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How to manage holiday spending expectations

Money experts share how to balance budgets during an expensive time of year

The following Chase article is designed to help you stay smart about holiday spending.

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No parent wants to be a Grinch, but sometimes your bottom line forces you to cut down on gift-giving during the holiday's.

By setting expectations with your children and creating a realistic budget, you'll be able to make it the most wonderful time of the year for your family, and your wallet.

Make wish lists a family activity

Crystal Paine, founder of MoneySavingMom.com, suggests building a budget for holiday shopping. "Consider how much money you have to spend, then set that as your budget and stick with it, even if it means you aren't able to be as generous in gift-giving," she says. "In the long run, not adding extra credit card debt is a better gift to your kids than that expensive toy would be."

Kyle Taylor, founder and CEO of ThePennyHoarder.com, recommends working with your kids on a budget to softly manage expectations. "Parents can ask their children to design a wish list with five to ten gifts within a mutually agreed-upon price range," he says. Retailers such as Walmart do some of that work for you and host seasonal gift guides that you can share with your kids. To maintain a surprise element, parents can select two to three items from the list that meet budget parameters.

And to meet more of children's gift expectations, you can share lists with grandparents and family members, too.

Embrace money lessons throughout the year

Ara Oghoorian, a Los Angeles accountant and financial planner, says he and his wife make it a point to discuss the importance of spending, saving and budgeting year-round, not just during the holidays. "The number one rule we teach our kids is to not overspend," he says, "and that it doesn't matter how much money you make. If you spend more than you earn, you'll run out of money."

With that principle in mind, you can also shop for holiday gifts throughout the year. If you see something that sticks out or that's on sale, it's never too early to start stocking up. It will help avoid rushing during the holiday's, when you might be forced to sacrifice budget for convenience.

Gift presence, not presents

Who says your gift must be the kind dressed in wrapping paper? An effective way of managing expectations—and saving money—is to shift the focus from presents to presence. Says Taylor, "Bike trips, free movie nights, concerts, library events or local festivals are all things a family can enjoy together without breaking the bank. As a child, I also remember creating DIY gifts to give others with my sister," says Taylor.

Sarah Mock, a lifestyle blogger who offers savings tips, has also invested in more than just "one-and-done" gifts."We'll get a family membership to a children's museum, or the grandparents will give a weekend trip to a local attraction. There is excitement in the anticipation of the event happening, the actual event and then reliving the memories."

Organizing a family volunteer activity or cooking a holiday meal together can also limit outbursts from children who have asked for an over-budget gift, he says. "Parents should avoid stressing about the gift-giving aspect of the holiday season and place more emphasis on gratitude."

It's a great way to slow down and spend time together during an inevitable busy season. 

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