Living on a small budget can be a challenge during a normal month, but it can seem impossible when you’re facing down the most expensive time of the year: the winter holidays. Last year, the average shopper dropped $967 on the holidays, and more than $1,000 in debt.

If you aren’t careful, you can follow their lead this year and struggle with red in your ledger. Luckily, you aren’t doomed to overspend even if you’re on a small budget. With patience, dedication, and the following tips, you can protect your finances from the festivities.

Holiday Shopping

1. Use a budget to take stock

A budget is as important as it is versatile. At the start, it provides an unparalleled look at your finances — kind of like an objective bird’s eye view of your financial comings and goings. It doesn’t matter if you make it doing it the old-fashioned way or with an app, your budget should tally your expenses and compare them to your income.

Either method will show you how much expendable cash you have at any given time after you’ve paid for the necessities like housing, utilities, and loans. This is the cash you can put towards things like the holidays.

2. Use a budget to find more savings

A budget also shows you where you’re going wrong. A macro look at your finances helps you identify patterns in your spending. You’ll be able to see specific times of the week, month, or year when you spend more money than normal.

You’ll also be able to identify categories of spending that waste your expendable cash — things like coffee, takeout, unnecessary wardrobe updates, and cell phone overage charges are just a few common ways people waste money. Once you’ve identified yours, you can make an effort to cut them out of your budget entirely. If you’re successful, you can reroute this money towards the holidays and your savings in general.

3. Figure out what you will spend

Knowing what you can afford and what you will spend should balance, but it’s easy to lose track of your shopping if you aren’t careful. Once you have a budget set, keep this limit in mind while you research your options. Use the Internet to hunt down the cheapest price for the items on your list. If even the cheapest options for these items push you over your limit, research other gifts that do fit your budget.

4. Start as early as possible

Small budget

The early bird gets the worm is a cliché because it’s true. When you start saving for something well in advance, you’re more likely to avoid running out of cash once the big day arrives. It gives you more time to squirrel away cash. This takes some of the burden of saving off your shoulders.

Let’s say you’re expecting to spend the average $967 on the holidays. If you only have a few weeks to save for the holidays or another big purchase, you would have to make frequent, large contributions to your holiday fund to hit this target. If you give yourself several months, your contributions can be smaller, and they won’t smother your budget.

Unfortunately, this is one of the hardest steps to take on, as it requires focus and a bit of luck. It’s easy to lose track of time and not realize it’s the holidays until you have a gingerbread latte in your hand and Michael Buble’s baritone croons over the café speakers. You may also encounter a string of unlucky repairs that eat into your savings.

5. Choose your financial assistance carefully

Bad luck tends to come in threes, but in your case there’s no limit to what fines you face and repairs you have to make. If you’re constantly putting out fires, you may not have enough cash on hand to cover the next appliance breakdown, car repair, or medical emergency. Even in a place like Ontario, Canada, where health care is free, a medical emergency can involve expensive prescription medication that isn’t covered by OHIP.

If you’re facing your own financial issues, you should take a tip from the people living in Ontario. They choose the best payday loans Ontario has to offer to help bridge the gap between their finances and their responsibilities. They’re a hassle-free way to fill the holes in your budget when you’re facing urgent bills. For particularly time sensitive bills, the best payday loan Ontario has to offer comes from an online lender. These lenders provide online payday loans that arrive in one hour after you’re approved, so you don’t have to waste any time before taking on your responsibilities.

6. Use your phone

Use phone

If you only use your phone to pull up directions for the mall, then you’re wasting its potential. It can be your personal shopper that helps find the best deals and rebates, so you spend less at the till. Take a look at this list of shopping apps to help you slash your totals at the cash. From grocery apps to cash-back programs, they offer a simple and proven way to save on things you need to buy.

Celebrating the holidays on a small budget can be a challenge, but it’s not impossible. You can find ways to help boost your financial reach during this expensive season, so you can enjoy the festivities without worrying about your finances.