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How to Keep Santa on a Budget

These tips will help you keep holiday spending under control.

Last week I tweeted about a new poll that revealed a startling fact: The number-one holiday stress inducer for professional women is managing work and holiday tasks.

Well, duh. Hard to believe anyone needed a study to figure that out. This year has been particularly stressful because of the abbreviated three-week period between Thanksgiving and Christmas. I’m getting a bit anxious because two of my three children still have not checked in with their Christmas lists.

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Yes, I still ask my grown kids for wish lists. I’ve always thought lists are an effective holiday budgeting tool for the whole family. They help stressed-out parents stay organized and on task; they help kids learn to set priorities; and they help everyone keep from overspending. (And now that my kids are older and can include Web links to some of the things on their wish lists, it makes shopping a whole lot easier.)

Americans seem to need all the help they can get at this time of year to keep from busting the budget. In a survey by Capital One Bank, 74% of those interviewed said they were likely to prepare a holiday spending budget, but nearly half weren’t completely confident that they’d stick to it. For shoppers who need moral support, there’s no lack of practical advice. For instance:

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Give Santa clear and consistent directions. In the Capital One survey, 40% of respondents said they hadn’t talked to their significant other about their holiday budget, and almost 60% weren’t completely confident their significant other would stick to it. Speak up and make sure you are both on the same page!

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Find extra cash in surprising places. A survey by Coinstar found that consumers estimate that they have a little more than $26 in spare change stashed in piggy banks, junk drawers, purses and even car cup holders. But according to Coinstar’s kiosk data, customers nationwide convert an average of $56 to a gift card or eCertificate when they cash in their coins (enough to buy a video game or Lego set).

Give a do-it-yourself gift. Capital One’s survey showed that 70% of those responding -- and 80% of millennials -- plan to go the DIY route this season, giving gifts of baked goods, meals and handmade crafts.

If you’re in the middle of your annual holiday stress test, Kiplinger’s Facebook followers have some sound advice for getting control of your nerves and your wallet:

-- Beth Trittipo: “We try to follow this rule: The kids get (1) something they want; (2) something they need; (3) something to wear; and (4) something to read.”

-- Lynly Trimm Sandlin: “Each child gets three gifts, just like baby Jesus.”

-- Elizabeth Stimpert: “Santa gives each of my kids one ‘bigger’ item. The best way to stay on a budget is to make sure the kids’ friends aren’t talking about their budget-busting Santa!” (Parents, take note.)

-- Jenny Garcia-Lumaban: “I start planning early, then wait for a big discount on the item I’m eyeing. I use my one-and-only credit card, which gives cash back, then pay it right away online. That way I stretch my cash.”

-- Liz Martin: “I make a spreadsheet of what I plan to get everyone on my list and the price. It mostly works!”

-- Blake Faucette: “Cash only!”

-- Richard Jesionowski: “We always stay within our written spending categories, not only for Christmas but all year. We plan in December for the following year.”

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