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.
Lisa @ This Pilgrim Life
I love the idea of teaching someone a skill. Not only is it a great chance to learn something new, but I just think of all the shared time and conversations that would naturally happen.
We also always ask family for ‘experience’ gifts and/or memberships to science museums and such that will continue to ‘give’ throughout the year.
Shannon Brown @ GrowingSlower
I love this too. I think it would be especially sweet for grandparents to spend time passing down skills to the next generation.
You can really stretch the budget with homemade gifts. Since I like to crochet and always have yarn lying around, I can consider the person and make something they could use. For older people who don’t really need anything, a meal, gift card to a restaurant, or local attraction works well.
We like to give family gifts in our family, such as a game all the children will enjoy, rather than an individual gift for each child.
Shannon Brown @ GrowingSlower
Doing a family gift is a great addition to the list! Love the idea of doing a game. In the past we’ve all enjoyed playing games together after Christmas dinner, so that would be a perfect fit! Thanks for sharing!
I love these ideas! I always try to find little things I can make for friends, especially bread or some kind of treat!
Discuss opting the adults out of gift giving. I generally want/need something pricy during the year and don’t want/or can’t wait till Christmas. I designate it as my Christmas gift and my husband gets out of shopping for his wife. Seriously though I rarely have anything to ask for, the few things I can come up with are for the kids to get me. This works out great because my siblings don’t have spare cash, by focusing on the kids no one feels shorted, or guilty, or disappointed.
We are being extra frugal this year. Keeping it simple and a family gift and if it’s not a family gift then it is what people need, not something that could be set aside and use as junk. The simpler we do Christmas the easier it is on stress levels and the more enjoyable it is.
One thing that I saw somewhere last year was to purchase gift cards throughout the year to someplace you might use them. I talked it over with the hubs, and he thought it was a great idea. So, this year, we haven’t needed to remember to save up, because we have gift cards that I purchased every time he got paid. I can either give them, use them to buy presents, or use them for myself when I come across something where I can’t use them for someone else.
Rachel, this is a great idea! Thank you for sharing!
I love your gift ideas!! But You can think about Fingerprint jewelry if you want to buy a gift for loved ones, because of it is very reliable and also you can make yourself at home.
Heather @ My Overflowing Cup
#5 and #6 are definitely my favorite tips, Shannon. Have you heard of the Advent Conspiracy? You can read my post “Christmas in July” on my blog if you are interested in how my family participates in this charitable giving. I love this post because it not only takes the financial stress of Christmas off of us, but it helps us to keep the focus on the real meaning of the season. Thanks so much.
All great ideas. I recently wrote a similar blog. Maybe if we can get everyone on this wagon we can really simplify and “intentionalize” gift giving. My favorite is to give a class enrollment or membership gift – something the person would love to do – then join them in the activity. Perfect for grandparents or a large family.
Great post! I got some great new ideas for this season. I’m famous for giving coffee mugs with chocolates. I do this for the kids teachers, co-workers, and neighbors. I usually find the coffee mugs at Dollar Tree or thrift shops and buy a large bag of candy. The cost is probably about $1.50 each. Practical, useful, and ongoing.
The Decent Mom
We’ve been trying new experiences instead of constant gifts. Driving to a new park or putting together a huge puzzle as a family can be a lot of fun. Plus it saves money and builds those childhood memories for the kids. We do homemade gifts for teachers and others, and this year made body scrubs with coconut oil and peppermint. Everyone loved it.
Last year, I bought a large jug of local honey and repackaged it in mason jars for each person in my family. I am on social security o ly, so frugality is a must. I am also tired at this point. They don’t appreciate much, especially hand-made gifts, so I don’t bother with that. A Christmas ornament for the kids to collect each year is a nice thought, but I haven’t done it. They would trash them at this point. The food allergies prevent breads, etc. Pickled onions and homemade balsamic glaze made with a boil down of fruit juice and over-the-counter balsamic vinegar makes a nice addition. I used sour cherry juice from a pie I was making; pear juice is also a good option; no spices or herbs, and unsweetened please! It’s a half pint jar’s worth only, but great in any salad, especially pasta, and even over pound cake or ice cream.
It’s so hard (and hurtful) when people don’t appreciate the handmade gifts. I am so sorry. 🙁
I love those ideas!
I like these ideas, not only for Christmas presents, but also for birthdays. #5 ideas are so much more meaningful. My sister frequently will give me a movie date certificate, where she will come over and babysit the kids, while I can go on a date with my husband. My kids love it because they spend time with Auntie. And my husband and I love it because we can go to a movie and enjoy ourselves without worrying about the kids.