By Shannon Brown, Contributing Writer
You start out the season with a heart overflowing with generosity and excitement over the coming holidays. You might be one of those sweeties who just loves to put gifts under the tree for almost everyone you know, from the neighbors to your child’s teacher, each of your girl friends, and especially your own kids.
But somewhere along the way something shifts. Before December 25 ever rolls around, you start dreading Christmas because you realize that your budget is too small and your schedule is too tight. (I even had one friend confide that she physically cringed when she started seeing Christmas countdowns going around Facebook.)
For many of us moms, holiday gift giving has become a mere obligation, leaving us feeling more like Scrooge than jolly old St. Nick.
Here’s the problem: our generosity is at odds with the reality of our budget. Either we give less than we wish, or we go over our budget (and even worse, in debt). We end up feeling guilty and stressed out during the hap-happiest season of all. So, what do we do? My goal for this year (for myself and my readers) is to have a guilt-free, low-stress Christmas that will embolden the goodwill and generosity that really are in all of our hearts. I have a plan to stay out of debt and on budget this Christmas!
Here are my 6 tips for giving generously on a budget…
1. Start Now!
No matter what day of the year you are reading this, start planning for your Christmas gift giving now. (I put together a cute free printable Christmas budget to get you inspired.)
Simply set aside a certain amount each month to spend on gifts this year. Ideally you’ll do this at least a couple of months ahead of time, but if not, you should still be realistic about how much you can really afford to spend. I don’t personally use a cash envelope system (here’s why), but I think this would be a great budget category to consider doing just that. By the time December rolls around you’ll have all of your gifts covered.
Then, make your list of all the gifts you want to give. Remember to include Christmas cards, wrapping, and shipping. The total you spend on all the gifts should equal your set budget. It’s that simple.
2. Reevaluate Expectations
Here is my philosophy on gift giving: We need only give a small gift to add joy to the holiday season. You don’t need to feel obligated to spend hundreds on the latest electronics if you’re not able.
After you’ve made your Christmas budget, honestly ask yourself a couple of questions. Is your planning based on a feeling of obligation to spend a certain amount on each person? Are there more affordable alternatives that they would love just as much? Are you really able to give gifts to each person on your list with a generous spirit?
Then reevaluate your list based on how you answered each question. For example, as your extended family grows, you may find the need to draw names or just give gifts to the kids.
Whatever you decide is the right balance for your family, you’ll find lots of affordable gift ideas below that your family will love and will allow you to stay within your budget.
3. DIY Gifts
I love crafting, but I don’t have much time these days to do it. Luckily, DIY doesn’t have to be really time consuming. There are lots of nice DIY gifts that you can finish in under an hour. If you’ve read any of my other posts, you know I love to keep it simple. Try picking a simple and affordable project, and make it in bulk. Then you’ll have a little somethin’ ready whenever you need to take a hostess gift, a teacher gift, or a gift for the neighbors.
Image used with permission from Pistachio Project.
4. Frugal Finds
If you don’t want to make all of your gifts, or just plain don’t have time, there are lots of cheap gift ideas that your friends and family will genuinely enjoy. Here are a few places you might check to find frugal gifts:
- You already know, I’m a recently converted thrift-shopper
- You can also check out Craigslist
- dollar stores
- Swap sites and Facebook groups
- even host your own toy swap
- or consider tactfully re-gifting
5. Experience Gifts
The most valuable thing we have is our time. That fact becomes even more apparent in the chaotic rush of the holidays. Instead of buying a physical present, consider giving a gift that will give you an excuse to slow down spend time with your loved ones, both young and old.
Give a coupon or card that entitles the receiver to some special outing on you.
- Take your sis out for a coffee
- Give a fun date box as a couple gift. It might include affordable items like a gift certificate for Red Box, popcorn, and treats, or maybe a two-player board game
- Let your kids pick when to use vouchers to have some one-on-one time with Mom or Dad. There are lots of free things that they’ll love to do like going to the park, baking cookies, or going on a picnic, plus you can throw in a couple of affordable but fun things like going out for ice cream or picking a couple of things at the dollar store.
6. Acts of Service
In the same spirit of giving your time, gift your special skills or talents you might have. Here are a few ideas…
- Gift a couple with young kids a few hours of babysitting.
- Does everyone rave about your famous cinnamon rolls or lemon meringue pie? Give the gift of making your specialty for someone in the coming year.
- Teach someone a skill like how to speak a language or play an instrument.
After all, it really is the thought that counts! Sometimes it’s the most inexpensive gifts that carry the most meaning and bring the greatest joy.
By planning ahead and getting creative, you really can have a low-stress and on-budget Christmas this year.