Let me put this out there first: I don’t love receiving gifts. When I took the 5 love languages test, gifts were in last place. I think that I scored a zero. But I LOVE giving gifts. I love picking out the perfect item for each person, and thinking about the joy that it will bring. I end up having to choose strategically who I will give gifts to, lest I go overboard. That makes it hard to Christmas shop on a budget.
The hard part about being an adult is that people want more expensive things. I can’t necessarily get away with some cheap toys from the Dollar Tree (like I did way back in the day). Adults tend to want things that have a higher value (and there is NOTHING wrong with that).
That just means that planning becomes even more important. Here are some suggestions on how to Christmas shop on a budget.
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Just a note: if you haven’t finished (or even started) your shopping for this year, you’re not screwed! Just make your list and be super intentional.
Make a List
Santa isn’t the only person who needs a list: you should have one too! Know who you need to shop for.
Take the time to sit down and make a list. In fact, this Christmas is a great time to start making a list: look around you at all the people that you are already shopping for. Take note of the last minute gifts that you’re purchasing.
Here are a few folks you should watch for:
- New relationships – my brother in law proposed to his girlfriend on Christmas day last year – I bought her gift in March or April (I figured a ring made it kind of official) Spoiler alert, Jessica! I already bought your gift. And then another later because it was just too perfect for you.
- New children – anybody got a bump (that’s a legit actual bump, not just a gift from the Taco Tuesday gods, cause we ALL have a burrito bump!). Take note. And buy them something super awesome and practical, like a giant thing of diapers. The cost of diapers adds up, and I can promise you, that child will already have PLENTY of plastic toys to play with.
- Big family events – the family that I married into gets together every 5 years. I can’t give everyone a gift, for sure, but I am planning on a good gift for those who are hosting us. I mean, they are saving us literally hundreds of dollars by letting us sleep on their living room floor – the least I can do is budget for a lovely gift!
Part of making a list, however, can be about the what, not just the who.
If you’re on a budget, do a little bit of research. Figure out the gift that you’re going to purchase, and then stick to the list.
I often get distracted and think “oh, THIS would be perfect,” and then I overbuy. Just say NO and stick to your list.
Shop Clearance Racks All Year
Watch clearance racks all the time. Sometimes, when walking around at the store to do our weekly grocery shopping, I just circle around and check out the clearance racks. You really never know when you’re going to find a $3 Moleskine notebook (bought all the ones Staples had), or a giant pack of your favorite Sharpies for $7 (thank you, Walmart back-to-school shopping).
It’s become a rather useful habit, really.
I’ve definitely shopped clearance racks all through the year, and as I get gifts, I put them in a box on our living room shelf labeled, strangely enough, “gifts.” If the gift is not earmarked for a person specifically, then I will use it as a birthday gift during the year for someone.
My family always joked about having a “little Billy” fund in our house. Since there were seven of us, if we got invited to Christmas parties, and were asked to bring a small gift, that would add up quickly. My parents said it was almost the same as having to budget for an extra child.
I don’t know if my parents ever committed to a “little Billy” fund (little Billy was somewhat of a household joke for a time – he got blamed for a lot of stuff), but that really challenged the way that I thought about gifts. It made me create space in the budget for them.
If you’re starting “late,” no stress! Avoid “pre-packaged” gifts. Many times those can have a markup. Some will be on sale for less, but most of the time, add the word “gift” to something at a store, and you’ll see a markup.
Shop Year Round
It can seem a little insane to start your shopping in January, but why not? Make your list in December, right after Christmas. Who did you give gifts to? Who did you need to give gifts to? Who did you miss? Where will you be celebrating Christmas?
I get that not everyone is a crazy planner like me, but if you budgeted to purchase one person’s Christmas present each month, it would spread out the “burden” on the budget.
I come from a large family, and if I was going to go home to Maryland for Christmas, you know that I would be doing it that way. Now that my siblings are having kids, it’s even more important.
An easy way to do this is to pick a month, and pick a person. It’s easier to shop when you’re only spending $10-25 in one month, vs $200-300 in one month. Spreading the spending helps spread the impact on the budget.
Don’t Be Afraid to Skip Store-bought Gifts
It’s okay if you can’t afford to give gifts. “It’s not in the budget this year” is a perfectly acceptable thing to say.
In fact, some of the best kinds of gifts can be “free.”
Instead of giving toys, what if you gave time? Instead of spending money on electronics, what if you helped with a project? If you’re a photographer, what about giving a mini-session? If you’re an aunt/uncle, what about babysitting so your sibling could have a night out?
I personally would probably pass out from joy if someone came and deep cleaned my house. We work ALL THE TIME, and cleaning gets done … but not deep cleaning (we’re not gross, but just don’t deep clean a lot).
Baked goods, or hand-decorated cookies are LOVELY. Just don’t you DARE give me Amish friendship bread starter (sourdough starter is ok). That Amish friendship bread just never ends, does it?
Use What You Already Have
Sometimes, I get things that I don’t need.
Here’s an example. One of the splurge items that I’ve kept throughout our savings and budgeting journey is my FabFitFun subscription. Yes, I know – it’s kind of a silly expense. But when I feel like a walk through Marshalls (which happens a LOT because my workplace is right by the best Marshalls in the world), I know that I’m going to be tempted to buy some kind of super discounted skincare.
I know that with my FabFitFun box, I’m getting those things that would normally tempt me. But more about that in another post.
I don’t always want or need everything in my box. Last year, I got a throw blanket in my box. I didn’t NEED a throw blanket. I still have quite a few! So it was a gift. I’m going to get a *spoiler alert* makeup eraser in my Winter 2019 box, and I already have one. I don’t need another, so into the “gifts” box it will go.
Just a pro tip for you. Regifting can be a VERY practical way to pass on items that you really don’t want. It’s ok to regift. It’s ok to pass on things that you won’t ever use. Just make sure that you keep track of where it came from. I have a friend who regifted an item – to the person who originally got it for her! YIKES.
So there are my favorite ways to Christmas shop on a budget….what are some of your tips and tricks? I’d love to hear more in the comments.