10 ways to save money this Christmas

Another holiday post? Yes, Christmas shopping is on my mind. As my wife and I plan our Christmas budget, we’ve come up with several tips to help decrease holiday spending.

Christmas tends to be a very stressful time financially. Most people grossly underestimate how much they are really going to spend and often take on additional debt to pay for all the extra goodies. With a little planning and forethought, you can still have a full tree without taking on additional debt. Wouldn’t it be nice to not worry about money this holiday season?

1. Decide ahead of time how much you plan to spend on whom.

The first step is to create a spending plan on paper (or a spreadsheet) before you start shopping. By looking at all of your planned gift giving at once, you’ll make better decisions once you get into the thick of holiday shopping.

Sit down together with your spouse and write out a list of everyone you can possibly think of that you would want to give gifts to. Ideally, do this in a spreadsheet. Here’s a list to get you going.

  • Immediate Family
  • Extended family
    • In-laws
    • Cousins
    • Aunts and Uncles
    • Grandparents
  • Friends
  • Co-workers
  • Neighbors
  • Community/Civic Acquaintances
  • Church members
  • Include any people you want to send a Christmas card to

Keep adding people, even if you’re not sure you’ll give them a gift. The idea is to empty your brain and make sure you don’t experience the “oh, I forgot to get so-and-so a present” phenomenon. One of the reasons people overspend during the holidays is because they only budget for their family. Most people realistically buy many friends and acquaintances gifts as well.

Once you’ve completed your list, record how much you think you’ll spend on each person. If you don’t plan on buying a gift for a person listed, simply put $0. At this point, don’t worry about the total, just list what you’d like to spend. You’re estimates will be much more accurate if you think specifically what you’d like to get for that person rather than just putting a random dollar amount. List off to the side the item(s) you plan to buy. Of course, this process will be more involved when estimating planned spending for family members and may require multiple entries for one person.

Now add all the amounts together to see the damage. When my wife and I did this exercise, we were unpleasantly surprised at the total. It was way more than we were planning on spending.

Compare the total with the amount your were planning on budgeting for Christmas. Assuming the total exceeds your planning budget you need to either increase your budget or start cutting down your list. Keep reading for some great ideas at cutting your Christmas spending.

The whole point of this little exercise is to make your holiday spending explicit and conscious rather than spending blindly through the holidays only to find a very unpleasant surprise when the January bills arrive.

2. Give homemade gifts

It might seem cheap to give homemade gifts, but bare with me, they can be quite nice. When it comes to gifts for friends and acquaintances, it’s often the thought that counts more than the gift anyway. Here are a couple ideas.

  • Cookie/Cake mix – We’ve received this gift several times and always enjoy it. You just take a canning jar and fill it with the dry mix in the right measurements to make cookies or a cake. You can use either a store bought mix or “homemade” ingredients (flour, sugar, chocolate chips, etc.). You can spruce it up by putting a bow around the jar. Or, let your kids be creative and decorate the jar their own way.
  • Family history chart – We made our own 10 generation family history chart for my parents based on a design by Ancestry Circle. We printed it out on a poster-sized sheet and bought a $20 frame for it. It was a fair amount of work but was a meaningful and very unique gift. If you would like the template Adobe Illustrator file, send me an email. If you’re not looking to save money, Ancestry Circle will print a custom chart using your family history GEDCOM file for a reasonable fee of $79.95.
  • Make cookies or treats for neighborhood gifts. By simply giving a plate of cookies or brownies, you could give to all your neighbors for under $10.
  • Personalized Stationary – One year we made homemade stationary using Microsoft Word and a printer. We bought a ream of fancy paper and a box of matching envelopes. We had the paper cut in half at Kinkos and printed a design (using a word template) along with the person’s name on each sheet.
  • Pictures make great inexpensive gifts for family members. Do your parents and grandparents have your most recent family photo? There’s probably nothing they’d rather have.
  • Burn family photos or family history to a CD. Total cost: less than $0.10 each.
  • Give homemade gift certificates. You can give an elderly person in your neighborhood a certificate to mow her lawn or shovel her snow. Give a certificate for free baby sitting to acquaintances with children. Give your spouse a certificate for a massage. Your creativity is your only limitation on this one.

3. Shop online and use RSS feeds to find great deals

It’s still not too late to find great deals online in time for Christmas. Learn how to use RSS feeds for shopping to be notified when an item you want goes on sale. Many online stores allow you to make purchases just days before Christmas and still have them shipped in time for the big day.

4. Buy used when possible

Using RSS feeds makes it easy to find items for sale on eBay or Craigslist. This is particularly great for younger children who don’t care if an item is used. Would you rather pay up to $50 for a Little Tykes basketball hoop or $5? For adults, electronic items can make great used gifts. People upgrade so often, you can find great deals on computers or mp3 players that are still in perfect working condition.

5. Give your “Favorite Things”

My father started this tradition and my wife and I have adopted the idea. By giving inexpensive items that you love and use everyday, not only will the gift be more meaningful, but the recipient will think of you whenever he/she uses the gift. By giving a gift with meaning, you deemphasize how much the item cost. Last year, my sister gave me a little packet of some of her favorite things that included her favorite gum, mints, and beverage. I loved it. It was neat for her to share those things with me and I could have cared less how much she spent.

6. Find great children’s gifts for under $5

Target, Wal-Mart and any dollar store have some great gifts for under $5 that kids love. Target and Wal-mart both have great generic-brand toy packages in $5, $10, and $15 increments. These toy sets include balls, play doctor kits, die-cast cars, doll sets, toy trucks, a velcro target and balls, and train sets.

7. Tell your family you’re trying to get out of debt

Let your family and friends know that you’ll be giving small gifts, or no gifts at all, because you’re trying to avoid debt during the holidays. Your family and friends will respect the fact that you’re aggressively trying to get out of debt and you’ll get the added benefit of their support. Of course, only do this if it’s true.

8. Make an agreement with others about gifts

The fact is, your friends and family are probably stressing about Christmas finances just as much as you are. Approach them with the idea of making a pact to not exchange gifts this year or to keep the gifts within a certain dollar amount. You’ll both be relieved to not have high expectations hanging over your heads about what to give and how much to spend.

9. Buy them Total Money Makeover for $10 a piece

Dave Ramsey sells his hardcover “Total Money Makeover” books for $10 a piece if you buy a pack of 10. Note: the link to his online store was broken as of this writing. I’ll keep checking and post the link when it’s working. While it might seem like a lot to drop $100 on books, you’ll actually be giving a $17 gift for only $10 while taking care of 10 people on your gift-giving list. Plus, books make the best gifts in my humble opinion.

10. Use cash and/or save receipts

I’ll admit that it’s tough to use cash when you’re making so many purchases in such a small time frame. Credit and Debit cards really are more convenient. But if you really want to guarantee you’ll spend within your means, you’re best off dividing up your Christmas funds and giving cash to each family member. Once they’re out, they’re done spending.

If paying cash is not realistic for you, be sure to save all your receipts. Empty the receipts from your wallet at the end of a shopping day and put them in an envelope for safe keeping. Before you wrap your gifts, you can review how much you spent and, if you’re over budget, you can decide which gifts to return. With all the gifts in front of you, it’s easier to make trade-off decisions about which ones to keep. When you’re at the store in a shopping frenzy, it’s much harder to make such a level-headed decision.

Decide not to go into more debt this holiday season

Most importantly, make a decision along with your family not to go into additional debt during the holidays. You don’t want to be “experiencing” Christmas long after it’s over and the thrill of new toys has faded.

What do you do to save money during the holidays?

Posted in Budgeting, Cash, Finances, Money, Personal Finance, Saving, Spending | 11 Comments »

11 Comments to “10 ways to save money this Christmas”

  1. JC Says:

    Your comments about making a list prior to shopping are right on. It’s amazing just how quickly you can blow your budget while simply shopping for your immediate family.

    One thing that really impressed me while doing some essential Black Friday shopping was that one particular national office supply chain offered many great deals using their “Easy” rebates (I am in no way affiliated with this retailer at all, just a customer here). Not only can you fill them in online but all the items that I purchased on rebates did not require the UPC to be sent in to get your money back. This will greatly avoid the “tackiness” of giving something with a UPC carefully removed, it allows you to buy a bunch of smaller low cost items which seem like more than one expensive gift.

    Keep up the good work!


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    […] Samuel Peery wrote a great article about 10 ways to save money this Christmas. I would add an 11th suggestion that I humbly claim has the potential to save you more money than the other 10 put together – just don’t do it! The very best way to save money on your Christmas shopping is to simply stop participating in the compulsory insanity. Instead, take naps, build fires, read books, watch movies, play games, listen to music, snuggle, talk and sip cocoa. […]

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    […] Lynn has posted a great response to my “10 ways to save money this Christmas” post. She advocates taking it easy for the holidays and negotiating a “cease fire” with friends and family by opting out of gift exchanges. Instead, use the holidays as a time to slow down and reflect on your life and goals. In particular, I liked her analogy of hibernating bears: […]

  6. Joe Says:

    This is some great advice. I’m going to have to look into it when I do my own finances.

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  9. Young Wife Says:

    I love the idea for making stationary for someone! You could make it with a stamp, too. Actually, greeting cards are expensive, so a crafty person could make and give a nice set of cards.

  10. Sam Says:

    Young Wife, I agree. Our stationary was quite plain compared to those who are at all crafty. You could really go deluxe with the right skills and materials.


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    […] 10 ways to save money this Christmas – Another holiday post? Yes, Christmas shopping is on my mind. As my wife and I plan our Christmas budget, we’ve come up with several tips to help decrease holiday spending. Christmas tends to be a very stressful time financially. … […]

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