Is it ever too early to start Christmas shopping? Not if you ask my mom, who starts stocking up for next Christmas as soon as the day-after sales. Not only does she save money, she never has to worry about last-minute gift shopping. She even puts aside some “generic” holiday gifts for those friends of kids that inevitably show up during the holiday. I, however, am not as good at Christmas shopping—or Christmas budgeting—as my mother. So, I turned to an expert for some Christmas budget advice. Here’s what he had to say.
Start Planning Early
The earlier you start planning your budget, the more time you’ll have to accumulate savings. Today is not too soon, says Andrew Daniels, who founded the site Family Money Plan after he and his wife paid off their mortgage in just six years. The key to holiday budgeting is to put aside a consistent amount of money each payday. The amount you need to save will depend on two things—how much you intend to spend, and how many paydays you have to save it up. If you plan to spend $1,000 and you have 10 weeks to do it, you’ll need to save $100 a week. If, on the other hand, you start saving 20 weeks out, you only have to put away $50 a month.
Figure Out How Much You Need to Save
That’s another way of saying, “How much can you afford to—or want to—spend?” There are a couple of methods to get to your target amount.
How Much Did You Spend Last Year?
If you consistently buy gifts for the same number of people, and spend about the same on each of them, this is the method for you. Pull out your receipts from last year and total up the amount you spent overall. That’s your target savings amount.
Who Do You Plan to Buy Gifts for?
Andrew’s second method is a little easier—especially if, like me, you’re not very good at keeping records. Make a list of everyone for whom you plan to buy a gift. If that’s you, your first purchase might be a comprehensive holiday planner and organizer. It will not only help you plan this year’s budget but record it all, so you have a base for next year. Once you’ve figured out who you’re buying for, decide how much you’ll spend on each person. The total amount is how much you need to save for your Christmas gift shopping.
How Much Can You Afford to Spend for Holiday Gifting?
Finally, the third method. Depending on how you do it, it’s either the easiest or the hardest of all. You can do as Andrew does. Pick a number as your target and start saving for it—or you can be more practical. That means sitting down and making a real budget to figure out where your money goes, and how much of your income you can divert to saving for the holiday.
Automate Your Savings
One way to be sure you actually save that money is to set up automated withdrawals from your main bank account to a dedicated holiday savings account. If you belong to a credit union that offers a Christmas Club savings plan, it may make sense to set one up. If that’s not available, there are other ways to save, including a favorite old-school standby: budgeting envelopes to use with Dave Ramsey’s Envelope System. For those that do most of theirr finances and budgeting online, set up automatic transfers to a dedicated account to help keep you honest.
5 Ways to Spend Less Money on Holiday Gifts
Holiday spending can add up fast. If you’re not paying attention, you could wind up spending more than you can afford. These tips will not only help you reduce your holiday gift spending they’ll also reduce a lot of the associated stress.
- Make a mutual no-gift pact or set a mutual price limit. This is really helpful in big families where buying “just for the kids” can quickly get out of hand. If those gifts for nieces and nephews are really adding up, consider organizing a family cookie exchange or similar get-together in lieu of gift-giving. This cool cookie exchange party kit has everything you need to host your own.
- Give homemade gifts. These handmade gifts don’t look homemade, and they’re made with love.
- Keep an eye out for sales throughout the year. The earlier you start, the more likely you are to find incredible bargains on some of the year’s most wanted gifts. This may not be ideal for your kids—they’ll change their Santa list right up to Christmas Eve—but it’s perfect for your best friend, who loves anything kitty-related, or for feeding your mom’s yarn addiction.
- Organize a re-gifting exchange for your friends. Or just re-gift. Re-gifting isn’t tacky when you make it part of an event. Invite everyone to wear their ugly holiday sweaters and bring something they no longer use to add to the gift kitty. Everyone goes home with a gift without stressing anyone’s budget.
- Tame teacher gifts with homemade gift mugs. Hit the dollar store to buy as many coffee mugs as you need for all your kids’ teachers. Then shop the candy aisle at the grocery store—or bake holiday cookies with the kids. Pack the mugs, wrap them up with special cellophane bags, and tie with a ribbon. Voila! Unique teacher gifts for about $2 each.
This year, instead of stressing about holiday gifts—or worse, overspending on Christmas yet again—take a few tips from the experts and get your holiday gifting budget under control.
Prices are accurate and items in stock as of time of publication.
Deb Powers is a freelance writer who specializes in home, education, and lifestyle topics. She draws on her experiences as a teacher, mother, grandmother, and all-around creative spirit to help others achieve their personal goals.