Planning your budget for the holidays

by Melody on November 1, 2012

It took my husband and I several years to learn this, but apparently the holidays go quite a bit smoother when you are armed with a budget and a plan.  By plan, I do not mean the chaotic mess of shopping at the mall on Christmas Eve, which my husband did every year, leaving me to clean the house and plan dinner with toddlers underfoot.  By budget, I do not mean the maximum amount that your credit card company will let you spend before sending the SWAT team to your house.

I LOVE the holidays.  LOVE.  I still loved them before all this budget and plan business, but was often so stressed out that I couldn’t really enjoy them and what they were supposed to be all about.  Hint: It’s not about who can spend the most money or who has the fanciest wrapping paper.

Here’s how our family manages the holidays:

Start with a budget.  We pay cash for everything in our budget and the holidays are no exception.  We figure out an approximate amount that we would like to spend on gifts and other expenses, divide it by 12 and start setting money aside in January.  Christmas comes on the same day every year, so I’m not entirely sure why we always seemed to be so surprised by it.

Write out a gift list.  Write down every possible person you might buy a gift for, including some “extras” for unexpected gifts you might need or just in case your friends keep having more babies.

I actually have two gift lists, one for the holidays and one for all other events (Mother’s Day, birthdays, anniversaries, etc).  If I have a gift idea during the year, I write it on the list in black.  Once I have purchased the gift, I change it to red.  If I am completely done with that person for that particular event, I change their name to red.

This is the best method I have found to help me stay organized.  All through the months of November and December, you are going to see HOT deals and BUY THIS NOW deals and WILL SELL OUT FAST deals.  If you don’t have a basic idea of who you need to buy for, you may end up spending too much money on things you don’t really need.  If you have a list, you can buy with a specific person in mind.

Keep a gift closet.  Or a gift drawer or a gift under-the-bed pile.  Just have an area in your house where you can keep gifts that you have purchased ahead of time.  I have quite a few friends with kids in the 3-5 year old range, so if I find good deals on fun toys or games, I pick them up even if I don’t have a specific person to give them to right away

If you already have a gift closet, go through and write down on your list what gifts you have already purchased.  This will help you from overspending or buying duplicate gifts.  You’d think I’d remember what I buy throughout the year, but that is never the case.  I’m always surprised at something I find in the back of the closet, usually something I’ve forgotten to give when I’m not as organized as I should be.

Keep track and stay focused.  Once we pass Thanksgiving, I generally go through my list and see who I need to purchase for and start brainstorming ideas with my husband.  For those still on the list, I divvy up what cash we have left in the budget and actually old-school paper clip a note with their name on it to the amount I have to spend.  This helps keep me on track if I am out and about shopping.

Don’t forget the extras.  When I am sorting through our holiday budget, I always try to think of the little extras that will pop up along the way.  Our “Christmas Budget” envelope includes a certain amount for holiday cards, stamps and any shipping costs for sending gifts.  If you are traveling for the holidays, this would also be a good idea to set aside some money for gas, hotel, plane ticekts, whatever you might need.

Here are a few of my favorite tips for saving money on gifts:

  • If you’re looking for something specific for a certain person, start tracking prices now so you can buy when it is at it’s lowest.  Keep a journal or notebook with you if you have to.  Deals on larger items like gaming systems can be tough to follow if you don’t write it down.
  • Use Swagbucks to purchase Amazon gift cards.  Amazon has EVERYTHING.  450 Swagbucks will get you a $5 Amazon gift card, which may not seem like much, but every little bit helps.
  • Use daily deal sites like Living Social, Groupon and Mamasource to either buy a half-price voucher to buy gifts or to give an “experience”, like a manicure/pedicure, hotel stay or guided fishing trip (my lucky husband).
  • If you are going to be doing any shopping online, make sure to go through a cash-back site like Ebates first.  Never make your purchase without checking for coupon codes at sites like or
  • The first Monday after Thanksgiving is considered Cyber Monday for us online shopping junkies.  You will find some absolutely amazing deals, with extra discounts and even free shipping.  Some stores even offer their Black Friday prices online, no need to go stand in the snow for hours and track down that last Strawberry Shortcake doll.  Unless that’s your thing, because sometimes it’s fun.
  • Free Shipping Day is Monday December 17th.  Thousands of companies will offer free shipping with guaranteed delivery by Christmas Eve, you can check out all the details here.

I hope some of these tips and tricks can help you create a less stressful holiday season.  I would love to hear how all of you manage your holiday shopping and keep a sane head on your shoulders!

Photo credit: Faithful Provisions

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{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

sandra November 2, 2012 at 1:22 pm

our family plays a game “pass the present” each couple provides 2 $15 gift so thats 4 for us to do both sides of our family, it usually a general gift anyone could use(money tickets, box popcorn, body wash, soap etc) last year i put about 5 items in get gift bag because of savings/coupons, we also limit spending to about $50 a kid. i keep paper bags in my closet for each kid and family groups to keep organized for the whole year!


Lori November 2, 2012 at 7:25 pm

Great tips – we are on a budget this year and this is great advice!


Mandy November 3, 2012 at 8:31 am

Thanks for the good tips; they really help make the season less stressful! I do most of these now, and my husband laughs at my “organization.” Now I can tell him I’m not the only one! 🙂


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