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Holiday Shopping on a Budget: Ideas for Avoiding Over-spending at Christmas

Updated on December 9, 2011

With the holidays quickly approaching, many people get swept up in the excitement and carried away. Read on to discover a number of simple ways to avoid over-spending this year.


It's that time of year again—time to hit the malls, fight the crowds and find the perfect gifts for the people in your life. Many people get swept up in the spirit of the holidays and can get carried away. Along with getting carried away comes overspending; it's easy to do, especially if you don't have a plan.

Try some of the following ideas and see if they help keep your holiday spending in check.

Make a list of people to shop for this Christmas

Just like Santa, make that list and check it twice. Write down all the people you buy gifts for, but add only the names of people you absolutely need to buy for. Some people feel they should give gifts to nearly everyone they know, but really stop and think about the people on your list. Chances are there are a few names you can cut, whether it's someone you rarely see or talk to, or someone you know doesn't expect a gift.

Once you have your final list (hopefully it's shorter than you had originally thought!), jot down ideas for gifts for those people and how much you estimate they will cost. If you don't know what you want to get a certain person, set a spending limit for them. It sounds like a lot of organizing and planning, but it could save you a lot of money in the end.


Get personal with gifts geared to specific people

Consider something like a personalized care package or stocking instead of one or two big expensive gifts. Buy a basket or stocking and fill it with the person’s favorite things—products you know they use on a regular basis, things you think they might like to try, or items you know they wouldn't buy for themselves on a regular basis.

This is an especially good idea for college students or young adults who are just starting out and might not have a lot of expendable income. Also consider things like their favorite cookies, candies or chocolates, books, an ornament or knick-knack, a framed photo, or a scratch lottery ticket—the possibilities are endless, and most of these things are inexpensive. Not only that, but hopefully you'll have fun gathering all those items!

Consider a gift card

Some people think that gift cards are impersonal and try to avoid them, but they can often be better than an actual gift. Think about it: would you rather receive something you don't like and won't use, and pretend to be thrilled with it, or would you rather receive a gift card from your favorite store so that you can buy something you really want, need, and would use and enjoy?

If you go the gift card route, include a note to make it more personal and let your friend or family member know that it's meant to be a thoughtful gift. For example, if your best friend loves to read but you don't know what books she owns and don't want to buy a duplicate, get her a gift card from a book store and tell her you'll go shopping with her and promise not to complain while she spends two hours "oohing" and "ahhing" over books.

Keep an eye out for the word 'free'

Take advantage of free gift-wrapping whenever possible. Not only does it save you the time and effort of doing it yourself (some people love gift wrapping and consider it one of their favorite parts of the holidays and other people loathe it and avoid it), it also cuts down on the cost of buying wrapping paper, ribbon, tape, etc.

Also, many places offer special promotions during the holidays where if you buy a certain product, you'll get a free gift with purchase. Other places have promotions where if you spend a certain amount of money, you’ll get a free gift or gift certificate. A lot of these are great deals, but be sure to watch out for the small print—if you’re looking for something inexpensive but have to spend $50 or more just to get a small free gift, it might not be worth it. If it is worth it, and you don't need or want the free gift, consider the people on your list and decide if it would be appropriate for any of them. They never have to know you didn't buy it yourself—after all, it's the thought that counts!


Shop ahead of time to avoid the Christmas crowds

Don't wait until the last minute. Most people think they have plenty of time to get their shopping done and then before they know it, it's the week before Christmas and they're scrambling to get all the shopping done while fighting crowds and discovering that many of the good gifts are already sold out. When this happens, you might be more inclined to impulse buy just to get it over with and this could blow your whole budget and then some. Be prepared, be organized, and get it over with so you can enjoy the holidays without being frazzled.

Don't exchange gifts at all

If your funds are really limited and you have friends who are in the same situation, suggest not exchanging gifts at all. This tends to work better with friends than with family. Instead of giving each other gifts, you could decide on giving the gift of time—time together. Suggest dinner at your house where you each provide something and cook together, or an evening where you stay in to watch movies or play games. You might even consider extending the gift of time to those less fortunate and volunteer together at an organization of your choice. After spending an afternoon in a soup kitchen or a few hours in a nursing home, chances are you'll realize how blessed you are, and exchanging expensive gifts will be the furthest thing from your mind.

Remember that there's no sense going into debt over one day of the year. People get so wrapped up in buying, giving, and receiving gifts that they forget what Christmas is really supposed to be about. Embrace the true spirit of the holidays—spending time with the people you care about and taking time to count your blessings.


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    • SweetMarie83 profile image

      Marie Landry 6 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      Thank you Cookie! I love handmade gifts too...things that take time, effort, and really come from the heart. They're so special!

    • Curious Cookie profile image

      Curious Cookie 6 years ago from Kitchener, Ontario (Canada)

      Such a great article Marie, I try to focus more on items I can make. I love getting handmade items or other items I know that the person really had to think and know me to get me to try. I agree Christmas is not a time togo into debt, it should be about spending quality time together with friends and family. Christmas does not need to be expensive.