During the holiday season there is pressure to spend, spend, spend. 

Bruce Sellery

Bruce Sellery is a personal finance columnist at MoneySense Magazine. (Bruce Sellery)

"Christmas is marketed to us early and it is marketed to us often," said personal finance columnist Bruce Sellery, who writes for MoneySense Magazine.

"But the bigger thing I think is that we have become dominated by our tradition, instead of celebrants of our tradition."

Sellery joined Sheryl MacKay on North by Northwest to provide some ideas on how to reset one's expectations and get holiday spending back on track.

1. Ask yourself: Is giving just a habit?

"The traditions that we have, and maybe have been passed down for generations, in some cases are not traditions anymore, they're habits," Sellery said.

"In some families gift giving is a habit, so you just buy gifts for everybody and that's just how it's always done, and no one said, 'Hey, is this really how we want to mark Christmas?"

2. Decide what your priorities are

Sellery said people should ask themselves what matters to them over the holidays.

"For some people it's a religious observance, for some people it's spending time together, for some people it's doing fun things … and for most families it's a combination of a couple, but what you'll find as you answer that question is that there are inconsistencies," he said.

"So you say our holidays are for religious observance and yet we can barely make it to church on Christmas Eve because we're still wrapping 12,000 presents or something like that."

"Ask the question: what are the holidays for?"

"For some people more of what we want is more stress-free days, less spending

3. Consider change

Sellery said people should also ask themselves what they want more of over the holidays, and to speak to friends and family members if they want to suggest a change away from traditions that have simply become habits.

"One of the reasons why people don't stick their neck out and make the suggestion, they think, 'Oh geez, Aunt Sally and Uncle Fred are never going to sign up for this.'"

"Ask the question now while people still have some time … how do we do it this year? What are some things we absolutely want to keep, and what could we do differently so people have more of what they want, or less of what they don't want, like less spending, less travel, less stress, and I think the big thing is to align spending with what they holidays are for."

Sellery suggests that, if something like gift giving is being given up, a new tradition could be added. He also said they don't have to be binding — family members can evaluate in the new year whether or not they liked the change, and can always go back to what they did before.

4. Plan what you are going to spend money on

Sellery said that before pulling out one's wallet, people should make a list of what they are planning to spend money on: all the gifts they need to buy for people, all the food required for all those holiday dinners, as well as travel, gas, flights, hotels and experiences (the ballet, the theatre and so forth.)

"Put all that into your list, tally it up, and then you know what the number is."

5. Plan how you are going to pay for it all

"Second, ask yourself: How am I going to pay for that?" Sellery said.

"Am I going to work more shifts in January, am I going to cut back on my buying lunch in the food court in January?

"Because when the bill arrives in January many people act like it's a surprise. And I can tell you: you were there, because you punched in that four-digit pin on your credit card that allowed those products and services to come home to you

"So just think about that in advance so when January or February comes, and those bills are there, you have an idea of what you're going to do to pay for it. "


To hear the full interview listen to the audio labelled: Personal finance expert offers tips for managing Christmas spending and debt