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Being like Santa in one key way can help you keep your holiday spending in check

Twenty/20

If you want to save money and avoid holiday debt, there's an easy solution from Santa: Make a list, and check it twice.

Almost 6 in 10 shoppers (57%) say they've set a holiday budget to help them stay on track with their spending, according to holiday spending data from retirement account provider Principal.

It's a smart move, considering that some 35 million shoppers are still paying off debt from last Christmas. Better planning could help you avoid that fate, says Justin Halverson, a Minnesota-based financial advisor.

How to create a holiday spending list

Start with a broad list of everything that you expect to spend money on this season, from gifts to travel costs. Many people only budget for gifts and forget that they're going to spend money on decorations and food, for example. Data from Deloitte shows gifts only account for about one-third of the average household's holiday spending.

Then focus on individuals. One way to keep spending on gifts in check is to do some reverse engineering. "If you know how many people you need to buy gifts for and what you're going to get them, it's much easier to set a budget," says Sri Reddy, senior vice president in retirement and income solutions at Principal. "And going to the store with a game plan can help keep impulse buys at bay."

Leave yourself some cash for unexpected expenses like an extra holiday party invitation or a last-minute gift for someone you accidentally left off the list. "Giving yourself that wiggle room," says Halverson, "frees you up a little bit and takes the pressure off."

VIDEO2:4802:48
Here's how to save money on holiday spending

Video by David Fang

Use your list to reinforce savings

Now that you have a list, use it to stay on track.

Curb your impulse buys. There will be deals everywhere you look during the holidays, and you can easily be tempted to either overspend on gifts or buy things for yourself. You can hack your own psychological impulses, though, by making yourself take extra time to think it over — especially if they aren't a fit for the people or priorities on your list.

Get creative. If you're up for it, try creating handmade gifts for the people on your list, or for anyone who doesn't make the first cut. That can not only save you some money but also shows the recipient that you care enough to make something personal.

If you're looking to save money and simply want an easy place to start, it can help to get organized. "Make a list and check it twice," Reddy says.

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