3 Questions to Keep Your Emotions and Spending in Check this Holiday Season

‘Tis the season to spend, spend, spend. Retailers are offering discounts and sales on everything from clothing to the latest tech gadget, with advertisements jumping out from store windows, television screens, and cell phones.

According to the National Retail Federation, holiday spending will be the highest in the history of its holiday spending survey this year, with the average per-person tab expected to reach $805.65, up from $802.45 in 2014.

Even the best of budgeters has a difficult time living within their means this time of year, largely because there is a lot more to holiday shopping than just gift giving, dollars, and cents.

Many of us try and compensate for not spending time with our loved ones by buying elaborate gifts. Advertisers tell us what we must have and what we must give. The financial industry tells us it’s perfectly normal to pay for these things on credit. We blindly follow these messages right into credit card debt we’ll be paying off for years.

[Related: Ho Ho No! Parents Tapping Retirement to Buy Holiday Presents]

In addition to shopping with a list and a budget that doesn’t put you into debt that you can’t pay off before 2016 begins, get into the habit of asking yourself 3 questions before you spend:

1. Can I afford this?

2. Is this spending in line with my goals?

3. If not, why am I doing it?

When we spend money that is not in line with our goals and priorities, something else is going on. What are the messages you tell yourself to justify that spending? “If I don’t buy my child toy x, I’m a bad parent?” “It’s okay to go into credit card debt, I’ll pay it back when the economy picks up.” “It’s okay to overspend during the holidays.” These messages are rarely true, and don’t have to be. Become aware of them–these little tricks we play on ourselves–so that we’re prepared when they sneak up on us.

In addition, keep reminders around that will help you stay on track. I recently had a woman write down how much money she made per hour and keep that number in her wallet where her credit card was. Each time she makes a purchase she is reminded of how much time it will take to pay for it. That extra moment of pause allows her to ask herself, “Is this really worth the time?”

It’s also important to ‘not go it alone’ as you navigate the challenging emotions that can lead to overspending during the holidays. Share your budget and your concerns with someone you trust so they can help you stay on track. Be sure to check in with them regularly and ask if you can provide a helping hand for them as well, so that you can both feel good about the holidays.