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Controlling My Christmas Shopping


Christmas shopping bags

I read today that consumers plan to spend an average of $1047.83 this year on Christmas shopping and holiday purchases. My first thought is what a ton of money to spend in one month! But then I realized I usually have no idea how much we’re spending each Christmas or where our money is going.

We’ve never saved for or created a clear Christmas budget. I just try to keep things low and hope it turns out okay. I start early, I use sales, and I’m skilled at convincing my kids they still want the toy they told me about in November and that I already bought. So far this year I’ve just been using our budget’s gift category to the max these past few months, and then supplementing with earnings from my freelance work. It sounds sloppy because it is.

We can’t keep this up. Luckily there’s still time to control my Christmas shopping. Here are some things I’m trying:

1. Limiting the Number of Gifts We Give

For our kids we’re doing the trendy-though-controversial gift-giving concept of “Something they want, something they need, something to wear, something to read.” Then they’ll get a board game for the whole family.

My husband and I decided to just do small stocking stuffers for each other, nothing more. But we also pondered if some other gifts could be omitted. We both come from large families that do gift exchanges, and as our families keep growing and moving far apart, this has started to cause stress, overwhelm, and loss of the true spirit of giving and receiving. At the risk of sounding like a Scrooge, I proposed to each side of the family the idea of no longer exchanging gifts. It was… not popular. But it did start a good conversation, and I think next year we may just say no thank you and bow out entirely.

2. Planning Ahead and Looking for Sales and Freebies

I always look for deals, but now I’m sticking only to the things on the list (no emotional, “come on, it’s Christmas” shopping). I’m also making better use of free items, like a cousin’s hand-me-down plane my son will love. I was even able to score a free 21-pound turkey when I spent $100 at our grocery store the week before Thanksgiving. Booya.

3. Consolidating and Simplifying

I love the chance to connect with a few close neighbors and friends at Christmas, but I’m keeping it simple and giving everyone the same thing—Christmas potpourri. I made it last year, and it was a hit. It’s easy to assemble, I have leftover supplies from last December, and I only need to buy oranges and cranberries.

4. Using Gift Cards and Store Credit

Close to $1 billion of gift cards went unredeemed in 2015. I plan to use the stash of random cards in my purse for gifts. Our local bookstore also offers store credit when you sell them used books, so I have some unused credit I’ll put towards the kids (“Darth Vader and Son” books here we come).

Controlling our Christmas shopping is changing our behavior and it hurts sometimes. My husband and I had a moment of truth standing in Target on the afternoon of Black Friday. We had gone there for something specific for the business, but the displays of DVDs on sale sucked my movie-loving husband in. As he showed me a stack of of movies we could buy, we had to look each other in the eye and accept they just weren’t in the budget. It was a buzzkill, but it frees us up for the purchases we really do want to make this time of year.

How do you save on gift-giving during the holidays?


  • Reply Kate |

    When we started our debt payoff I decided to track how much we spent on Christmas. It was eye opening. I made a spreadsheet for everyone’s gift and the cost and combined with our Christmas travel costs it was nearly $2000! I was astonished, because we are not the sort of people who buy extravagant gifts. Since then I track every year and also take the amount we spent the year before, divide by 12, and put into a dedicated savings account starting in January. It has made everything 1000x less stressful. I still usually use a credit card but it’s nice to have the money waiting to pay it off in January when the bill comes.

    • Reply Sara |

      That’s a brilliant idea, I think that’s exactly what we’ll do. It had honestly never occurred to me to make a Christmas budget until recently, because I think I felt like you–we don’t spend THAT much, do we? Well it’s amazing how fast everything adds up!

  • Reply Margann34 |

    I also come from a large family. We draw names so each person is only buying for one other person. It is optional. We just ask who wants to participate each year. There are no questions or pressure if someone doesn’t participate. It works well for us. Perhaps you can do something like that with your families. Or just be up front. Say that you are working on paying off debt so you are limiting gift giving this year. Hopefully they will understand. And if not, that is their problem. Not yours.

  • Reply Megan |

    I keep a running list of gift ideas through out the year and then sit down with that list to plan out gift giving. I find I spend more if I go shopping just looking for *something* rather than if I shop with a particular plan for the items I want to gift.

  • Reply Jennifer |

    Maybe try a white elephant gift exchange. Each person brings a gift and they are all put in a pile. Draw numbers and go in order of number. They can pick a new gift to unwrap or steal someone else’s gift that has already been unwrapped. We usually only allow 2 steals per present and #1 gets to decide if they want to keep what they have or if they want to swap to make it fair. So much fun and WAY cheaper for large family gifts.

    • Reply Sara |

      White Elephants are really fun! That’s a great solution. I just wish my family lived closer so we could do these types of things more often.

So, what do you think ?