10 Tips for a Financially Stress Free Christmas

by RC on November 26, 2008

When you are a kid, Christmas is probably the best day of the year, maybe even better than your birthday. The anticipation, the holiday traditions, and even time off from school make it a very enjoyable time of the year.

Fast forward 20 to 30 years, and, especially if you have children and other friends and relatives to buy presents for, it can end up being a lot less enjoyable. Even shopping for loved ones can be more of a chore than enjoyable, especially fighting the crowds at the mall or a retail store, or trying to figure out what to give that special someone who seems to have everything.

Even worse, all of the spending around the Christmas season can deplete your savings account and even cause you to go into debt if you are not paying attention. Certainly, when you don’t have a game plan for your holiday shopping, it is a lot easier to spend more than you need to or even should, depending on your budget.

Start planning carefully now

Do you know all of the people you need to buy presents for? What about holiday parties? Do you need to bring a gift for a person or gift exchange, or a bottle of wine to your neighbor’s party? This is one I am always forgetting, and it ends up costing me because I have to run to the store at the last minute and try to pick a bottle of wine or something that doesn’t look too cheap-and I usually spend more than I would really like.

Make a list

Brainstorm and think of everyone you are planning to spend money on this year, and every occasion that you will buy something to bring. OF COURSE, you won’t forget your kids, or your wife or girlfriend, but what about your administrative assistant at work? Does everyone chip in to buy something for the boss? Do you donate money to a charity every year at Christmas time? Write it all down so you don’t have any surprises as Christmas gets closer.

After you write the list, let it sit for a couple of days and re-examine it. Did you forget anyone? If so, put them on it. Leaving off just a few people or parties where you need to bring something can cost you money you don’t think you will be spending.

Check it twice- and eliminate what you can

Go through the list and think about who is on it. Did you forget anyone? Can you eliminate anyone? Will your second cousin Bill mind if you doesn’t exchange gifts this year? Give him a call and find out. He probably won’t because he didn’t really like the fruitcake you were sending him every Christmas, even though he said he did!

Set a budget or spending limit

Even if you don’t like the “B” word, you need a budget or an idea of how much you are going to spend on each person or occasion, and how much you are going to spend in total. If you’ve saved money in a Christmas fund all year long, you may already have an idea of your limit. If not, can you afford to spend as much as your list is adding up to? If not, you need to cut back on how much you will spend on each person, or eliminate some of the items on the list.

Be practical

Do you really need to buy a $40 bottle of wine to bring to your boss’s Christmas party when a $12 bottle will do just fine? Does your nephew have to have an Ipod or will another brand of MP3 player work just as well and cost a lot less?

Add a buffer

Whatever you come up with as a holiday spending budget, add at least 10%. So if you are at your budget limit, try to cut back to about 90% of that budget. Leave yourself a buffer to allow yourself a little wiggle room if the right gift comes along for that special person, or if you just can’t find something for the amount you planned for someone else.

Start comparison shopping now- and online too

Believe it or not , there are many good sales and great deals that can be found both before and after the shopping season really kicks off on Black Friday. I have been doing more and more online shopping over the last few years and I really like finding great deals on the Internet and getting them shipped to my house.

Jump on the good deals when you see them

When you see a gift idea for someone at a great price, go ahead and get it. The more gifts you buy now, especially at a good price, the less you will have to buy as Christmas grows near and the malls and retail stores become really crowded.

Be flexible

Don’t worry if you don’t spend as much as you planned on someone, or if you spent $20 extra on your younger child than your older one. Unless you got the younger child a whole lot more presents than the older too, they will never notice. If you have to spend a little more, and it doesn’t break your budget, do it without worrying- you goal is to make someone happy.

Relax!

The Christmas season is about giving freely of yourself, spending the holidays with those you love, and relaxing. Hopefully these tips help you enjoy the holiday shopping season a little more this year, with a little less stress and frustration when it comes to holiday shopping.

Image by myeralan

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{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

FixThePig December 2, 2008 at 12:18 am

I think that we have lost the true meaning of Christmas and the fact that people have to even worry about buying gifts is a shame. The bottom line is that x-mas is suppose to be a time of getting together with family and friends to enjoy quality time, not quality gifts.
Since when did it become the norm to get a $300 dollar MP3 player?

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Armen Shirvanian December 2, 2008 at 4:37 am

The point about eliminating certain gifts was also brought up on a TV news broadcast, as the newscaster was talking about how people appear to be buying products of the same cost as in past years, but that they are buying gifts for less people overall. People tend to want to either send a gift that sends a well-received message, or not send a gift at all, in order to point out to others that there is a level of respect they are trying to maintain.

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RC December 2, 2008 at 7:19 am

@FixthePig- I think you are right about that. The price of gifts has skyrocketed of the last 5+ years! It may just be that people keep raising their spending limits as well.

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RC December 2, 2008 at 7:21 am

@Armen- I am sure there are quite a few people who will be doing that- reducing the overall # of gifts in order to maintain the quality for the remaining participants. Interesting point!

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The Happy Rock December 12, 2008 at 4:12 pm

By used if you know the people you are buying for would appreciate it. I know I buy a few gifts off ebay.

For us, we decided on a number, $500, got out the cash and when the envelope is empty we are done, so we need to plan accordingly.

We did have the money saved ahead of time, which helps. It is much easier to save $40 a month than come up with $500 on demand.

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RC December 13, 2008 at 9:19 pm

@Happy Rock- Buying used is a good idea. I have done that a few times in the past, but like you say I think it depends on the person.
Sounds like you have a pretty good system going there.

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ME December 24, 2008 at 6:15 pm

I have a gift shelf, for when a store has something that would be free after rebate, really cheap after a coupon, or going out of business, I don’t buy junk. For example last year CVS had Johnson and Johnson liquid bath soap and lotion, after the sale, coupon and my ECB they were free. I wrapped them in a nice bag and the person who received it loved it so much she buys it herself when it goes on sale. I’ve also put together bags for pasta dinners, jar of sauce, pasta, cheese, etc. in these times I don’t think gifts like these are out of line at all and of course because I started looking at the end of the summer I was able to get most of the items free or near free after coupon. At the end of this season I will be on the look out for great deals, I picked up the socks with tread on the bottoms for .25 a pair after christmas, I bought them all and because I keep them in a sack on the shelf they didn’t get dusty, everyone is getting socks this year.

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KC May 16, 2011 at 5:59 am

For forever, our family’s (and close friends’ who are family) tradition is to just get the kids’ presents and watching them. The presence of our family and friends are our presents!

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