How to Enjoy Christmas on a Budget

In 7 weeks, it’s Christmas!  Are you already planning for your holidays this year? Do you know all your gift recipients and how much to spend for presents?  According to the National Retail Federation (NRF) Holiday and Seasonal Trends survey (2021), Americans spent an average of $998 on Christmas presents and holiday non-gift items. That’s a lot of money, and many of us spend the rest of the year trying to pay off that debt. Considering the rise in costs in the last few years, this year can be even harder on the majority of us. Let’s look at ways to get through the holidays without going broke with savvy tips to make sure you don’t overspend .

I. List Your Gift Recipients

Make a list of everyone you want to give a present from your family like mother, spouse, children to the mail carrier and garbage men.  Write a budget for each present – how much are you planning to spend on each gift.  The total gives you your holiday gift budget.  Try to stay within budget for each present.  See Country Christmas Gift List Printables, for free Christmas Gift List printables.

Then plan your non-gift Christmas costs, like Christmas dinner, decorations, and activities out. Be sure you leave enough in your budget for normal expenses. The urge to splurge may cause credit card regret in February.

II. Check The Prices

If you find the perfect gift for a loved one or a food item to die for, but it’s above your budget, check out prices online using your phone or laptop.  The same item may be available at multiple stores with varying costs.  If your favorite store has a price guarantee of matching a lower price, you might not have to go to another store.

III. Plan Your Shopping Ahead

It never fails to amaze me that my sister and her husband were usually still gift-shopping 2 days before Christmas.  The crowds and stress can make you buy every present over budget.  I have always bought presents as I found them throughout the year.  My sister and sister-in-law were always the easiest to buy for.  If I found a sale item in July that screamed “I’m for Pat”, I bought it and put it aside.  The men are harder to buy for, but sometimes I found a perfect gift in September and October for them.  Several years ago I found beautiful  handmade mugs with an Gaelic design on sale and bought three for my brother and his two grown sons. (We’re Murphys you know.) A hit at Christmas for all three! That year I had 90% of my shopping done by Thanksgiving at great prices.

IV. Buy Last Year’s Tech Gifts

Several years ago I wanted a new laptop for myself. I was waiting for Black Friday deals until I found the perfect laptop at Walmart online in November. I found reviews for it written in February when it was selling for $699. In November, Amazon had it for sale for $399.  But Walmart had reduced it to $275. It wasn’t the latest computer but had all the speed and memory I needed. Of course I bought it and got free shipping. Since I was willing to pick it up at the store, they gave me a $2.99 credit. Such a deal! This past Febuary I got a new, faster computer in red no less as an Amazon Valentine’s Day special.

V. The Truth About Holiday Sales: Black Friday and Cyber Monday

According to Duncan Financial Group, on average, in-store discounts fall around the 20 percent off range the week of Thanksgiving, and rise to roughly a 37 percent savings on Thanksgiving and Black Friday. Online Black Friday deals follow suit with an average 34 percent discount.

Due to the rigorous competition on Black Friday, many companies have opted to offer a series of sales leading up to Black Friday. Amazon, Best Buy, and J.C. Penny, have offered Black Friday worthy discounts in the weeks preceding the infamous shopping day.

Your best bet to save on holiday shopping… research. If you have specific big-ticket items on your list, look into what days offer the steepest discounts for certain items and what sales are planned throughout the shopping season. This can land you the best deals and lowest prices.

Duncan Financial Group

Most importantly, know the going prices of desired items. A 2016 study by NerdWallet found that several stores were guilty of inflating discount amounts in order to make deals seem more appealing. For example, Harbor Freight reported that one of their ladders was on sale for $115 on Black Friday with a compare at price of $209.99 in 2015. Then, in 2016, the same ladder was listed for $99.99; but, the compare at price was listed as $357.99 and a previous price of $139.99.  These costs are misleading consumers into believing they are receiving a larger discount than they actually are.

VI. Monitor Your Spending

Monitor your spending by regularly reviewing your accounts online or with an app. Pay your bills regularly and balance your accounts.  If you use credit cards, use one with cash back or other rewards like travel or gift certificates.  These rewards can be used for holiday expenses.

VII.  Make Your Own Gifts

For many of my friends, my chiropractor, and my mailman I usually make gifts. Baking homemade pumpkin bread, cookies, or other treats is usually my first choice. The first year out of college I knew I needed to remember my neighbor in the apartment next door, my co-workers, and friends but my budget was very low. So I made sugar cookies in cute designs and gave them as gifts to lots of people. They all loved them and knew I remembered them. The bottom line was I stayed in my little budget and didn’t feel like Scrooge.

Homemade gifts are always appreciated. Anything from homemade candles to baked goods is always a winner, and it lets the special people in your life know that you’re thinking about them. For more great ideas both in the kitchen and in the craft room, check out 25 Homemade Gift Ideas – Comfort Spring

VIII. Save Up For Christmas

When I was growing up, my mother always had a Christmas Club savings account where a specified amount went from every payroll check.  Interest was almost none existent but it was a way to save for gifts and keep charges down in December. Today it’s mostly credit unions that still have some kind of Christmas savings program, but the idea is a good one.  Whether you need to save for a new car, a flat screen TV, or just all the holiday gifts, savings accounts for a specific purpose are a great way to go.  Save for big expenditures.

If you’d like to keep a portion of your savings earmarked for gifts, travel, parties and decorations, a Christmas club account might be a good choice. With auto-deposit, you set aside money without having to think about it. When it’s time to start spending, you’ll have built a nice pot of fun money with minimal effort.

If you can’t find a dedicated Christmas club account, you could keep it simple and open a savings account at your current bank. Label the account “holiday spending,” and set up a weekly or monthly auto-transfer from your checking account. Perhaps you want to save $500 by December 1. If you start saving in February, you’ll save for 10 months at $50 a month to reach that goal.

IX. Remember Shipping Costs

Many of us buy online for lots of items and gifts.  No matter how great the deal is remember to look at shipping costs. That can make a “great deal” not such a great price when compared to retail stores. I often look for free shipping items on websites.  I want a good price with free shipping whenever possible. Besides Amazon and Ebay, many retailers online offer free shipping like my laptop deal from Walmart. I also love Amazon’s free shipping to send gifts with a note from me straight to the gift’s recipient.

X. Build Holiday Momentum Without Spending

I believe the build up to Christmas is just as exciting as the day itself. However, quite often the build up can be expensive too, especially if you’re visiting Santa’s Grotto or anything with a paid entry. There are plenty of things you can do for free, such as:

  • Have a Christmas movie marathon
    There’s nothing better than snuggling up in the winter under a pile of throws with some hot chocolate and popcorn. Why not gather your household and vote on what movies to watch. Check out some of the Christmas movies available here and really get yourself into the spirit.
  • Make tree ornaments
    Making your own tree ornaments not only saves on buying new ones, but it’s a great tradition to have in your household. Whether you’ve got children you can get involved, or it’s you and your housemates, it’s a great way to get together for some good old Christmas fun. Country Living’s 69 DIY Christmas Ornaments has lots of good ideas.
  • Go and see the Christmas lights being switched on
    There’s something really magical about huddling together in the cold and counting down to watch the annual Christmas lights being turned on. What’s even better, it’s free to attend and can turn out to be a really fun evening. My family always enjoyed driving through neighborhoods to see the decorations and lights. Some neighborhoods are known for extravagant light displays. You turn onto a street with a line of cars (or park and walk the neighborhood) and slowly drive the streets. It has no cost and is always fun to do
  • Go and hear a Christmas concert at church
  • Participate in a giving tree to remember this season is a time to give as well as receive
  • Bake Christmas goods
    Christmas goodies are expensive, so why not try your hand at making them yourself? Look for an easy cookie recipe online and have some fun with your family and friends baking delicious goods. Check out The Food Network’s post, 100 Best Christmas Cookies.
  • Check out the Family Advent Activities for more ideas
  • When it comes to Christmas dinner and the whole family is coming, have everyone sign up to bring one dish. Make a list of entrees and sides, desserts, and drinks. Fill in names as items are covered. This way you don’t have 3 sweet potato casseroles and no green beans. No one is bearing the financial burden for all the food. Now everyone can relax and enjoy the time together.

I hope these tips will help you have a wonderful holiday, and remember the gift of self is still the best gift.

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I was raised in Tennessee but have lived in Florida for many years. Love my small home in the Tampa Bay area and its developing garden. My decorating style is eclectic - some vintage, some cottage, all with a modern flair. Pursuing a healthier lifestyle. Spent many years in social services but am happily retired.

18 thoughts to “How to Enjoy Christmas on a Budget”

  1. I totally agree. For the last few years, I have given my sister a facial moisturizer she likes, vinyl tablecloths she can wipe down and reuse, and this year it’s a massage. She doesn’t need really anything for the house as she already has too much and must downsize. She’s tired of washing and changing tablecloths so she likes ones she can wipe down and use for 3 to 4 months. Easy Peasy!

  2. Every single one of these is a gem and many already in my wheelhouse. The best thing I did after Christmas last year was start a Christmas and Gifts account. Every month I throw in something from my SS check and my retirement account distribution. Mostly it is for Christmas but occasionally for birthdays along the way. It helps me feel more free, keeps me in line. I pull postage and things like Christmas card printing from that, too. This year (before printing my cards) it’s at $975, which is pretty good for a little here, a little there. I won’t spend all that on Christmas (I hope) but a good cushion for other upcoming giving too!

    1. You are a master planner for sure. I’m wishing you a wonderful holiday season and healthy happy year of giving.

  3. These are fab tips Carol. It’s so easy to get carried away with the festivities and over spend. Handmade gifts are always a lovely idea. I’m off to check that post out. 🙂

  4. Great tips! It was customary at my place of work to put a weekly amount of money into a communal Christmas fund starting in January. We would save all year and then were given it back two weeks before Christmas. I was young and didn’t earn much back then so the extra funds was always very welcome.

  5. I think I am on top of things this year with most of the gifts bought. I have already told the girls they are getting less than previous years as they have been really spoilt this year with treats, a holiday and random things.
    Great advice. I am good at checking the prices and getting a bargain. I couldn’t imagine buying so close to Christmas like your sister, that would stress me out so much. My dad always does his gift buying on Christmas eve! Madness!

  6. Great tips! I always start to save up for Christmas at the very beginning of the year. That why I don’t have to worry about where my money is coming from #MMBC

  7. These are all fabulous ideas! I try to have my shopping all done (and wrapped!) by Thanksgiving; that way I can avoid all the crowded stores in December…. plus that incentive to start early helps spread out the spending.

  8. Some great tips here- love this post. I agree that it is so important to check prices and not overpay because it really starts to add up.

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