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Thinking about Christmas on a budget sounds so weird as I write this. We are currently experiencing mid-early September, which is when a lot of people are picking out their flannel shirts, fur-trimmed boots and enjoying the first sips of pumpkin spice latte as it becomes available at Starbucks.
I just barely threw my little 1st grader on the school bus a few weeks ago for the first time in 2 months. My toddler and I are transitioning into a new normal routine (he idolizes his big sister).
It feels so weird to have a house so quiet again, but even with the lingering thoughts of school picture day and upcoming field trips, Halloween costumes and other “fall time” costs, Christmas is at the back of my mind.
Christmas planning in September?
Yup, I’m that kind of girl. Last year, I set a tight budget of $300 to accommodate EVERYTHING for Christmas. I came in under-budget and with more than I had initially planned.
This year I’ve actually jumped the gun a little bit and caught 2 Christmas gifts at low prices and stashed them aside. It’s a good thing too because the family has grown a little since last Christmas. We had the addition of my nephew in January and 3 close friends moving nearby from out of state in June.
What I got and how I saved money on them
My sister’s gift was an Amazon purchase. I used this website called Elite Deal Club and received a 50% off discount code for her gift. I paired it with a $5 e-gift card to Amazon that my mom gave me and bam! An $8 Christmas gift that she is going to love!
The next gift that I have laying in wait is a beautiful rainbow dress for my niece. My favorite cloth diaper company also sells clothing. They were having a $5 warehouse sale, and I snagged a cute dress in my nieces next size up. SCORE!
Where am I keeping my Christmas presents this year?
As of right now, I’m keeping everything in the same package it arrives in (if purchased online) and storing everything neatly within a sealed 60-gallon tote box.
Christmas on a budget doesn’t have to be hard!
Here are some AMAZING TIPS that can help you have a successful Christmas on a budget:
- Plan out who you’re giving gifts to
- Decide how many gifts per person
- Estimate your total costs per person and your total budget
- Figure out your Christmas traditions and the costs
- Tally up how much Christmas will cost you and make any cuts
- Find the money to make it happen
When you simplify the steps like this, it really doesn’t seem too difficult, but for many people having no money for Christmas can make these tasks much more difficult. That being said, the earlier you start planning- the faster you can accumulate that Christmas money and make Christmas on a budget happen.
Plan out who gets the gifts
Who will you be giving gifts out to this year? A common list of people include:
- Self (tell me I’m not the only one who buys my own Christmas gifts and wraps them on behalf of my husband ha!)
- Family (siblings, parents, grandparents, cousins.nieces/nephews)
- Child’s classmates
When making a list of people, prioritize it in order of most important to least. Just in case someone needs to be cut from the list.
For example, your kids should be at the top of the list, and your cousin’s brother in law’s stepchildren are probably towards the bottom unless you see them regularly and are actively involved in each other’s lives.
Will you be participating in a holiday gift exchange like a white elephant party or Secret Santa?
Decide on the number of gifts per person
This is completely up to you, but sometimes taking a minimalistic approach can be the better option for parents, children, and your wallet.
When it comes to my own kids, I make the rule of 4 + 2 +1 on Christmas morning.
- Something to wear
- Something to read
- Something they want
- Something the need
- and 2 Gifts from Santa
- 1 gift for them to share (from their elf on the shelf Buddy)
We also get a Christmas eve box, but I’ll talk more about that under the traditions section.
For everyone else, I simply give 1 gift each.
While it can be easy to give out holiday cash or gift cards as a gift (saving you all the time needed to hunt down that perfect gift, it could end up costing you more money).
Think about it. If you gave out 10 Christmas money cards with a value of $20 each- you just spent $200, and all you have is some cold hard plastic.
Instead, shop around and actually look for deals.
Shopping cycles happen like clockwork and the earlier you start shopping, the more deals you can actively seek out.
On your list of people to give gifts to, include the ideal gift for each person or some things that you know that they might like, or stuff to avoid. This can help you plan gifts that will actually be appreciated.
Another idea is to lump families together or choose experiences instead of individual gifts.
For example- giving a movie basket to a family that includes some movie theater candy, popcorn, and a DVD could cost you about $30, or less. This could prove to be even cheaper than buying each family member their own individual gift, and you just gave them an excuse to spend quality time with each other.
You could also opt for buying the family tickets to a museum or zoo if those would be cheaper. This also gives the gift of quality family time while also helping to alleviate some of the toy waste and issues that stem from an overabundance of Christmas gifts.
Estimate your total costs per person and your total budget
Think about the gifts you want to get each person and how much they cost. Tally up the total costs and find what your estimated spending is. Does this fit within your budget, or is this too costly?
Hint: If you can’t pay cash, it’s too costly.
Thousands of Americans go into debt every Christmas for the next Christmas gift when they put the balance on the credit card. Most plan to pay it off with tax refunds the following Spring, but some have that card carry a balance all the way up until holidays the following year.
Just think of how much interest is costing you in these situations! Even if you used the card to buy an item on sale, with the added interest, you really wouldn’t be saving anything at all! So don’t do it.
If you have to limit your gifts or opt for homemade or simple, then do it.
For family, you can have your children, and you dress up nicely and take a JCPenny portrait photo, make a few printed copies and place them in cheap (but nice) frames with a heartfelt card signed by everybody. This can cost a little money for the portrait, but prints are cheap at Walgreens, frames are found at Dollar Tree, and Groupon can have discounts for portrait sessions.
You may even find local photographers looking to build up their portfolio while trying to earn extra money for Christmas with cheap mini sessions. Using one of them for a photo can be a great way to support a local small business and family while giving you much more different end results.
Other options could include home-baked goods, salt dough hand ornaments, or if you have to provide a lot of homemade gifts, you can look at these Christmas ornaments I made last year. These are cheap to make, make a ton, and look amazing.
Figure out your traditions and the costs
Christmas traditions can include pretty much anything. Some prime examples are:
- Driving around to see Christmas lights
- Going to the Zoolights
- Getting photos taken with Santa
- Having a Christmas Eve box
- Elf on the Shelf
- Christmas caroling
- Cookie exchanges
- Secret Santas and White Elephants
- Christmas dinner party
All of these traditions can mean a great deal to your family and can come with added costs. It’s best to plan to include them in your budget so that you can still do the things you want, without going in debt for it.
Related Article: Christmas activities that don’t cost anything
You can also make any necessary substitutions to these traditions to help alleviate costs.
For example, instead of paying the mall Santa for a photo with your kid, look for the free Santa photo opts like at Bass Pro shops.
Look for cheap cookie recipes such as turning boxed cake mix into cookies (those can easily make a few dozen per $1 box!) I personally LOVE to do this because it also gives fun colors, flavors and they’re just so darn tasty!
For the Christmas dinner party, instead of hosting a huge meal yourself, make it a potluck and simply take over a few components while delegating the rest to your guests. Christmas food shopping on a budget can be made so much easier when you let your guests help by bringing something to the table.
Elf on the Shelf doesn’t have to cost a lot of money for his crazy antics either but giving him even $10 for the month of December can be beneficial for some things.
Tally up the costs and make cuts
When you look back on your entire December plan, what is your end total in costs? Include your gifts, traditions, and anything else that gets lumped into this Christmas specific category.
Will you be able to afford this by Christmas, or will you need to hustle to get it done? Trimming any of the costs can be helpful when you need money for Christmas fast because it means you have less money to raise in a short period of time.
Related article: Fast ways to make money before Christmas
Doing early Christmas shopping and grabbing things while they’re on sale will help to reduce your Christmas budget as well. When you can save money on Christmas gifts, you can stretch what little budget you have, much further!
Find the money and make it happen
You don’t want to be one of those last-minute shoppers on Google searching “I need money for Christmas” or “no money for Christmas presents, please help.” If at all avoidable, you should aim to be self-sufficient around the holidays.
Having been so broke that I had to pull Christmas out of the change in my pocket, I completely understand that every once in a while it could be necessary to rely on the generosity of others to help give your kids a magical holiday, but with proper planning, a lot of the last-minute hurdles can be avoided.
Related article: What to do when Santa is broke
How to save for Christmas
Reducing some of the grocery budget costs, having a pantry challenge, or doing a no-spend challenge the month leading up to Christmas can help to reduce costs in your bills.
By simply cutting back on your expenses during the later portion of the year, you can be setting cash aside to afford Christmas. But what if you need more than that?
Unexpected expenses happen all the time, and while you definitely don’t want to tell your kids that Santa is broke, you still have to help them to realize that they won’t be getting the latest Apple product or iPhone.
If your kids are young enough, they may not notice at all. But you can also take an extra route and do some free Christmas activities for kids and have them feel the love all month long. This is a great way to have Christmas on a budget without sacrificing what the holiday is really about.
You can also start a sinking fund for Christmas by figuring out how much money you need by a specific date, and then dividing that amount of money by how many paychecks between then and now. Every payday set that amount aside, and you can have the cash to pay for it in no time.
Christmas money making ideas
You need cash for Christmas, and you need it fast, right? You’ve already set a Christmas savings plan in motion because you’re smart and well organized. You’re thinking about early Christmas shopping ideas, and now it’s time to finally think about some additional ways to make money for Christmas.
While you could simply stick your hand out and say, “I need money for Christmas” you could also roll up your sleeves and do a little legwork to earn money for Christmas. This could help you to feel really good knowing that you did it yourself and that in itself is a pretty great feeling.
Obviously, you need the money before Christmas, but depending on when you start this plan, your options could be limited.
Too close to the holiday and you’ll be unable to do an actual job like Uber or Doordash as that requires a few days/weeks of paperwork and car checks.
While I highly recommend freelance writing as a way to make money from home, it takes time to do the work and get the money, so this could be a poor idea and prove to not help with Christmas money, although it could set you on the right foot for New Year’s!
One of the fastest ways to get cash for Christmas is by selling items from around your house. With a lot of families having Christmas with no money or with small budgets, such as yourself. Looking for used clothes or toys in good condition that can save them a buck and give their kids a magical holiday while earning you some money too.
Other options for making a fast buck include babysitting, or small odd jobs for family, friends, and neighbors. You may even have success with making and selling crafts if that is something that you’re good at!
When you’re well organized and have a plan, it doesn’t matter how much money you have. You can make the most of it and have a Christmas on a budget without sacrificing any of the Christmas fun!
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