Okay, so what's your favorite holiday?Statistics from The Harris Poll reveal it is Christmas for most Americans. There are many other holidays -- religious, secular, personal and patriotic -- that occur during the year, but few dig into our pocketbooks like Christmas, with over $721 billion being spent each year in the United States alone.Knowing what you can afford to buy can play a big part in whether or not you will still be paying on Christmas six months from now.According to several news reports on the subject, "The National Retail Federation reported in 2018 individual spending averaged $1,007.24." This year, consumers are reportedly expected to up that amount to $1,047.83. Considering there are only 49 days left until Christmas, there's not a lot of time to prepare for the big spending spree, especially since Christmas is already showing up in many stores.To avoid suffering too much holiday financial shock, vow to prepare yourself financially right now.It's no secret, some shoppers tend to overspend -- not that I'm accusing you of this. That's why considering the following six-letter word is so important: BUDGET! Do you have or have you considered setting up a separate holiday spending plan? Let's review some ways we can all save money at Christmas.You can avoid overspending if you initiate a plan. Poor planning results in poor choices. Here are some tips and suggestions to keep spending on track:• Prepare a budget. Select a dollar amount and stick to it! Include everything; not just the presents, but decorations, food, etc. This means setting up spending limits for each purchase you intend to make and being disciplined to follow it. Consider what you want to buy versus what you need to buy. Be conservative and allow a little wiggle room, if you need it.• Make a list. Who do you plan to buy for? Put a limit on each gift. Keep track of what you have spent and avoid buying after meeting your limit. Avoid the impulse purchases! Check off people from your list as you make your purchase and keep a running total. Say to yourself, "It's okay if I cannot afford to purchase gifts for everyone!" That's why drawing names or Secret Santa is an excellent way to save. For big ticket items, you could even consider pooling money together with other family members in order to purchase a better gift at a more affordable amount. Check your list, check it twice, reduce your list -- it's alright!• Know what you can afford. Decide what you can realistically afford. It's easy to convince yourself you can make certain purchases whether your budget says so or not. One statistic revealed "24% of all millennial shoppers still haven't paid off their credit card debt from last Christmas." Credit cards are an expensive way to borrow money. If you have to use credit, select a card with the lowest interest, one that can be paid off in a few short months so that you can avoid paying additional interest that could lead to paying more than the items purchase amount. Consider putting yourself on a cash-only diet. Leave your credit cards at home!Consider this: "If you charged $1,000 at Christmas with an annual interest rate of 18% and paid the minimum amount due each month (around 3% of the balance,) it would take eight years to pay off, even if you never charged another item. You would have shelled out more than $698 in interest alone," according to Bankcard Holders of America.• Plan ahead. Shop early. Keep your eyes open for sales, and don't forget the big holiday sales days: Labor Day, Black Friday and Cyber Monday. Shopping online is also a good way to save money, especially when they ship free. Don't give in to paying full price when shopping around for deals can save you lots of money. Also, take advantage of the after-Christmas sales, and plan a year ahead.• Last-minute gifts. No matter how much planning we do, we often have last-minute gifts that suddenly appear or that we forgot about. This might include personal holiday or work parties, your hairdresser, the children's teacher or Christmas pageant at school, the mailman, etc. Don't panic! Consider buying a few $5 gifts or gift certificates to keep on hand as emergency presents.
• Be creative. Think outside the box. All of our gifts don't have to be from the mall. Personalized gifts mean so much and make wonderful memories. This might include jewelry, do-it-yourself projects, crafts like photo art or a personal recipe book, homemade fudge, fruitcakes, or baked goods -- all really good ideas for gifting. Select something you feel YOU would enjoy.• Give the gift of time. Donate your time or skills. For example, consider babysitting, a special dinner, washing a car, taking someone to the movies, a homemade dinner or something special from the heart.• Get your finances back on track in the New Year. Once the holidays are out of the way, begin setting aside money every month into a passbook savings designated only for Christmas. It helps as you budget for Christmas and you won't feel as overwhelmed as you consider how you are going to come up with money next year. Some even use Christmas club accounts.Refer to the link below for a free printable holiday budget template.The holiday season brings beloved traditions, joyous memories and happy moments with friends and family. Just remember, it doesn't have to bring financial stress.For those who need assistance, contact the Financial Readiness program counselors at Army Community Service. We assist and provide financial instruction to the Fort Knox military community. For more detailed information about our services or to schedule an appointment with a financial counselor, call 502-624-5989.Merry Christmas to all -- and to all a good shopping experience!