The holiday season is fast approaching and the if you’re thinking, how the heck am I supposed to afford this?
You’re not alone. Americans alone spent over a trillion dollars last year during the holidays. And with everything from food to Christmas gifts to airline tickets getting more and more expensive it is extremely intimidating to even know where to start.
But rest assured. We got you covered. Because together we are going to come up with a plan so by the time you’re done reading this you will be ready to attack the holidays without going bankrupt.
How to create a Christmas Budget
When creating a Christmas budget it is important to keep things as simple as possible. Similar to how we set up our monthly wealth tracker you should be doing the same when figuring out how much you can afford and tracking your spending.
Below is a snap shot of some of the steps that you should be taking when creating your holiday budget.
Make a list, and check it twice
Before you even start thinking about money the first thing you want to think about are your goals for Christmas.
These goals can be broken up in to a few different catergories.
First things you want to do. So this can be anything from events you want to plan, travel, and even parties you would like to host. Make a list of all these things and jot them down in your goal tracker. Check this Christmas Planner which is a great place to keep track of everything.
Once you have your list it is time to take a look at it and highlight the things that are most important to you. You can rank them or I just like to take a highlighter and highlight the things that jump out at me.
I usually will divide my list in half. So must vs. would be nice.
And now it is time for the fun part. Let’s talk about money.
What’s a good budget for Christmas?
Sorry to break it to you. But I don’t have a magic number for you as to how much you should spend.
However, I can tell you that a good budget for Christmas is going to be based on what you can afford.
Plan how much you are going to spend
Americans on average are said to spend about $1000 on Christmas. However, that doesn’t mean that needs to be your Christmas budget. If that number sounds crazy to you then come up with a number that makes more sense.
Start with looking at your existing budget. Do you have any categories that are flexible and can be moved towards your holiday budget category? Do you have existing savings that you can use towards holiday expenses?
If you’re staring at your budget and thinking… um no. Consider doing a savings challenge. Where you set aside a set amount of money until you hit your goal.
Whatever number you come up with make sure it is realistic.
And then work on ways that you can make things work within that budget and not the other way around.
How much should you spend on a Christmas gift?
Ok. So now you have an idea as to how much you have to work with but the big question is how much do you spend on gifts.
You have your list. And you have your Christmas budget. So now it is time to start dividing things up.
First you want to focus on all the things that you have made a priority. And that includes people.
As you’re going down the list you may realize that there are some things that maybe you didn’t think of and if money is tight you may need to get creative.
When deciding how much to spend on gifts it is going to depend on how much you have to allocate. So for example if you have decided you have about $100 to spend on your gift budget and you have 10 people on your list then that is going to work out to $10 per person.
You can start there. You don’t need to go into a bunch of math. But be flexible within your budget.
For example, maybe you decide to do a white elephant gift exchange with a $20 limit for all the adults in your family which knocks out five people from your list. So now you have $80 left to spend on the five remaining people.
Having everything on paper makes things a lot easier so that you can actually track what your spending, where it is going and how much you may potentially have left over.
Keep track of your Christmas Spending
Once you have your plan of attack the next step is to keep track of everything. Note how much your spending. This is important not just to make sure you stay on budget but it is also helpful in instances where you end spending less than you projected. This leaves room for things that might be more costly. Or even better. Maybe you can move something to the priorities list that you weren’t able to afford otherwise.
How do people afford Christmas on a tight budget?
Planning ahead is probably the best advice for those that are on a tight budget. The reason being is that the sooner you start setting aside cash for the holidays the less intimidating it is.
However, even if it is well into December and you’re currently reading this that is ok. There are still ways that you can save money and find ways to celebrate while not going into debt.
Consider a gift exchange
Instead of trying to buy gifts for everyone get your group together and do a gift exchange instead. This is a great way to spread the holiday cheer while still saving money.
This works great for work colleagues and friends. But you can also coordinate it with the adults in the family as well.
The Four Gift Rule
For kids, and younger family members the four gift rule is a great way to keep things under budget by giving both things the the young ones want as well as need. So the rule goes something they want, something they need, something to wear and something to read.
Dig into your wallet
When was the last time you cleaned out your wallet. This might sound so random but hear me out.
Every year around the holidays I clear out my wallet.
Because that is where gift cards go to die. And these gift cards are like finding extra money that you can put towards your holiday needs. Give it a go. You never know what you might find in there.
Credits card can be your friends
Don’t panic. I said the c word. I know. But if used properly credit cards can actually be a great benefit and money saver during the holiday season.
First, check to see if you’re card offers reward points. You actually may have rewards or cash back that you can redeem and put towards some of your holiday purchases.
Secondly keep an eye out for holiday promotional emails from your credit card company. While this takes a lot of discipline taking advantage of double/triple points and cash back opportunities is a great way to shave off a few dollars from your purchases.
Just make sure that if you put stuff on your card you can pay in full at the end of the day. Debt cost money and if you hold onto that balance all those savings are going to go out the window.
Creativity can go a long way. Both with gift giving and entertaining. Homemade gifts are a great way to stretch that holiday dollar.
However before you crochet an afghan for your 16 year old niece make sure that it is something they would appreciate it.
For example, if your niece loves cookies a homemade cookie recipe including ingredients can be a great gift idea.
Handmade scarves and gloves are always a nice treat for those that live in colder climates.
You can still be creative by putting together baskets with smaller items to create an experience. So for example microwave popcorn and a dvd (do people still watch DVDs) for a move night. An inexpensive bottle of wine with cheese and crackers for a date night.
Think of experiences and come up with ways that you can box them or bag them up with a little note. These can make for great gift ideas.
Dollar Store Decor
Many people focus on gift-giving when they are trying to scale back their budget but decor can really add up. Instead of blowing your budget on pricey holiday decor check out the dollar store.
With a little creativity, you can easily decorate for the holidays without breaking the bank. I’ve done a full Christmas tree with just decorations from the dollar store. (Or check out this set from Amazon that has over 100 pieces) The things you’ll find will really help to minimize your holiday spending.
Bonus: The dollar store is also a great place for stocking stuffers for all ages.
Entertaining on a Budget
This can be the biggest spend for some families but it doesn’t have to be. There are ways that you can still treat your family to a holiday meal without breaking the bank.
Host a brunch
Brunch is way cheaper than dinner. So if you are looking for a way to cut costs then consider doing a Christmas morning brunch. This recipe is one of my fave and a crowd-pleaser.
When planning out a holiday meal start by making a list of what you want to make and what you will need in order to make it.
In the days coming up to Christmas pay attention to what is on sale at your local supermarket. Chances are they will have great deals on traditional items. Start early and buy what’s on sale so that you are not scrambling to buy things last minute and spending extra.
In the alternative you can do what I like to call shop the sales. See what is on sale and come up with menu ideas around it. So for example if your supermarket as great deals on turkey look up recipes for turkey. You will be surprised at what kind of fun meals you can create just by shopping the sales.
Free Christmas Ideas
And when all else fails free is our friend. And there are plenty of ways you can have a lot of fun without spending a ton.
Take a tour of the neighborhood
If you’re looking for a fun activity to keep the family occupied go for a walk in the neighborhood at dusk. This a great time to check out your neighbor’s decorations and ooh and ahh over all the cool lights and setups.
Watch a holiday movie
Ok, so this might cost a little bit of money if you are purchasing snacks and beverages but gather the family, put on your favorite pajamas, and watch your favorite holiday movie to get all the holiday feels. (Can someone say Charlie Brown Christmas. Amazon actually has it on DVD here.)
And don’t forget to have fun
The days coming up to Christmas can be very stressful. With keeping on budget during the gift-giving season, preparing for holiday events, and keep track of everything it can be very overwhelming.
But don’t forget to live in the moment. Enjoy the time with friends and family and focus on this amazing and magical time of year. There is a reason why they are called Christmas presents.