COLUMBIA, Mo. – The holiday season is a good time to talk about family budgets and plan for next year, says Andrew Zumwalt, chair of the University of Missouri’s Personal Financial Planning program.

Zumwalt says family gatherings are also an opportunity to talk with extended family members about budgets for holiday gift-giving. Discussion about dollar amounts for gifts can prevent financial stress and misunderstandings, he says.

Recognize that the amount allotted for gifts may vary among family members. Different sides of the family may have different traditions, such as donating to charities instead of exchanging gifts.

One inexpensive option is a “Rob Your Neighbor” or “Secret Santa” gift exchange at family events. These can be fun, and they limit gift buying so you don’t have to get something for all extended family members.

One popular option in recent years is to give “experiences” such as gift cards for movies, museums or travel. Zumwalt says some of the best presents are gifts of time and talent such as cards offering free services like babysitting or yardwork.

Zumwalt says parents can give each child a coupon to for a special time or experience without other siblings or electronics. This can be a simple weekend breakfast or visit to a favorite park or special event. These delayed gifts give family members a sense of anticipation and joy, he says.

When in doubt, cash is one-size-fits-all and wraps easily. “Cash seems a little dry and without magic, but it often makes sense,” says Zumwalt. Another option that grandparents may find attractive is a contribution to a grandchild’s 529 plan.

Starting in 2024, savers can roll over unused funds from 529 plans to Roth individual retirement accounts free of income tax or tax penalties. Check with a trusted financial expert about updates that make these plans more flexible than in the past.

“There are many ways to tackle this season of giving,” says Zumwalt. “Material things are good but often quickly forgotten, so make it more about spending time together.”

Here are some of Zumwalt’s tips:

• Make a budget and stick to it.

• Plan for budget busters like “Secret Santa” gift exchanges or holiday meals out with work friends. These “little extras” can add up in a big way.

• Don’t wait until the last minute. Rushed decisions result in unplanned costs.

• If you shop early or on Black Friday, resist the temptation to buy “just one more thing.” Those “savings” can be costly. Respect your budget and be intentional in your buying.

• Reduce end-of-the-year stress by setting aside funds for taxes and other year-end expenses before you shop.

• Use time off work during the holidays to plan a household budget and goals for next year. Review last year’s budget and adjust as needed. If you’ve put off estate planning, this is a good time to get started.

Media Contact