It may be the most wonderful time of the year, but the holidays can also make it the most expensive time of the year. Gifts, food, entertaining and special holiday outfits have many families worrying and wondering about how their budget will survive.

As the mother of four children, I’ve had to navigate these financial waters many times, and have developed a financial strategy that keeps us on budget and allows us to go about the holidays relatively stress-free and relaxed.

Here are five simple tips to help keep you and your family on track this season:

Set expectations
It’s best to start this sooner rather than later. Santa can’t bring absolutely everything kids want, and they need to understand the concept of a budget both for him, and for your family. Get the kids to make a list of the top five things they want, and tell them that they might get one or two of them. Work with them to choose high-ticket and low-ticket items.

Create a budget (and stick to it!)
It’s easy to go overboard with your spending, especially during the holidays. Setting an overall budget is a great way to stay on track. Start by planning out what you’ll need, from gifts and decor to entertainment and travel expenses, set a reasonable limit for each category and stop once you’ve reached that amount. You can always reallocate funds if you’re under budget, but this is a great way to watch your spending and avoid going overboard this season.

Consolidate your spending
Take advantage of credit cards and store programs which reward their loyal customers. Points earned are like money in the bank if you can cash them in right at the register (such as the PC Financial World Elite Mastercard, which allows cardholders to earn PC points that can be redeemed for groceries and other everyday items). Save your credit card rewards all year and get substantial savings on your holiday meals, clothes, and entertaining accessories.

Have frank discussions about money
Talk to your siblings, parents, and others whom you are expected to exchange presents with. Some families are opting to only buy presents for the kids, while others go in on group gifts or agree to a set spending limit. Make sure to have these conversations before your family has done their holiday shopping.

Break tradition
Just because you’ve always gone out to a fancy restaurant on Christmas Eve, or bought expensive wine for guests, doesn’t mean you have to continue doing so. The holidays are mostly about spending time together, not about spending money.

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