We would all love to buy gifts for our family and friends without considering (and sticking to) a budget, but alas, budgeting is a must, otherwise the joys of the Christmas season can be hard to enjoy.
After all, you don’t want to be paying for your Christmas indulgences well into the following year, but you don’t have to be a scrooge either. Here some easy tips to help you get something special for everyone on your “been good” list this year without going broke!
1Establish an Overall Budget
It is very important that you have an overall budget in place prior to beginning your Christmas shopping. This way, you are less likely to end up overspending and regretting any shopping debt. When considering your budget, keep these things in mind:
- How much did I spend last year? How did I feel about that amount?
- Consider what you already have that can be reused. Do you really need new decorations or can you simply update a few key items?
- Make a complete list of everything you need to buy this season.
- Factor in the “extras” – the ribbon, gift tags, stocking stuffers, tape, greeting cards, and party supplies all add up!
- Make sure to leave a small safety net for unexpected expenses.
- Consider saving for your shopping with anticipation.
- Try saving throughout the year so you don’t feel the financial burden of the season in a few short weeks or get tempted to use credit cards. Many people like to shop throughout the year too, buying gifts when they find a great deal.
- The smart folks over at Practicalmoneyskills.com suggest that you spend only 1.5% of you annual income on your Christmas budget. That means that if your family income is $40,000 year you can allocate $600 for your budget; with a $50,000 income, $750; with a $75,000 income, $1,125.
- Remember that the hard part is not in making your budget, but sticking to it!
2Make a Gift List, and Check It Twice
Decide whom you want or need to buy gifts for and how much you will spend on each person on your list, keeping your overall bottom line in mind. Without a gift list, we end up spending money on people we really don’t need to buy for or want to buy for – it’s ok to not buy everyone a gift.
- When deciding how much to spend on each person, use personal judgment, but stick to your pre-determined amount once out shopping.
- It’s ok to discuss gift expectations with family members and close friends. If you can’t or don’t want to spend as much as you have in past years on gifts, let those close to you know that you would like to scale back.
- This way you won’t find yourself giving a small gift to someone and feeling awkward that they gifted you something expensive.
- Instead of buying each child in your extended family a gift, consider buying the family one gift they can all enjoy, like a yearly membership to their local zoo or children’s museum. If the children are close in age, they may enjoy one larger gift to share, like a movie theater gift card.
- Keep non-family and friend gifts to a minimum. For your co-workers and some groups of friends, consider organizing a gift exchange with a price limit. Then you only have to get one gift instead of a few. If your co-workers are simply acquaintances, then make or pick up your favorite edible holiday treat to share with the group.
3Shop On Your Time
While some of us may enjoy the thrill of getting all our Christmas shopping done in one big mall trip, it’s wiser to spread your shopping over a period time.
- Consider that retail stores tend to hold sales on product categories. So, electronics may be cheaper one week versus home goods the following week. By spreading your shopping over time you can keep an eye put for great sales!
- Giving yourself more time to shop will allow you to take advantage of any layaway plans at many popular stores. You can skip using your credit card and make smaller cash or debit card payments for an item until it’s paid off and you can take it home.
- But don’t procrastinate! You will more stressed out, anxious and overspend it you do.
- It’s better to shop alone than with a group of people. There is no pressure to outdo each other on gifts purchased, you are on your own schedule and won’t be pressured to buy unnecessary gifts.
- It’s ok to shop AFTER Christmas. Are you going to see relatives or friends after Christmas? Then why not wait to hit the great after Christmas sales for their gifts? The Christmas season doesn’t necessarily end on the 25th; after all, in the Latino community it’s a common tradition to celebrate the season until The Feast of the Three Kings on January 6th!
4Leave The Plastic At Home
Make it your motto to not go into debt this Christmas season. It’s safe to say that the majority of us have been watching how much we spend more closely the past few years, but the Christmas season is an easy temptation to blow off budgets and say “just charge it.”
- Remember to use your credit card as least as possible or not all. You may regret that credit card bill come January!
- Use cash if you can to pay for gifts – it helps keep you on budget and reminds you how much you have actually spent. Spending $50 on a gift versus $100 when you use a credit feels almost the same, but if you pay with cash or your debit card you will notice the price difference immediately
- Try taking out ONLY the cash that you need for a shopping trip from the ATM. When it’s gone, you know that you’re done.
5Empower Yourself - Resist Impulse Buying
For many of us, this is one of the hardest things to do! Have a plan on what you want to buy before you hit the mall or your favorite store and stick to it. Remember a few rules:
- As cute as the cheap stocking stuffers at the check out counter may be, those purchases add up!
- Stores are designed so that you leave your hard earned money at the store, not in your wallet. Remind yourself that stores want you to buy that one extra and unplanned item that will add to your budget and their profit!
- Remember your budget for each person or item on our list and stick to it, no matter how much better a more expensive gift or item may seem.
6Give Warmly, Not Opulently
Think about how many Christmas gifts you’ve received that you didn’t use or even like. We can all benefit from the “less is more” motto when it comes to gift giving. Try these tips when planning your gift list:
- Gift Exchanges are great! If you can, make a no gifts for adults rule and just buy presents for the little believers. If you want to include adults, then try drawing names from a hat and then every adult can receive just one nice gift.
Do you have a talent or skill that you can share? Maybe you can offer your family member or friend an hour’s worth of your time/trade/talent.
- Encourage the teenagers in your life to give of their talents and time too – maybe they can mow their grandparents or neighbor’s lawn? Can they babysit for a new mom in the family that lives nearby or offer to run some errands for an older family member?
- DIY gifts are great. How about making a DVD with your favorite Christmas music? All you need are the appropriate blank CDs, labels and downloaded music. Last year, my daughters and I made small gift packages of handmade soaps and stationary. The total cost for the materials for all 10 gifts, including wrapping supplies, was less than $80. These types of gifts are great for children’s teachers, car pool friends and even colleagues.
7Keep Décor Simple
While many of us would love for our homes to look like the picture perfect decorated ones in magazines this Christmas season, remember that you can keep your decorations simple and tasteful without spending a fortune. Try a few of our tips:
- A simple pinecone arrangement spray painted with very inexpensive gold paint from the craft store and arranged on a mantle is perfect or use it as stylish centerpiece.
- A metallic sash tied around your chairs with simple accent accessories on your dining room table makes for a chic and lovely look.
- Don’t forget the kids - they tend to love doing arts and crafts and that’s a great and simple way to add seasonal flare to your home.
- After the Christmas season, store your decorative items for next year in recycled plastic containers over cardboard boxes. They will help your decorations safe and you won’t have to buy more decorations next year.
8Finally, Avoid Easy Money Drainers
- Just say “no thank you” when the cashier asks you “Would you like to save an extra x% today by signing up for our store credit card?” Store credit cards usually have higher rates than other credit cards and they all tend to have strict late fees.
- Remember to be Internet savvy, compare prices and look for coupons on sites like Bizrate and CouponCabin. A simple Google search for those “promo codes” at checkout time can save you a few dollars.
- Most online orders will tag on extra shipping charges after a certain date, so place your order accordingly.
- Before you place your Christmas card order, think about how many you are ordering. Do you really that many? Take some time to organize and update your address list this season so you know how many cards to buy, most of us buy too many and they end up getting tossed in the garage. Choose standard-sized envelopes for your cards, the unique sizes will require extra postage.
- Business related clients and eco-conscious friends might appreciate an e-card rather than a card in the mail.
- Always check if a store offers complimentary gift-wrapping, you’ll be surprised how much you can save!
What are Las Posadas?
Photographs by Jennifer Carrillo, Bella Rosa Photography
I love celebrating Las Posadas! They mark the beginning of Christmas festivities across México, in some parts of Latin America, and even many communities in the United States. They are a beautiful celebration of processions and parties starting December 16th and lasting for 9 consecutive days in anticipation of Noche Buena, or Christmas Eve. Posada literally means “lodging” in Spanish and they commemorate the journey that Mary and Joseph took from Nazareth to Bethlehem before Jesus’ birth on Christmas. Celebrating Las Posadas is one of the most unique Mexican traditions.
Each night between December 16th and December 24th a Posada is celebrated. A procession is formed by participants called los peregrinos or “pilgrims” and they are led by two children carrying a platform with Mary and Joseph statues. Sometimes two older children or teenagers are dressed as Mary and Joseph. In some larger scale processions, a real donkey may be used with Mary riding the donkey with Joseph by her side. Los peregrinos keep Mary and Joseph company by carrying candles (called farolitos, Spanish for “little lanterns”) and singing songs along the procession route. It’s common for young children to wear homemade costumes to represent shepherds and angels in the procession. Sometimes a child leads the entire procession while holding either a large star or a farolito. The peregrinos ask for posada or lodging at three different homes on their procession route, but only the 3rd home will allow them in. After songs and prayers around the nativity scene are complete, a party follows, of course!
As a child, my parents would often taken us to México to be with our family during the Christmas season and celebrating Las Posadas was a central part of our trips. The singing, the food, and the piñatas – I remember them fondly. When we did not make it to México for Christmas, we celebrated Las Posadas with our church community– it was just like being back in México, except that I grew up in Chicago and it was much colder during the outside procession!
As part of an ongoing effort to teach my children about their Mexican culture, my husband suggested that we celebrate Las Posadas with our friends and family. The celebration brought back many great memories for me. I hope you enjoy looking at the pictures and let us know what you think!