I really hate myself at this moment. Well, sort of. I strongly prefer to “Give Thanks” before “Gimme Presents” and I get annoyed when a certain local radio station starts playing Christmas songs on October 31, so talking about Christmas stuff in September feels out of place to me. But I will admit that I have already started my Christmas shopping and I want to tell you why.
The early shopping has been going on for years. I prefer to have it done before Thanksgiving. For starters, it’s one less thing to juggle and stress over during the jam-packed days between Thanksgiving and Christmas. And secondly, I’ve learned that early shopping helps me keep Christmas gifts from blowing our family budget.
It’s so easy to go overboard on gifts. In our activity-packed culture we often rely on gifts to make up for time we haven’t spent with important people. We want to spoil our children (or grandchildren) when we can. Perhaps we feel somewhat entitled to a season of abundance, particularly if we’ve been living in a time of relative austerity.
But if you’re trying to keep your budget under control, you don’t want to blow it up with tons of extra spending, or worse yet, debt. Things will look decidedly less jolly come January if you spend all of your jingle in the run-up to December 25.
So from my experience I offer 5 Suggestions for Keeping Christmas Gift Spending Under Budget.
1. Start NOW.
It’s pretty obvious that I need to do my canning when the produce is ready, but I also need to do it in sufficient quantity that I’m prepared to give homemade preserves away as Christmas gifts. If I want to make a quilt I need more than a few hours to get it put together. Some homemade or creative gifts obviously take time to get ready. But you need to start now even if you’re purchasing gifts.
If you start now you may be able to work some gifts into your regular budget, maybe by purchasing the shelf-stable ingredients for food gifts as part of your grocery budget. If you start now you’ll have time to gather store rewards points or earn gift cards through online programs like Ebates or Swagbucks. If you start before the Christmas hype is in full swing you’ll be less likely to let your spending get carried away by the spirit of the season and wind up with bills that haunt you post-holiday.
2. Actually write out a gift list and a gift budget in addition to your monthly budget.
Plan now, before you enter the holly-decked, cinnamon-spiced confines of the local shopping mall, for whom you will purchase gifts and how much you can reasonably spend on each person. Remember that the amount spent on a Christmas gift is not the sole measure of your esteem for the recipient. You don’t have to give a gift to every single one of your Facebook friends. And if you have a spouse, you need to create the gift list and the budget together (and back each other up to your parents and/or children if you must).
3. Consider gifts of time or talent.
Every year a certain lady in our church makes homemade lasagna for each of the families of our church staff. She gives them to us fresh with instructions for either cooking the lasagna for use in the next day or two or for freezing the lasagna for later use. This is a relatively low cost gift in terms of money but it is so valuable to the staff members to have a meal on standby at one of the most hectic seasons of the year.
I personally try to can (or bottle, if you prefer) lots of homemade preserves. Not many people in my social circles still do home canning although many remember it from their younger days. I’ve never had a gift of freshly baked bread and a jar of homemade preserves received with anything other than gratitude, and I often receive a story about somebody’s mother or grandmother or a happy childhood memory in return. Preserves aren’t that expensive to make but they are special for the time put into the making and the memories they stir up.
Make up coupons for free babysitting for parents of young children. It will cost you time (and some patience) but will be worth much more for the mom & dad who get a night out. Promise to pull weeds for a gardening friend when the weather warms up. Offer to help an older relative organize photos into an album and be sure to ask questions and listen to the stories while you’re working together. Design a creative masterpiece. Make a meal. Whatever your talent, use it to bless someone.
4. Watch for discounts and shop the sales.
By starting early you have more time to watch sales and get great gifts at fabulous prices. Watch the clearance sales, starting with after-Christmas clearance. My aunt used to buy gifts the week after Christmas and store them for a year because the clearance sale prices were so good. I used to love the end-of-summer toy clearance sales because I could get some really nice things for my children at rock-bottom prices. And think a little outside the gift box, too. My mother gives us a new set of bath towels just about every year for Christmas. I love it! Let’s face it, Jay & I have been married long enough that the wedding shower towels are threadbare, so new ones are always welcome! Fun kitchen towels are also helpful. You just can’t have too many of those!
I strongly suggest that you carry your gift list and budget in your wallet (or wherever) at all times so you can double-check and avoid duplicate purchases and overspending.
And by the way, keep your gift list updated with what you purchased and where you stashed it away. Playing “find the hidden gift” is no fun. Finding the gift two weeks after Christmas (and the purchase of another gift) is worse. Don’t ask me how I know.
5. Make recreational shopping count.
Have you noticed that most vacation spots are surrounded by shopping venues? And how many of us indulge in a little “recreational” shopping while on holiday? I finally realized that if I was going to be tempted to shop I could make it count by looking for Christmas gifts.
For example, when Jay & I went on a mission trip I met a lady who made and sold dolls and rugs to support her family. The items weren’t expensive, but they were special because they were unique and came with a lovely story of their origins. If you visit a region known for pottery, wood carving, or jewelry-making or if you find a small business that sells beautiful photography, needlework, or something else someone on your gift list would love, why not go ahead and scratch your shopping itch by purchasing a Christmas gift you were going to buy anyway. Just remember to only purchase for people on your list, sticking to your budgeted dollar amount as you do it.
In summary: Make a plan and stick to it!
You can make a strict list and detailed gift budget, but if you don’t follow your plan you won’t be any better off. When you’re tempted to overspend, or to spend on someone you shouldn’t, remind yourself that “It’s only stuff.” You’ll enjoy your Christmas celebrations so much more if you’re not wondering how you’ll pay off the gift your loved one just opened.
What other suggestions would you add for keeping your gift-giving expenditures in check?
This post contains affiliate/referral links. If you click through and make a purchase I will receive a small referral fee but your price will not change. Your support helps me cover the costs associated with running this site, so thank you very much!
I moderate comments manually but will get them posted as quickly as possible. Please keep your comments kind and if you must disagree please do so without being disagreeable. Rude or inappropriate comments will obviously not be published.