The Christmas season brings with it all the joys and festivities of the holidays, but it is also a time of the year when many budgets can be stretched, pinched and in some cases wrecked if consumers are not careful. Quite easily, you can spend more than what you have and find yourself scraping for cash come January. You can make your Christmas budget go further. Here is how.

1. Set a budget.

How much do you spend for Christmas? What, you don’t know? Herein lies the problem — you want to celebrate the holidays, but you haven’t put a price on your celebration. Instead, sit down and write up your costs including what it will cost you to buy presents, decorations, make special meals and the like. Use the Internet to nail down prices and then total everything up. There is a good chance you will need to make some cuts if you are to keep your budget within your means.

2. Limit your gift giving.

If you are in the habit of buying gifts for Aunt Flo, your second cousin Harriet or for your sister-in-law’s sister, it is time to reassess this habit. Quite easily, gift giving will outpace all other Christmas expenses combined. Instead of gifting beyond your immediate family, why not give just one gift to your more distant relatives? One way to do this and keep everyone happy is to have a Christmas gift grab bag where individual names are placed on pieces of paper and placed in a hat. At Thanksgiving, everyone picks a name and along with that name are gift suggestions. Set a limit for what people can spend, perhaps $50, a move that still allows everyone to choose a really great gift without going on a spending binge.

3. Go potluck.

Christmas meals are so expensive! Just the bird alone — turkey, duck or goose — can cost you a mint. Add in appetizers, snacks, fruit, vegetables, bread, dessert and drinks, and the host of this event can soon feel financially besieged. Of course, you could always agree to let someone else host Christmas…. Still, if you want everyone over, swallow your pride and ask for your guests to bring something. You can provide the meats, the utensils, cups and dish ware, with Aunt Flo bringing her beloved asparagus dish, Uncle Moe his potato soup, your sister Sue her cranberry bread and so on. Keep a few backup dishes handy in the freezer just in case someone forgets.

4. Make it homemade.

Certainly, you will be buying the vast majority of your gifts. This is understandable, especially when you’re considering electronic devices. You may also want to take your knack for making things and gift some of these items. If you love to can your garden bounty, take a can or jar of tomatoes, blueberries or dill pickles, and tie a festive bow around each container and hand these out at Christmas. Go one step further by printing out a favorite recipe that can turn out spicy chunky salsa, Texas jalapeno jelly or even the makings of a homemade spaghetti sauce recipe.

5. Shop with precision.

Okay, now for some very important tips on shopping retail. Circle both the Friday and Monday after Thanksgiving as both dates can save you much money. Black Friday always follows Thanksgiving Thursday and yields door-buster specials as early as 3 a.m. Yes, some stores get started the night before, but the vast majority open up early and stay open until late that evening. Your best deals will be early on and last for only part of the day. The best deals will be of limited quantity too with no rain checks. The following Monday is Cyber Monday, the day when online retailers get in on the action. Here, deals will be posted online and further savings can be had through coupon codes, reduced or free shipping and sales tax deference. Use both days to find the best deals and stick to your budget as it is easy to spend, spend, spend!

Shopping Tips

Certainly, you can shop throughout November and December, finding extraordinary deals both months. Your careful planning can yield fantastic savings, enabling you to stay within your Christmas budget, and avoiding the January “I can’t pay these bills” blues.

Robert Langdon is a professional blogger that writes for Great Deals offers thousands of deals at hundreds of retailers including Macy’s coupon codes.