If you’re like me, the anticipation of the holidays holds both a sense of excitement and a sense of fear. I often wake up several times a night with worry and think, “How will I get everything done?” or “How will I be able to afford the food, the travel expenses, and all those gifts?” It can seem overwhelming when the media puts pressure on the average consumer to buy, to decorate, to travel, and to make everything seem “perfect,” because, after all…it’s the most WONDERFUL time of the year!

Even though most of us buy into the fact that we need to make the holidays special, we can also decide how to make it special without making ourselves feel stressed-out, broke, or depressed. After all, it should not be about how much we buy or who all we see over the holidays, it’s about recognizing how to make meaning from what we value during the holidays and prioritizing what is most important. The first step to reducing the tendency to go into debt is to develop a strategy about how to use your financial resources toward what your top priorities.

First, list them out. Do you want to travel to see family, or do you want to stay home and invite loved ones in? Do you want to exchange gifts or do you want to forego gift-giving in order to spend money on gatherings? For example, if traveling to see loved ones is most important, then build a budget around that. If you have $1000 to spend, set aside $600 for flights and car expenses, $200 for gifts, and $200 for food. Then don’t spend more once you’ve hit your limit. If you’re staying home, you can build your budget around decorating, food, and gifts.

The worst thing you can do is to not prioritize your spending and to ignore your budget. Many consumers start out with good intentions, but they let their emotions drive their spending. They might think they have a budget in mind, but then once they start getting closer to the holidays, they start feeling pulled to buy “just one more gift” or to plan “one more big meal.” Having a firm budget in place prevents over-spending and pulling out that credit card on emotionally-driven purchases. One thing is for sure, no one will love you more if you buy more gifts. And equally so, no one will hate you if you stick to your budget and buy only what you can afford. The holidays do not have to be about making things “look perfect,” but they do have to be meaningful for you. Do not allow yourself to be pressured into the consumer-driven hype you see in the media. You are in control of you. Celebrate, enjoy, and find peace this season. It can be, if you want it to be, the most wonderful time of the year.