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9 ways to manage the stress that the holidays put on you and your finances

By Elizabeth Ayoola

Focusing on the things you can control -- like your budget and spending -- can help make the season less harrowing.

This article is reprinted by permission from NerdWallet.

Holidays are meant to be full of love, but sometimes they're full of stress and anxiety. One of the culprits can be the unspoken financial commitment of family dinners, travel and chaotic gift-buying. Sometimes the stress is beyond your control, but there are some things you can champion like planning and budgeting.

We asked a few of our Nerds to write down their best strategies for managing holiday stress and spending. Here are their responses.

Set a gift budget

If money wasn't a thing, we could buy our loved ones anything they want or need. But money is a factor, so it's ideal to work within a budget, which means having a limit for how much you spend on gifts. You can also take it a step further by agreeing on a spending cap with your loved ones, something senior copy editor Jim McNett does.

"The small circle of people I exchange gifts with have a quiet understanding to keep gifts under about $100," he said.

Related: 5 tips to rein in holiday spending and manage debt

Give secondhand gifts

It can feel taboo to give loved ones used gifts, but giving secondhand gifts is a cost-effective option. Copy chief Erica Harrington sometimes buys gifts for her loved ones secondhand.

"I shop on Etsy (ETSY) and eBay. For instance, my mom liked one of my purses I bought several years ago, so I searched for the brand on eBay (EBAY) and found her something similar from the same brand," Harrington said.

To give it a new feel, get nice packaging for the gift. If you're not sold on the idea of secondhand gifts, start with small, slightly used items like books. It's also possible to find new items for less in charity shops and on online platforms like eBay, although you may have to bid for them.

Aside from buying gifts secondhand, you could also get holiday decorations from charity thrift shops.

Plus: More people plan to use 'Buy Now Pay Later' for holiday shopping this year -- but there's one 'troubling sign'

Take a break from spending in the new year

It's possible to spend more during the holidays than you do the rest of the year. Gifts aside, you could end up going out to dinner with friends more often or doing holiday activities with family. Spending more during the holidays isn't a terrible thing if you financially plan for it. Spending big chunks of money can feel stressful, however, especially if you don't have a surplus of funds. To help you recover from large holiday expenses, consider minimizing spending a few months after the holidays.

"If I know I'm going to be traveling or spending a lot over the holidays, I also plan to have a lot of downtime in January and February and even March, when I know I won't be planning any big purchases," said editor Chris Davis. He explained that taking time to financially recover post-holidays requires discipline, but it can help you get back on track for the rest of the year.

Read: 7 more ways to save that you may not have considered

Try wish list apps

Not being sure what to buy a loved one can be stressful and lead to last-minute shopping. Last-minute purchases can sometimes be more expensive, especially if retailers mark prices up. To save yourself time and eliminate worry around whether your loved one will like the gift, consider using a platform like Giftster to share gift ideas. You can create a wish list, add items to it and share it with loved ones. There's even an option to create a group wish list, which can be helpful for families or friend groups. Other apps you can use for wish lists include Giftbuster and WishSlate.

If you aren't into apps, there are other ways to go about sharing wish lists with your loved ones like creating a spreadsheet to exchange gift ideas. iPhone users can also use the Notes app to collaborate on gift ideas.

Don't feel pressure to buy gifts

While it is nice to give people gifts, it's not a necessity, especially if it's overwhelming or you can't afford it. Editor Pamela de la Fuente experiences anxiety around the holidays, but "takes it in stride." The mom of two has a busy life, so she doesn't get around to doing meticulous financial planning for the holidays.

"I just try to limit the amount of toys I buy, I don't exchange gifts with my husband or in-laws anymore, and I ask my sister what she wants and try to keep that gift-buying budget in check," said de la Fuente. "I also try to do some experiences. Maybe instead of a gift, here's money to go on a trip together or something like that."

Also read: Want to buy the perfect gift this holiday season? Take Warren Buffett's advice

Use apps to budget

Holidays are a great time to blow the dust off your budgeting apps if they've been inactive. Creative producer Amanda Deisler uses an app to help her stay organized and plan spending.

"I actually use YNAB and set aside a specific amount for all holiday spending," Deisler said. She also tracks her holiday expenses in the app.

Consider using apps to create a holiday budget, then throw funds in there weekly or monthly, using the apps to keep track of your savings. For instance, if you'll be spending Hanukkah out of town with loved ones, you may want to create a budget for food and travel.

See: Crowds, costs and cancellation concerns? Try these tips and tricks for booking holiday travel.

Repurpose or DIY decor

Buying new holiday decor every year can be expensive, especially if you go all out on ornaments and lights. Think about reusing or repurposing existing decorations. You may also add a festive touch by creating something new using items you have at home. For instance, you can make ornaments out of copper, foil and paper mache.

"I save money on the Christmas tree by having some fun using substitutes sometimes," McNett said. He once decorated a ladder with lights and that served as his Christmas tree.

Track spending

When you're spending with multiple credit and debit cards during the holidays, it's easy to lose track of how much you're charging. Consider taking a page out of writer Tommy Tindall's book.

"I use just one credit card for all purchases and pay closer attention to my bank app during the spending season," Tindall said.

Using a credit or debit card that gives you cash-back rewards or points may also be a clever way to get money back during the holidays.

Plan travel and gifts early

You don't have to wait until the holidays to start shopping. Consider buying gifts throughout the year like content management specialist Sabrina Parys does.

"If I know I'm going to be spending money on presents, I try to remember this throughout the year and purchase things for later to relieve the pressure of purchasing something that's probably marked up around the holidays," she said. Major sales on days like the Fourth of July and Black Friday are great times to buy gifts at a discount.

The same applies to travel -- think about deciding who is spending the holidays where early in the year so you can buy tickets while they're cheap. It's also OK to skip traveling during pricey periods such as Thanksgiving or New Year's if you can't afford it.

Bottom line -- focusing on the things you can control like your budget and spending can hopefully make the season less stressful.

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Elizabeth Ayoola writes for NerdWallet. Email:

-Elizabeth Ayoola

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