Stock up on gifts early. Whenever you come across some item that is perfect for one of the people on your list and reasonably priced, pick it up and store it carefully.

Arrange gift swaps. If you’ve got a big family or a large circle of friends, buying each person a thoughtful and useful gift is a mental and financial nightmare. If no one has suggested a gift swap before, be bold and put forth the idea yourself. Sarah Welch’s large family has been doing this for decades and everyone prefers giving and getting one nice gift to giving and getting lots of junk.

Don’t go sale shopping alone. Sales can be hectic because all the good stuff is picked up in the blink of an eye and you can’t be everywhere in the store at once. Take along a friend or three. Get organized by reviewing your lists in advance, so that each of you can cover a different area of the store and get your hands on the sale goodies before they are gone.

Put boundaries on holiday décor. Although it is tempting, there is absolutely no need to go overboard in decorating the house. High-impact spots for decorations are the front door and porch, living room, family room and powder room.

– Sarah Welch and Alicia Rockmore,