It’s that time of year again — the cool Wisconsin fall is turning into a frigid arctic winter, and, for many students, that means it’s also time to start thinking about holiday gifts for family and friends. They’re not alone. The U.S. shoppers spend about $700 billion annually on holiday shopping. But finding something for everyone on your list doesn’t have to break the bank. Read on for tips to keep your festivities within budget.

Create a budget

Speaking of budget, the first step to saving money during the holiday season is to set limitations. Make a list of every person for whom you plan to buy gifts and allocate a certain dollar amount to each one. Remember — your total amount to spend should not be more than you can afford given your monthly income. Gifts are important, but not as important as food or rent.

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Don’t buy for yourself

This may be a hard one for some shoppers. It’s easy to see an enticing sale and buy something for yourself, but before you know it, you’ll only have half of your holiday shopping list done, and 100% of your budget spent.

Instead, if you see something you like, add it to your own holiday wish list. You can even note a store you saw it on sale to help your own friends or family save money. Another helpful hack? Try shopping alone. It can be easy to be pressured to buy something when you are in a group of friends.

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Start early, and shop strategically

An early start: this can’t be stressed enough! And it’s why we’re publishing these tips in November, rather than December. The earlier you start your holiday shopping, the better the deals you’ll find and the less you’ll pay in shipping.

Be sure to take advantage of Black Friday and Cyber Monday, too. Though the busiest shopping days of the year can be stressful, they can also score you savings.

When it comes to in-person shopping on Black Friday, find the store that covers the most items on your shopping list and also provides the best deals. This can be time-consuming, but think of it like a homework assignment. The earlier you start and the more research you do, the more time and headache you save yourself later. If sprinting into a store at 7 a.m. is not your thing, then wait until Cyber Monday, and find most of the same deals online without leaving your couch. Just watch out for shipping costs.

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DIY your holidays

Tried and true: treasures from your own talents. A gift you design or create can mean more to family and friends than anything you could buy in a store. Whether that’s a knit hat, hand-painted notecards, a screen-printed top, a photo book, or whatever your medium, show your love with art.

You can also give coupons for chores or back massages, home-cooked meals, or editing services on a friend’s final paper. And food gifts are always popular! Chocolate-covered pretzels with holiday sprinkles? Yum! You could even organize a DIY gifts party with friends to share materials and ideas.

Whatever your holiday plans, don’t let money dampen your spirit. Make a plan and a budget, start early and be strategic, and enjoy treating the ones you care so much about. Happy holidays!

Alex Pillard is a senior majoring in Finance. He is a peer educator with the Badger$ense Financial Life Skills Program in the School of Human Ecology. Learn about Badger$ense courses, workshops, and other opportunities at