I realize this is likely to be a controversial title in this season of holiday shopping excess! But if you truly want to get a handle on your finances and achieve real financial balance, the holidays are actually an excellent time to take a look at your spending and assess your priorities.

Where are you spending your money? Is the money you spend actually providing real value - that is, do the things you buy actually enrich your life, or are you just trying to "keep up with the Jones's"?

If you overspent this year on things you didn't really need (or even want all that much, now that you think about it), now is a good time to set up a spending plan or a budget for next year, keeping in mind your most important goals and priorities.

Here are 4 tips to spending wisely throughout the holidays and beyond.

1. Never Go Shopping

What? Huh? That's right - I said it! Obviously you will go to stores to purchase things, but "going shopping" is simply a good way to waste a whole bunch of money on things you don't need and probably can't afford. As this article says, " the only shopping you should do is grocery shopping."

My husband loves to shop, but I hate it (hence the reason that I handle most of the finances for our household).  :-)  Not only is it wasteful, but I find it very stressful and overwhelming - not to mention depressing, looking at all the things I want to have but can't afford right now! I would much rather save myself the stress and anxiety, and go to the store only when I have something specific in mind that I need to purchase.

Over the past year and half, I have become a lot more savvy about budgeting. Before I got married, I was very frugal - living with hand-me-down furniture and in a small, cheap apartment for many years. Because I was frugal, I didn't really need to budget for things, as I would always have the money for it if something came up that I really needed.

Since getting married (to a shopper), I have had to learn to really create specific budgets for various things. Online tools like Mint can be very helpful, but my favorite tool so far is our PNC Virtual Wallet which is attached to our bank account. It makes it so easy to set aside money for specific things we want to buy. When we have the money saved up, and the time has come to purchase the item, we can transfer it to our spending account with one click. For anything which we expect to spend $100 to $1,000 on, we set up a savings goal in our account for that item. (If we expect it to cost more than $1,000, we usually use our Bank On Yourself policy and pay it back over time.) While my husband isn't really happy that he can't go shopping as often, he is happy that he can buy a pricey woodworking tool, or new screen doors for the house, without having to go into debt!

2. Stock Up When Things Are On Sale/In Season

I'm not recommending becoming an "extreme couponer" and purchasing 500 boxes of instant mashed potatoes (or even one, for that matter - yuck!) to store in your basement, but if you see a great deal on an item that you use often, go ahead and stock up. This applies to everything from dry or canned goods, to produce. In the summer, you can often find great deals at the local farmer's market for really fresh, often organic local fruits and vegetables. Learn to freeze, dry, can, or otherwise preserve these for the winter months, and you can feed your family well all year, while saving a bundle in the process. Many of these preservation methods are very simple and easy to do, and you can use whichever ones work best for you. Freezing is drop-dead simple, and preserves many of the vitamins in your fresh produce. Or, if you don't have a big freezer, canning might be the way to go. It's easy to learn and quite safe for acidic foods like pickles, tomatoes, and fruits.

3. Use Restaurants For the Experience - Not As A Main Food Source

While obviously you can buy food at a restaurant, remember that they are in it to make money, so you will obviously pay exponentially more for a meal at a restaurant than you would for a meal you created, yourself, at home. Plan ahead when leaving the house, so that you can have food available without being to stop and buy something when hunger pangs strike.  By taking home-cooked food with you on outings, and packing your own lunches for work and school, you can literally save thousands of dollars per year - and still eat really well - not to mention a lot healthier!

This isn't to say you should never eat at a restaurant. The experience of sharing a fancy meal with loved ones at a nice eatery can be a treasured memory. Save the eating out for these types of experiences - and build a little "dinner out" fund into your budget, so you can have the money saved up ahead of time and enjoy your fun night out without worrying about overspending.

This time of year, there are lots of opportunities to get together at restaurants for holiday parties with friends and family members - and spend way too much money. If you tend to spend too much on eating out this time of year, keep that in mind for next year, and save up a little extra for your fun holiday events.

4. Don't Buy Things You Can't Afford

Simply put, if you're making payments on consumer debt, you're probably living beyond your means. You shouldn't be paying someone else for the use of money that isn't yours. If you are, that's a warning sign that you may need to take a close look at your lifestyle and make some changes - pronto! (And yes, as I mentioned, I do borrow from my Bank On Yourself policy and make payments, but remember this is money I have already saved.)

If you're responsible, it's okay to have a credit card and use it for larger purchases if you get good credit card rewards for doing so, but if you're not able to pay off your entire credit card bill every month, then you're definitely spending too much, and the card probably needs to go.

Rule to live by: If you're worried about whether you can afford something, you probably can't.

I hope this helps put things in perspective for you. If your spending has gotten a little out of hand lately, take these tips as a reminder to get back on track. Take a good look at your financial picture, and put a plan in place to manage your spending better in 2016 - and remember to plan and save up for those extra holiday expenses, so you won't feel strapped again at this time next year!

To your health - and wealth,

P.S. For more hard-hitting financial advice, check out this post by financial blogger, Mr. Money Mustache.



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