The holidays can be a relaxing and joyful time of the year—but they can also be expensive. Whether or not you are traveling to visit family, there are still gifts to buy, holiday parties to attend, food to prepare, Christmas trees and decorations to put out, and the list goes on. What does that spending mean for your marriage?

For many couples, the financial strain of the holidays can cause conflict. Perhaps you are spending too much on gifts or maybe those extra Christmas lights just weren’t in the budget. Instead of letting fights about money ruin your holidays, take time to plan with your spouse before the spending goes through the roof.

Here are a few ways to make spending during the holidays less stressful.

Make a list and a budget

Make a list of everything you think you will need money for during the holidays. We mean everything.

List out the people you’d like to buy gifts for, the extra decorations you need to get, the holiday events that require money or at least a gift to bring, and anything else you think you might spend money on.

Then create a budget. For some couples, it helps to set a budget for every single item including that gift for mom. For other couples, it works better to set a broader number for all gifts. Setting expectations of the holidays and the money you will spend will help prevent future fights.

Communicate with each other

No budget is perfect, however. When you realize you overspent in one category or encounter unexpected expenses, there’s one simple rule: Talk to one another.

A budget doesn’t have to be constraining and it’s meant to resolve conflict, not cause it. If something isn’t working, sit down with your spouse and renegotiate the numbers. A budget that’s flexible and fits you and your family will be far less likely to cause conflict between you and your spouse.

Be creative with gifts

If money is tight this year, try to be more creative with how you spend your money. Try imposing a $10 limit on all gifts or try spending no money at all. Sometimes a baked good or a homemade gift can be just as thoughtful as a new watch or perfume. If you have a large family to buy gifts for, try making something small and creative to give each of them so nobody feels left out. Setting healthy expectations about the types of gifts you are going to give others or each other can also prevent future conflict.

Remember the importance of the holidays

Above all else, remember the reason for the season. Christmas is not about the gifts or the decorations. It’s also not about the holiday events and parties, no matter how well-intentioned.

Remember that Christmas is about celebrating the birth of Christ and that being surrounded by family and friends is far more important than being surrounded by gifts and Christmas trees. It might sound cheesy, but you’ll have a far more meaningful Christmas if you remember this. More importantly, if you and your spouse are on the same page about the reason for Christmas, then you will be able to set healthy expectations and maintain harmony instead of discord throughout the season.

We know Christmas can be an exciting time of the year, but also the most expensive. These tips can help you and your spouse get in the right mindset for the reason of the season, the importance of setting a budget and healthy expectations, and free yourselves from the pressure of pouring money into a holiday in order to make it more meaningful.

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