As with all things that require spending money, a great starting point for spending less over the holidays is to have a plan and stick to a budget.
My budget this year for gifts is $100, as I stated in my December goals post last week.
Sure, as a single guy, I can avoid the reported average of $271 per child parents typically spend this holiday, but even with that, I’d still be well below the average of $801 that U.S. shoppers are planning to spend on gifts for the holidays, as found in this study conducted by the American Research Group.
So, for what it’s worth, here’s my plan.
Before I continue, it’s important to me to first say that I have a big extended family, among which are relatives with whom I’m extremely close. I have a number of close friends who I go out of my way to help, and who have returned the favor more times than I can count. I’m appreciative of the upbringing my parents gave me and the life advice I still get from them.
I value each and every one of these relationships.
Let’s move along.
It takes more than logistics
I did, in years past, spend more than the $100 I’m targeting this year. If you had asked me in 2009, for example, how I planned to afford all my holiday gifts, I might offer the following two logistical tips:
- To save money when shopping, I comparison shop, chase sales, clip coupons, collect rewards and join loyalty programs. I’m also not afraid to knock an old man down to get a Black Friday deal on a pair of socks (Just kidding about that last bit)
- There are also a few ways to ease the pain of all that spending, including saving money all year to spend during the holidays or buying gifts throughout the year.
Sadly, at best, doing both just helped me to tinker around the edges. At worst, they helped me ignore the effects of Christmas spending on my finances.
No, logistical fixes aren’t nearly enough.
Rather, it will take being frank about my financial situation and my financial goals — both to the people who might be expecting big, fancy things from me as well as to myself.
It will also take a philosophical shift. It will take truly believing what I say when I tell little kids that the holidays really are about making time for people I care about and not about spending money.
After all, the cheapest gift is the one you don’t buy.
Using a Secret Santa to avoid building a Christmas list
There are two big parties I go to each year around Christmas — one that brings my big extended family together and one that brings together the big extended group of friends I have.
One of the biggest problems I used to have with each gathering is that it’s tough to know where to draw the line when it comes to whom to give gifts to. Buying something for every friend who could possibly show up might cost a lot of money — never mind all the time and energy. Showing up empty-handed — or with something meaningful, but inexpensive — when a cousin gives you something very pricey could lead to awkwardness and hurt feelings.
Those reasons alone are why I push for a Secret Santa gift exchange every year with both groups.
Using a website like Elfster.com, you can send the link out to everyone who’s attending so that people can choose to opt in or not, which takes all the guesswork out of making a list.
Doing a Secret Santa also lets the group explicitly set a limit, so you don’t even have to guess how much to spend.
Only buying one gift means you can really focus some thought onto it.
And because only a relative few gifts are passed out, we can use the majority of the time to catch up, play games, sing songs, and otherwise enjoy each other’s company.
Family time during the holidays is just terrific.
Amount spent: $55
Some extra notes about Secret Santa
I don’t want to make it sound easy; buy-in can be tough with more “traditional” family or friends. And because having one requires organization and communication, that can be another excuse. If you really want to make it happen, you’ll probably have to volunteer to proctor it the first year.
Groups can include kids in the game by either
- Having a separate draw just for parents where each puts the names of their own kids in;
- Or putting kids’ names in the pot with the understanding that parents would be responsible for gifting whatever names their kids pick
In either of these, parents end up contributing as many gifts as they have kids. Also, there’s a spending limit…because not having one is just ridiculous.
Communicate with significant others
To really buy into the Secret Santa idea means that each participant implicitly commits to not getting an extra gift for someone else at the party that they didn’t pick. Any person who feels like they can “afford” it and brings gifts for everyone will deservedly get ugly stares or worse.
Of course, all Secret Santa setups offer a carve-out for significant others to exchange gifts.
And in a culture that too often ties the strength of a relationship with the price tag of gifts exchanged — or worse, that lets expensive gifts make up for lackluster relationships — this is where budgets get busted.
Needless to say, hurt feelings can pop up here too and so that why it’s important to communicate.
In theory, because this is the person with whom you’re closest, you should be able to jointly discuss your financial goals and come to the agreement that overly expensive gifts are a good way to handicap them
Of course, this theory isn’t always easy to see through in practice.
That said, I’m happy to be looking at a reasonably low, jointly decided budget this year.
Amount planned: $25
Call your mother
I keep up with what’s going on in her life. I let her in on what I’m up to and my plans, and listen to her advice. Same with my dad.
I also email, text, write paper letters, and visit when I can.
This may sound unrelated to Christmas, but making that closeness a year-round thing takes some of the pressure off trying to make this one celebration an absolutely perfect event for everyone. And that includes taking the pressure off trying to find that one, perfect, expensive gift that totally changes their lives for the better.
It took years of hearing my parents say that they didn’t care about any material thing I got them as long as we got to spend time together to believe them, but I finally came around 🙂
My siblings and I have given my parents different gifts over the years and even as grown-ups, the ones that were appreciated the most were definitely the ones we made and definitely not the store-bought ones we overspent on.
I can’t give details about this year’s gift, but I’m pretty proud of what we’re putting together 🙂
Amount planned: $0, but lots of effort (and lots of love!)
So after a post too long for anyone to actually read, it looks like I could even get by with $80, but we’ll see if everything spirals out of control and I go on a crazy mall shopping spree for no one in particular. You never know, I guess.
What other tips does everyone have?