Ho ho holiday spending. Here are ideas on surviving December with your savings in tow.

On my way to the milk aisle at my favorite discount store one day in October, I saw a spooky sight. Wedged between the rejected Bluey backpacks and rows of discounted ghosts and goblins was an aisle of holiday decorations. I almost let out a scream. It’s too early for light-up reindeer and wreaths.

But as I wandered toward the checkout, it dawned on me. As annoying as these much-too-early holiday displays can be, they do serve as a reminder that the season is on its way. And planning ahead is your best defense against unwanted holiday debt. This is especially important this year, with unemployment expected to rise further and creditors lowering credit limits and hiking interest rates. Promise me you’ll make a list and set a realistic budget before buying a single gift or icicle light.

Americans planned to spend more than $1,430 on holiday merchandise in 2022. With the predictions for this year’s holiday season still pending, my guess is we’ll spend less. The savings rate has climbed above 7 percent for the first time in years and I think these uncertain times are making it tougher for people to part with their money.

A recent report from WalletHub came out with 3 cities in Minnesota ranking in the top 30 in the country on holiday spending:

  • 16. Maple Grove, MN $2,707
  • 23. Plymouth, MN $2,479
  • 27. Eagan, MN $2,357

But as any adult with an important little one in his or her life knows, there’s nothing like a kid with a toy list to help you part with that cash cushion. Here are ideas on surviving December with your savings in tow.

Layaway is back. Last year, retailers such as Burlington Coat Factory, Walmart, and Amazon dusted off the retro concept of putting an item on hold and making regular payments until you’re paid up and can take the item home. This year, Marshalls and T.J. Maxx is offering the service as well. The concept also went online at sites such as layaway247.com. Most layaway programs charge a service fee, but it’s not even close to a credit-card finance charge.

Start a money group. Femmes Frugal, a St. Paul group of moms who get together to discuss everything from saving on groceries to making holiday gifts. Last year, they brainstormed do-it-yourself holidays gifts and made items at a coffee shop or a group member’s home. Even if crafty isn’t your thing, starting a money group to talk about reasonable holiday budgets or vowing to shop with a supportive friend can help you keep your budget on track.

Organize a gift swap. If your kids are like mine, the number of toys in near-perfect shape that spill out of their closets is astounding. Get the playgroup or block club together and organize an exchange. Your kids will be none the wiser. Even if they are, now that frugal isn’t synonymous with cheapskate and being green is cool, used gifts should be A-OK. Check Craigslist.org, your neighborhood Buy Nothing groups, BuyTheChange.com, or your local Goodwill or thrift shops too.

Consider alternate currency. Not play money. I mean unused gifts cards and credit card rewards points. There’s nothing wrong with passing along that unused gift card if it’s still valid. If you regularly use a rewards credit card, you may have earned enough to receive gift cards, merchandise, or cash rebates. All can be used toward fulfilling your gift list.

Finally, the best gift you can give your kids is an early understanding that gifts aren’t what make the holidays bright. Schedule a cookie baking party. Go ice skating. Or veg out in front of a festive flick. Those are the priceless gifts you can teach your kids to value along with the year’s hottest toy.

Find out more about this report here.