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The Holidays can be a stressful sea of Red, Green and impulsive shopping. Read on to see tips and tricks on how to stay on budget during the holiday season.

First thing is first, you have to set a budget. 

Can’t stay inside a budget, if you don’t have a budget? Right? 

I’ll be using my own personal budget for examples throughout this posting, so that the numbers stay uniformed and I don’t look like a chaotic mess of information and numbers. It’s much easier to track along this way. 

Need help making a budget? See, How to Make A Budget.

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Read all of the juicy details on exactly How we are staying on Budget this Christmas.

My budget for Christmas- $300

Now, grab a paper and pencil. We will be making some lists, and having visual aids helps us to not forget anything important. 

A written budget is significantly more likely to be followed. 

First List- What do we need to accomplish with this budget?

Examples- Gifts, Christmas dinner, family traditions, Christmas eve box, Elf on the Shelf props.

How many did you come up with? I have 4 things- Gifts, Family Traditions, Christmas Eve box and Elf on the Shelf. *My parents do holiday dinners.

Math time

Budget divided by # of Categories = $ budget per category. 

However if you’re budget looks like mine, you don’t need $75 for an Elf to just sit there. So here’s where you tweak it to fit into your order of importance.

Which of these categories is the most important to you?

Of my $300 budget, I’ve decided on 4 categories and have the finances for each divided a shown below.

$20 Elf on The Shelf. This includes anything fun for him, like mini marshmallows, chocolate chips, sprinkles, candy canes. By randomly giving him fun thing to play within his month-long adventure, he adds joyful sparks of Holiday spirit to the house and brightens my daughter’s day.  

$30 Family Traditions. This is our advent calendar, a mall photo with Santa and whatever baking ingredient is needed to bake fresh cookies.

$50 Christmas Eve Box. This is easily the most expensive part of our Christmas traditions. Every year on Christmas eve we get a box with fresh pajamas and movie night/cocoa stuff. In years past we could afford to have a new movie and all the fun stuff including slipper. This year, we’re taking it down to the most basic of item to cut the cost as low as possible without losing the spirit of the box and family time it bring. 

$200 Gifts. Gifts include the kids, family, friends and Santa. Plus stocking stuffers for the kids as well. By breaking down the Gift category even more, I’m able to stay even more alert to my budget. 

$200 gift budget (or however much you are said to have) divided by the number of people you are supplying a gift for. If you have kids, divide your budget in half instead. $100 (half) goes towards your children’s Christmas gift and the other half gets divided up between everyone else. 

Your children are your priority on Christmas. The magic is all for them.

If you started with the same budget as me, you’re now looking at a $14 limit per person. Which in some cases sounds dauntingly difficult.

[Related] Santa’s Broke and Kids Expect Christmas, Now What?

That’s not the point of the exercise

Having the numbers written down and in your head, now have you aware of the budget. Which is the most important thing in maintaining a budget.

Staying aware of the numbers.

Stores around the holidays, will categorize gifts by prices, and they usually have under $10 sections. Other ideas include homemade gifts like this one I posted about.  

Other homemade gift ideas

Can be found by searching the internet. Some adults like new parents, college students or the elderly may appreciate a home cooked meal, so giving them a freezer meal or a coupon IOU for a redeemable dish could be incredibly thoughtful. So many people just want to feel appreciated and remembered. 

If you have multiple families to prepare gifts for

Try giving a group gift instead of individual ones. Or if you have a bigger budget, you can consider gifts that save THE RECIPIENT money.

Three example group gifts-

  1. Movie Basket. For $10 you can make a movie basket for a family. A $5 movie from the Walmart grab bin, 2 or 3 movie theater candies and one or two bags of unpopped popcorn. Even cheaper if you just give a nicely presented Red Box movie code. Maybe throw in a 2ltr of soda since movie nights are all about the junk food binging. 
  2. Cocoa and Cuddles Basket. A box of instant hot cocoa, mini marshmallows and candy canes can be found at Dollar Tree. Walmart has fleece lap blankets for $2.50 each, grab one per person or one for the whole group (think of it as a blanket to sit on) and this group gift could be finished off with a homemade batch of cookies, a teddy bear or left as is. And cost as little as $5.50.
  3. Board Game Basket. Much like the movie basket, but swap out the movie for a family friendly board game. 

Buy Pre-loved

Second hand shopping is actually much more common during the holidays than you’d think. So many things being resold for cheap prices, when they’re still in New, like New, New with Tags, or New without tags quality. 

One of my favorite second hand clothing shops is an online website, that often offers AMAZING discount codes for their already reduced price clothing items. Not only that, but they offer a $10 sign up credit when you sign up using a referral link like this one. Free shipping when your cart reaches $25 and 40% of your purchase total helps schools. Doesn’t this just sounds like the spirit of Christmas?

Use a Discounted Gift Card

A Discounted gift card is great way to save on money that you had already planned on spending anyways. Its a rather confusing thing to describe for those who have no idea what they are, so please bare with me as I try to make sense of it.

The Raise App is a website (and app) that lets you buy and sell gift cards. You can sell unwanted cards for a little less than face value, not bad for getting rid of unwanted cards. 

You can also buy cards at a discounted price, most of them being virtual e-cards, but some are actually mailed to you for in-store shopping. Promo codes and sales can save you even more. Buying discounted gift cards for less than the value, is one great way to save money when shopping online or in person. 

Say the item you plan to buy online is $20 after shipping/taxes/etc. Buy a gift card with a face value of $20, but that is discounted to a lesser price. You just saved a few dollars without ever trying.

 Rebate websites-

My two most favorite rebate websites to shop and use is TopCashback and Ebates

TopCashback is great because it has a wide range of exclusive retailers not offered on other rebate websites. Some times the rebate percentage they offer is comparable or better to Ebates. So I always make it a point to double check both sites before shopping online, just to double check that I’m getting the best deal for my money. 

Ebates offers a better referral payout, higher percentages for rebates and my favorite part- they have a toolbar extension. Download it to your desktop toolbar and when you’re on a shopping website, it will remind you to use it, and offer to apply any coupons it finds for the site. I love how easy it makes it to save money which is why its my #1 rebate website. 

Spend with Cash when you’re shopping in person

You are much more likely to stay within a cash budget then you are to stay in a budget when you shop using a debit or credit card. Something about holding onto those green pieces of paper makes it click in our brains that this is wall we have to spend. 

Your children have written their Wishlist’s to Santa, now what?

You have a budget and their gifts have to fit in there somehow. There are some kids out there who would notice if nothing from their list was under the tree, but there are kids who will either A) love everything and anything they open or B) Want expensive items that wouldn’t happen in a million years.

Decide how many gifts the kids get each. 

I have two kids and a $100 budget for the two, using the example numbers I’ve been providing. I decided my kids get 6 gifts each and 3 stocking stuffers. This doesn’t include the Christmas eve box, I’m still working on that one. 

The 6 gifts break down like this:

1 Want- Something budget friendly from the wish list or that I know the kids would want.

Something to Wear- While I’d love to get a full outfit set for each of them, it much more budget friendly to be looking at clearance racks in local stores for extra savings. 

1 Read– A book for each kid. 2nd hand stores usually have great deals on books, and so many of them are in new condition.  Having searched Amazon,  I know there are tons of books available for under $5 shipped. Dollar Tree also has a great selection of kid books!

1 Need– I’m thinking a small educational toy can fit into this category. Body wash, Bath toys to make good hygiene routines more fun. They are also cost effective ideas and available in gift sets for $5-$10 or pick one or two items from your local Dollar Tree. 

2 Gifts from Santa- Santa brings something from their wish lists, most of the time, but not always. In fact, I think Santa finds some pretty good deals on toys the kids didn’t know they wanted. 

1 from our family elf Buddy- He gets something for the kids that was specifically requested by the kids during his month long visit to our home. Not everyone has an elf, and not everyone gets a gift from him, but its our tradition so I included it here. 

Stocking Stuffers

Stocking Stuffers are great, You can make them as fancy or as cheap as you want and you still can’t go wrong. Dollar Tree is a Great place for these!

Here are 15 ideas:

  1. Crayons  
  2. Coloring book
  3. Playdough
  4. Glow sticks
  5. Toothbrush
  6. Orange, banana, apples or nuts
  7. Deck of cards
  8. Bouncy ball
  9. Small stuffed animal
  10. Stickers
  11. Candy
  12. Nail polish
  13. Batteries
  14. Chapstick
  15. Hot cocoa mix

Stay Alert to the amount of money you allotted for everything. 

You will end up under budget in some areas, and that will allow you to go slightly over in others. If you work to maintain a visual record of your expenses, you can stay focused and enjoy staying within your set budget. 

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