Wondering how to budget for Christmas gifts this year?
As much as I hate Christmas creep and the fact that a lot of stores already have their Christmas displays out starting in early October, I am starting to think about the ways I can make the holidays special for my family and friends. A friend of mine used to work for a major online retailer, and reports that holiday shopping doesn’t start at Black Friday – it starts immediately after Halloween. The more you plan ahead, the less stressful and less last-minute your holidays will be. Here’s what I do in October to not only stay sane, but also to control our spending and finances.
What can you afford to spend?
How much do you want to set aside for gift giving this year? If you’ve planned ahead and you’ve been squirreling away some money each month to have ready at the end of the year, this should be an easy answer – just look at your projected fund total. If you haven’t yet set a budget, then figure out what you can realistically pay for in cash. I don’t advise going into debt and racking up your credit cards for holiday gifts – stick to cash and debit cards. The other way you can back-door your way into determining a budget is to assign a dollar amount per person, and add up the totals.
Make your lists
Who do you need a gift for this year? List everyone that will get a gift from you. Family, friends, co-workers, neighbors, kids’ teachers, the mail carrier… you get the idea. It’s ok to prioritize them. When you have a limited gift fund, you need to figure out the most important recipients on your list.
How many items do you need for each person?
I don’t mean that “everyone gets three things” here. This is where you make note of who will need a main gift, if Santa will be dropping off a gift, if stocking stuffers are needed, etc. If you’ve got an idea as to what you want to spend in total, this will help you figure out how those funds will be distributed. Start looking up ideas on Pinterest. You’ve got time to browse and make some decisions.
Allocate your funds
Here’s where you decide on how much you’re going to spend on each person. How you do this depends on what your overall budget looks like - if you’re not limited on funds this year, multiply what you want to spend on each person by the number of people on your list to get your total. If you’re working with a finite amount, then divide up what you’re going to have when you’re ready to buy and decide how much you’ll spend on each person. Neighbors likely won’t be getting something that’s on the same level as your spouse or your mother, so plan accordingly.
A few years back, after my sister and I each got married and had kids, we found our families and the people we should buy for grew exponentially. One way we addressed this in our family is by making the rule that all the kids got gifts, and the adults each draw a name for someone to buy for. Everyone has a maximum dollar amount that we all agreed to spend on each gift. If you get something awesome on sale, bonus! Then you can either get something else for that person to round out the gift, or do a little fist bump because you saved some money and have a little more room in your budget. Other families do the gift & steal game, which can also be done with white elephant gifts.
Start writing out some ideas
When I was growing up, my mom wrote her Christmas lists out in shorthand. Even if we found that list, it just looked like a bunch of squiggles on the page and we couldn’t read a thing on it! It was super effective, and she wins major motherly respect for it now that I’ve got two short sleuths of my own in my house. I don’t know shorthand, but I do write my lists in places my kids won’t look, including in an app on my password-protected phone. No matter who it’s for, kids, adults, teachers, etc. – start putting some ideas next to the names on your list. This will help you as you start seeing the sales flyers, or as you’re scrolling through Pinterest.
Will you be making any gifts?
If you’ll be sewing or crafting for anyone on your list, now’s the time to compile your ideas and get started on any handmade gifts you’d like to give this season. You’ll need to make sure you have supplies on hand and that you’ve got enough time carved out to finish everything. The worst thing is to be down to the wire and realize that you’re missing a component and can’t finish, or you’ve got 75% of a gift finished, but you’ve also got to get dressed to leave for the party. Don’t do what I did one year, when I had to get extra creative at the sewing machine and missed a good amount of sleep the night before our celebration.
Who’s on your card list?
So they’re not technically gifts, but I’m lumping them into this list because you’ll need to plan for the time and expense of getting these created and out the door. How many holiday cards will you be sending out? Do you need a new family photo for the card? What will it cost to get your cards - are they custom printed with the photo, or are you just getting a box at the store? You might be surprised how close the costs are between these options, depending on where you order your photo cards, and if you have a promo card. I love getting ours from Costco because it's convenient and inexpensive, but we've gotten cute ones from Shutterfly, too.
Will you need to write a newsletter? I’m notorious for forgetting about Christmas cards until it’s too late. This year I got a new family photo taken right after school started, and I’m already planning our card order. This year, I will have cards in the mail in early December!
With some advanced planning like this, I’ve managed to keep our holiday gift budget under control – because it’s way too easy to lose track and realize that you’ve overspent for someone and blown your budget.
What are your gift planning routines?