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It may be called “the most wonderful time of year,” but once you pass the age where it’s no longer socially acceptable to borrow money from your parents to buy gifts, it instantly becomes the most stressful.
Some people have a natural knack for budgeting (which, good for you, #blessed), some rack up their credit card debt year after year and have come to accept it (same), and some are constantly striving to better their spending habits. Regardless of which category you fall under, there’s something you can take away in each of our contributors’ stories — whether that be validation in your frivolous ways or an app you can download to save a pretty penny.
One. “I have a three-step attack plan for holiday spending:
“One, don’t wait until December. When I see good deals on gifts I know my BFF will love, I grab it and stash it away. It’s rare that I get caught having to overspend on someone because I don’t have time to shop for a deal.
“Two, budget using your windshield, not your rearview mirror. Know how much you have to spend on the holly jolly before you start spending. Knowing your budget ahead of time means you can shop smarter and find areas to cut back in so you can invest a little more on festivities. I use Every Dollar to keep track of my spending throughout the year; it’s especially handy in big months like December. BONUS: Use cash. It’s harder to buy yet another Ugly Christmas Sweater when you have to actually hand over the green.
“Three, don’t keep up with the Clauses. Just because your co-workers, friends, or neighbors are spending inordinate amounts of money (and likely going into debt) does not mean you have to. Don’t buy more than you can actually afford just to keep up appearances. All new decor is not worth the hangover your wallet will feel come January.” —Hannah
Two. “Despite my best intentions, I usually don’t start my Christmas shopping until December 1st. I can’t really get in the holiday spirit before then, even though I wish I could start sooner, because it would really help me stay within my budget (without charging my credit cards!). I have a tiered budget for all of my family and friends: My boyfriend is at the top ($200+), my immediate family is next (around $100/piece), and everyone else falls below that (ranging from $25-$50). My number ends up being around $1,000 total each year, but even that is pushing it — I think I’m going to end up spending around $1,200 this year.
“My main goal this year is to actually stick to my strict budget and not use my credit cards AT ALL. So far, so good, but it’s been extremely hard! One thing that helps me a TON is The Christmas List app. It’s $0.99, but it’s so worth it — it keeps track of EVERYTHING you could possibly need regarding Christmas gifts and I seriously could not live without it during the month of December.” —Christine
Three. “I usually set a Christmas shopping budget in mid-November. I make a list of gift ideas for my parents, grandparents, boyfriend, boyfriend’s family, friends, etc., and I check off each gift as I purchase it.
“Do I stick to my budget? Almost never. If I find a gift I think someone will really love, I get it! But I do shop around before I purchase to make sure I can’t get the same thing for a better price. I use ShopStyle Collective to find the best prices on clothing, accessories, and some home items from multiple online stores like Nordstrom, Macy’s, Shopbop, and more. When it comes to stocking stuffers, TJ Maxx and HomeGoods are my best friends. I can find unique and fun gifts for a great price.
“My boyfriend and I usually spend an exorbitant amount of money on gifts for each other. Last year for his birthday, I gave him a $300 watch, this year I gave him a Yeti cooler, and for my birthday this year, he gave me an Alexander McQueen gown. So for Christmas, we are toning it way down and putting a $50 spending limit on gifts. It will give us a chance to do more with less and I love the challenge of finding a great bargain!
“My favorite holiday shopping savings tip is this: before you purchase anything on any website or in store, Google for coupons. I almost never buy anything online without a coupon code. RetailMeNot and Groupon are the best places for current coupon codes and deals like free shipping and 20% off your purchase. It never hurts to look! Most stores also offer a discount when you sign up for their email newsletter! (You can always unsubscribe later.)” —Mary Kate
Four. “Typically, when it comes to Christmas shopping, I spend about $50-$100. I buy presents for myself and my immediate family—my mom and my dad. Sometimes I buy presents for my friends or extended family, but that really depends. I don’t let myself spend that much because I’m in grad school, so everyone understands I’m not going to blow lots of money on them.
“I’m fairly good at budgeting and I tend to hunt for deals so I never really go over-budget. Most of the time I already know what I’m going to buy each person and I go out and specifically buy that. I tend to go Christmas shopping around the beginning of December because if I wait longer it stresses me out—the crowds, the lines, and the fear of whatever I wanted to buy being sold out.
“My best and only trick for holiday shopping is to really plan out what you’re going to buy and try not to deviate from it. It’s sounds silly but I’ve been doing it for years and it really works.” —Akosua
Five. “In the past, I had no organization for Christmas gifts and no budget. This year, my family and I decided to each give four gifts based off of a popular idea circulating on Pinterest: Something you want, something you need, something to wear, and something to read.
“This has made Christmas shopping SO much easier and less expensive. It simplifies Christmas, which is so important to us so we can focus on more important reasons of the season.” —Darby
Six. “Christmas is my weakness. I know all of the things that you should do – make a budget, watch for sales, STICK TO YOUR BUDGET. I always start with good intentions – I make a budget for how much I want to spend on each person. Then I add it up, see how much it all comes out to, stare at my total in shock and pretend it never happened. Spoiler alert: That’s not what you should do, folks.
“In my family, we’ve talked about doing secret Santa, and we still might when my cousins get older, but right now we still all get something for everyone. It’s just more fun (and yeah, more expensive) that way. I’m guilty of spending more money on the people who are fun to shop for – like my mom or my younger sister — but I spend the most on my boyfriend. We never sat down and said “We’re going to buy each other really expensive Christmas gifts,” but we’re both tricky to shop for and the precedent was set the first Christmas after we moved in together and he bought me the KitchenAid stand mixer I’d been lusting after. It’s hard to top that.” —Meleah
Seven. “I don’t set a budget. I bought a couple of things before Halloween for two of my best friends because I had to order them from China. I use wish.com a lot because it’s so cheap—the gifts I bought were under $10. I’m not really close to my family and I grew up poor, so it’s kind of like “get something if you can” for everyone. I like getting things for my friends because I know they’ll probably get me something, and I feel bad if I don’t return the favor. Most of us are atheists and have similar family situations, so we don’t really celebrate anyway, and I wouldn’t be mad if no one got me anything.
“My holiday spending regret is that I’m too broke to do all the things I want to do for my friends and my little brother. When I get rich (lol) I’m gonna spoil everyone.
“My tip for not going into debt is easy: Already be in debt.” —Claire
Eight. “My husband and I don’t necessary set a strict budget, but we do determine how much we want to spend on each person/couple before we figure out what to buy for everyone. We do that usually in January (I like to know early so we don’t overspend). Between my husband’s family and my family there are four grandparents, four parents, four siblings, one nephew, and one sibling’s girlfriend. We typically spend around $750-$800, and then it varies between my husband and me each year.
We don’t have any specific apps for budgeting, but my husband likes to browse Slick Deals. This year, we got my side of the family done before July was even over and happened to get better deals than you’ll find during Black Friday. When it comes to buying for each other we don’t have a budget at all—we don’t have kids yet, so of course I spend the most money on my husband and vise versa.
The only spending regret I have is not being able to keep a secret on what I buy my husband (we keep track of all our finances 24/7 through an app called Mint). Financially though no regrets, because we don’t ever overspend.
I have two tips for not going into debt. First, know how much money you have to “blow” for gifts. The last thing your family wants is for you to go into debt for a gift. Second, it helps to put aside a little each month if you want to give your loved ones more gifts. We always take out a new credit card around the holidays (DO NOT do this if you won’t immediately pay it off) that has a signup bonus, so we either get a good statement credit, or (our favorite) points for a “free” getaway trip. We’re planning New York for this coming year!” —Amber
Nine. “Every Christmas I decide I’m going to use the entirety of the next year to slowly collect gifts for the few people I give presents to—and that ends by the second week of January every single year. Around the end of November, my boyfriend and I promptly begin panicking because we have no gifts for anyone (anyone amounting to our combined five parents, five siblings and sibling-in-laws, and—most recently—our new baby daughter). Generally, in the weeks preceding Christmas we tighten our belts and manage to spend somewhere in the vicinity of $20-$60 on everyone.
“Our families are pretty good about agreeing to a limit for spending on each other, but this year is our first Christmas in Colorado, a minimum of 12 hours away from our closest loved ones. While this admittedly isn’t the holiday party you might hope for, it is most certainly our most-broke Christmas yet; I much prefer the absence to the embarrassment of being given, and not being able to give—so the baby gets presents, and everyone else was very easy to talk into leaving us out of their shopping list and sending things only for the baby so we didn’t feel too terrible.
“Personally, I’ve always relied heavily on homemade projects. Everyone in my life has gotten a crocheted scarf or hat (I even managed to make an afghan the last three holidays for my mother-in-law), and last year, my dad got personalized handkerchiefs. This year, the grandparents are getting a 365 Days of the New Baby calendar—assuming I get all the pictures taken in the next week…” —Sarah Jane
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