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The Christmas Lover’s Guide to Budgeting

Collection of gift wrapping supplies
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I have a problem. It’s taken me a long time to admit it, but…I am a Christmas-aholic. There it is, I said it. The music, the lights, the weather, all of it — I’m addicted. But my biggest weakness? The gifts. Without fail, I put myself into debt buying way too much for all of my family and friends. Every. Single. Year.

It’s my own fault, really. As a student working a part-time job, I didn’t have a lot of extra spending money — so naturally, I spent money that I didn’t have instead of keeping myself in check and budgeting throughout the year.

However, once I graduated college, began my first full-time job, and decided to try to start acting like a responsible adult, I quickly realized that this strategy wasn’t really going to work anymore. With the generous help of my financial advisor, I have put together a new and improved Christmas shopping strategy that will (hopefully) keep my addiction from ruining my life (and my credit score).

Make a List (and Check it Twice)

First and foremost, you have to figure out how much money this Christmas season is going to require. Maybe you’re frugal and try to keep your holiday spending at a minimum. Or maybe you’re a Christmas-aholic like me and have trouble keeping your spending under three zeros.

Whatever the case, be honest with yourself. Put pen to paper and write down all of the people you plan to buy for and how much (realistically) you will spend on each one. It can also help to keep a record of Christmas’ past for future reference. This will tell you how much you spent the year before to give you a better idea of how much you will likely spend this time around.

For example, I try to spend around $100 for each of my immediate family members (mom, dad, brother, sister), $200 for my boyfriend, and about $20-$25 maximum for gifts for other people (friends, co-workers, aunts, uncles, grandparents, etc.). When I add all this up, the lowest possible number is about $800, but I go ahead and try to set aside about $1,000 to give myself some wiggle room (and because I’m notorious for spending more than I meant to on gifts of any kind).

Don’t Forget the Small Things

And while you’re making that list, don’t forget about the hidden expenses — wrapping paper, cards, bows, tags, etc. You have to wrap your presents before you can give them to your loved ones, and these expenses can add up quickly if you’re not careful. It is all too easy to grab the first giant gift bag you find simply because you waited until the last minute and don’t have time to find a cheaper option.

While $5 for one gift bag may not seem like much at the time, this can really start to cut into your budget if this is your habit for every single gift. Instead, factor into your budget about $20 total for a nice roll of wrapping paper, ribbons, and tags that you can use to wrap all of your gifts. Even better, just accumulate a stash of wrapping paper and used party bags throughout the year so you don’t have to splurge for Christmas at all.

Check Your Savings Account

Do you have enough money saved up to cover your expected costs? If your answer to this is a big fat “No,” that’s okay. You’re not alone — my savings account is looking pretty sad right now too. But it’s never too late to start saving.

Pull out your calendar and figure out how many paychecks you will receive between now and Christmas. Then, divide the total number of Christmas expenses (my number is $1,000) that you just listed out by the number of paychecks. Obviously, having at least a few months is ideal, but living on the edge is cool too (I only have three paychecks between now and December 25th — procrastinators unite!).

$1,000 divided by three equals $333. If I currently had zero dollars in my savings account, this is how much I would hypothetically need to save from each check to avoid putting myself into debt. If your number is too much, revisit your budget and see if there is any way you can adjust it to make it work.

Obviously, if you start this process sooner — say, December 26th — this will make your life a lot easier by the time next Christmas rolls around.

There’s an App for That

Just like most things in today’s world, there just so happens to be several handy dandy iPhone and Android applications that can help to make your Christmas budgeting experience just a little bit easier.

I personally use The Christmas List, which features personalized, individual lists for each person you are shopping for, including the cost of each item, where to find it, and even an option to attach a picture of the item. This app allows you to sort your Christmas shopping into different groups, such as coworkers, family, friends, etc. It also includes a reminder for how many shopping days are left as well as a fingerprint recognition passcode to prevent prying eyes.

Honestly, I could do without all of that — the best part about this app is that it holds you accountable for your budget, both for each individual person and as a whole. You enter in how much you expect to spend on each person and as you add items to their list, the app tells you how close you are to going over that budget. This is infinitely better than my old way of doing things, which was basically “wing it and try to keep track of everything in my head.”

You Don’t Have to Spend Money on Everything

If you plan ahead, there are ways to give your family and friends nice and thoughtful gifts with minimal spending on your part. Homemade gifts are a great way to take care of the people who you don’t really know what to buy for, and they will always come across as infinitely more thoughtful than yet another holiday-scented candle from Bath & Body Works.

I know what you’re thinking — DIY isn’t my thing either. But take it from someone who looks at “easy” Pinterest projects and laughs: pulling off DIY Christmas gifts definitely doesn’t require you to be a prodigal Martha Stewart. Last Christmas, all of my grandparents, aunts and uncles, and friends received a jar of homemade hot cocoa mix from yours truly. Not only was I able to knock out about twelve gifts for under $50, but it also freed up more money for me to spend on my parents, siblings, and boyfriend. And the best part? They all loved it!

Last modified on January 9th, 2019

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