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Sticking to a budget can test your will, skill and nerves at any time of year, but holiday expenses can push the strain and stress to another level entirely. The pressure rises even higher as time gets tight and you have fewer days to finish everything you want and need to do before the holidays are here. As the pressure increases, the risk of breaking your budget climbs with it.

As you rush through last-minute shopping, it can be all too easy to buy gifts that cost more than you meant to spend. It's easy to think that you just need to keep moving and every purchase puts you closer to the finish line. And gifts bought in a rush don't feel as if you've given them much thought.

According to a 2016 survey, 40% of holiday shopping happens in December. So how can you avoid overspending and buying gifts that feel like last-minute compromises when you're racing the clock? Try these three things:

1. Make a list and tackle it calmly - refuse to shop in a desperate frenzy.

List everyone you want to give a gift to (the notes app on smartphones is great for this!), and then double-check your list for anyone you're missing. Also, look for people that you included but can remove. On average, consumers say they plan to purchase about 14 gifts. How many are you expecting to buy? Do you really need to give that many? Don't give in to the idea that you have to buy for everybody you know.

Beside or below each name, write the amount you can comfortably spend, based on your budget. Don't try to match what other family members or friends do. Then write two or three hints that will help you focus your shopping for that person. For example, if your brother loves baseball and reads a lot, your hints could be "best baseball novels" and "new baseball biographies."

When your list is complete, whether you shop online or in physical stores, start with places where you can get gifts for a number of people. If you have more than one book lover to buy for, shop for them together. Work your way through your list, person by person, and refuse to slip into desperation mode. Your results will be better, your budget will be spared and you might even enjoy yourself!

2. Consider alternatives to off-the-shelf gifts.

Even if you're far from "crafty," you can create presents that will be loved. Including things that you can make for several people at the same time. A classic: homemade holiday cookies. But think outside the wrapped box of baked treats. If you love to cook, you could fill small jars with your favorite blend of spices and give them, along with recipes, to the foodies in your life. If you're known for snapping fun photos of family and friends when you get together, print some and put them in frames. Make them even more personal with a handwritten note about how much you enjoyed the day the photo was taken.

Or think about treating an important person or couple on your list to new memories: 27% of survey respondents say they prefer gifts that are experiences, including concerts and other live events. Look for ticket deals online, buy with just a few clicks and cross another name off your list.

3. Don't fear giving gift cards - make them personal.

It's true that gift cards can feel like the ultimate last-minute present, and old school etiquette frowns on them. But sometimes they really are exactly what somebody will enjoy most. If that's the case, buy the card - or use your KeyBank Cashback Credit Card for one they'll be thrilled to get! Then write a note about why you picked it and how you hope it helps the person enjoy more of what they love. Or make up a funny inventory of the wrong gifts you might have bought if you hadn't realized that the gift card would be best.

Most important of all: Make your list. Less stress is the best gift you can give yourself. Plus, you'll be in better shape, all the way around, to deal with any unexpected expenses that come up during the holidays. Surveyed shoppers reported that 18% of their in-store spending and 17% of the spending they did online during the 2016 holiday season was unplanned.

This information and recommendations contained herein is compiled from sources deemed reliable, but is not represented to be accurate or complete. In providing this information, neither KeyBank nor its affiliates are acting as your agent or is offering any tax, accounting, or legal advice.

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