The holidays are here! Are you ready? Or are you feeling a little anxious about your holiday budget and how much you will spend this Christmas?
Many of us have had Christmases (or are having one this year) when the budget for gifts is either tiny or non-existent. I remember quite a few of those Christmases when my children were all little. Because of those years, I try to remember each year how it felt back then to have no Christmas budget – which reminds me to make the most of the budget I have to work with now. There have been years I’ve gone over my budget (and paid for it in the New Year) and years when I’ve done a great job staying within my limit.
Tips for Surviving Christmas on a Budget
If you’re experiencing one of those years when there’s just not much of a gift-buying budget, I’d love to encourage you by sharing a few tips I’ve learned myself or from others over the years.
Stick to the Four Gift Rule
Most of us love giving gifts to our kids! It makes us feel happy to see them happy. But many families go way over the top with gift-giving at Christmas. Often, that means we’ve spent an entire paycheck (or more than one!) on buying gifts that our children will enjoy for a short time, but we’ll suffer financially for weeks or months because of spending too much. Or it could mean using a credit card to pay for gifts that we really can’t afford. But when the credit card bill arrives in January, there’s no way to ignore it! But the holidays don’t have to be about spending money we don’t have!
One way to combat the temptation to spend too much is by adopting the four gift rule. This simply means buying 4 gifts for each child – something each child wants, something he/she needs, something to wear, and something to read. This also works for parents who like to buy the same number of gifts for each child.
If Santa is part of your Christmas holiday, you’ll need to decide if one or more of the presents will be from Santa or if Santa will bring an additional gift or two for each child. This may vary based on your budget. If you have money to spend on additional gifts besides the ones they want, need, wear, and read, you could have Santa bring a gift or two in addition to those. If the budget is too small, Santa could give each child a gift included in the want, need, wear, or read category.
Give Experiences Instead of Stuff
As homeschool parents, we often find ourselves spending a significant portion of our homeschool budget on things like museum passes, zoo passes, gymnastics, baseball, or other sports and community learning opportunities. As much as I try to find opportunities to homeschool for free, these experiences and memberships always add up.
One thing you might consider is packaging some of these opportunities as part of your holiday gifting process.
For example, if you have a child who wants to take piano lessons, you can print a pretty piano lessons “gift certificate” to wrap and have this gift serve as the “something you need” (or “something you want”) gift for that child. This gift may have been something you would have given the child anyway, but that doesn’t diminish its value.
Many parents struggle with giving experiences on Christmas because they aren’t sure how to package them, and they don’t want their kids to miss out on the joy of unwrapping gifts on Christmas morning. But this doesn’t have to be a problem! Get creative with how you package things like vouchers by including colorful brochures to the places the memberships cover, create your own certificates, or pair these vouchers or certificates with small trinkets from the dollar store. Put it together and wrap it in a box with some confetti or tissue paper to be unwrapped on Christmas morning.
A great way to save money on your Christmas budget is to eliminate excess store-bought gifts for teachers, Sunday school volunteers, the mailman, neighbors, and others. You may want to dedicate a day to baking Christmas cookies to give to them instead of buying gifts for them. Simply make one (or two or three!) of your favorite kinds of Christmas cookies to put on paper plates with pretty bows and give away. These will be some of the most treasured gifts because the recipients will know you put time and effort into making cookies just for them!
If you’re not a baker, have your kids spend some time hand-drawing or hand-writing cards and pictures for these people instead.
Eliminate the Excess
Now you can call me a grinch for this one, but you may want to consider not doing Christmas stockings. It can cost a lot of money to buy lots of little trinkets and gadgets to fill up those stockings! And, if you’re like me, you usually spend your budgeted money and then remember you didn’t get stocking stuffers!
Another option is to get sensible, practical things for your family members’ stockings – things you could have ended up buying anyway. I usually buy things like chapstick, fingernail clippers, small tubes of lotion, and some candy to go in our stockings. These are all things I would have bought anyway, and they are things my family members will actually use, so I haven’t wasted money or spent more than I would have spent anyway.
If there is anything in your life that you find to be “excessive” at the holidays, give yourself permission to cut it from the routine. You don’t need to continue doing something because it’s a “tradition.” You have the power to choose what you want to continue in your family and what you don’t. Maybe that thing is stockings. Maybe it’s going to see the Nutcracker every year. Maybe it’s spending the money on dinner out on Christmas Eve. Just let it go if it doesn’t bring you joy or if it strains the Christmas budget.
Enjoy the Season
Whatever you do, don’t let budget woes get you down. I know it can be hard to accept when you are the mom and you feel pressure to make everything magical, but at the end of the day, all your family really needs is each other. Give yourself some grace and enjoy the Christmas season without stressing over spending too much money! You’ll treasure the happy memories and time together much more than anything you could have bought.