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10 Tips to Save on Christmas Gifts

Guest post by Ashley from Embracing Beauty

Christmas is great for spending time with friends and family, as well as giving gifts. Unfortunately, too many times, though, people don’t properly plan ahead for it and they end up making a list of money mistakes.

The key to avoiding a holiday season that puts your bank account in the red is to start planning early. Here are my top 10 money-saving tips to help you steer clear of holiday debt and to get a good financial start to the new year:

  1. Develop a Christmas budget. Keep it separate from your regular budget. Start with how much you have to spend on Christmas gifts and from there list everyone you want to buy for, how much you can spend on them, gift ideas and places to find them. Purpose to only spend the money you have and when it’s gone you stop buying. Millions of Americans are still paying off their credit cards from last Christmas, don’t follow in their footsteps!
  2. Take inventory. Check your closet, under your bed, or anywhere you might have stashed your early purchases. Try to think back, did you stock up on leather gloves at last year’s post-holiday sales? Check before buying more pairs.
  3. Host a card signing party. In lieu of gifts to friends, an easy way to save money at Christmas is to prepare holiday cards together. Ask each guest to bring cookies or an appetizer. You provide drinks, tables to write on, and a good supply of pens. It will be a fun way to socialize, brainstorm gift ideas, unwind, and fellowship together!
  4. Bring the envelopes, leave the credit cards. Allocate an amount of money for each gift and put that money into a separate envelope marked with the recipient’s name. Leave your credit cards at home. Did you know that our brains actually feel pain when we spend cash? It’s true! Spending with a check or debit card registers less pain and with a credit card almost no pain at all.
  5. Get creative. There are endless websites that can give you step-by-step instructions to make yummy desserts, gifts in a jar, or crafts to give your loved ones. Don’t forget to search for free printable gift tags while you’re at it!
  6. Consider drawing names. If you have a large family or a lot of people at the office to buy for suggest a name draw. You’d be surprised at how pleasant Christmas can be when you don’t spend a ton of money and end up stressing yourself out trying to find the perfect gift for so many people.
  7. Avoid the pseudo-deal. Avoid the “Buy More, Save More” slogans, the “Buy 2, Get 1 Free” promotions, and the arbitrary limits on purchases.  There are numerous other pseudo-deals out there and if you’re not familiar with typical prices on these items, you may fall victim to the pseudo-deal.
  8. Don’t buy for yourself. When you’re shopping for gifts, it’s easy to be tempted to buy things for yourself. Try to make this season about giving to others. It may also help to remember that the items you want now will likely be less expensive during the after-season sales!
  9. Give the gift of time. The gift of time and caring can mean much more than a present–for both giver and recipient. Shovel snow for elderly neighbors, or get a group together to surprise them with an old-fashioned caroling visit.
  10. Give practical gifts. Every year my grandmother gave me a toothbrush in my stocking. As a child, I’ll admit, it wasn’t the most exciting gift, but it was one that I would use. Even though it was a practical gift, it was still fun to open.

Last but not least, remember that the spirit of Christmas isn’t about “stuff.”  You can have a giving spirit without having a maxed out credit card. Don’t forget the reason for the season!

Ashley is very happily married and the mother to a beautiful little girl. She teaches couponing classes and authors the frugal blog, Embracing Beauty, where she encourages others to Embrace God’s best for their finances, home, and life.

photo credit

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  • I think #8 may be one of the most important! All of the stores know that people have the weakness to buy for themselves, and they advertise to that purpose as well.

  • Jenn says:

    The name-drawing idea is a great one! I had 35 cousins on one side of the family and drawing names as a kid was so much fun. That way, everybody had something to open on Christmas at Grandpa and Grandma’s. 🙂

  • Krysten says:

    “Our brains actually feel pain when we spend cash?” Would you like to back that up with some scientific research?

  • Spendwisemom says:

    Great ideas. Developing a budget and staying in it in one of the best, but most difficult ones to do. It is tempting to go over when you are in the stores and see all the fun stuff while you are listening to happy Christmas music. This year we have cut our Christmas expenses by 66 percent because of some unexpected expenses, and it has been a challenge for me to cut back so much. But, I am staying in my budget and staying out of the stores except for buying what is on a list that we need. We are trying to find other things to do during the holiday season and spending time making cookies and breads together to bring to friends and those in need. It is so easy to focus on ourselves and not think about the many people who don’t have a family to spend Christmas with and won’t get any gifts from anyone. Cutting back has helped me to focus more on the real meaning of Christmas.

  • Kathy says:

    Great ideas! But I would add that before giving a homemade sweet treat or cookie mix, make sure you know the gift will really be appreciated, rather than just a cost cutting strategy for the gift giver. Many, many people have dietary issues and simply won’t want the sweet treats. This includes teachers, who get overwhelmed by the candies, cookies, cookie mix in a jar, and similar items that are so popular.

    • Guest says:

      I would second that. We have recently had to go gluten free for medical reasons and it seems like every (not really but feels that way) Christmas treat has flour or some other gluten in it.

  • Nick says:

    Lots of great ideas. We also buy discounted gift cards from places like cardpool or plastic jungle which helps control costs (no “leakage” for a couple bucks above a budget plus you save a few percent on the cards).

  • samantha says:

    All good ideas! If you give the gift of time make sure it is for a specific time. For our last anniversary my husband’s family all gave us baby sitting certificates and a promise of them taking us out to dinner. It’s been almost a year, no dinners yet, and I found it very hard to ask for my “gift” of babysitting, so that has happened only twice. Don’t make someone ask for their gift!

  • Laundry Lady says:

    I agree that for some using cash will help curb the spending. Though I’ve always found it more difficult to account for cash. It seems to vanish from my husband’s wallet. But I’ve developed a discipline of inputting purchases into my financial spreadsheet immediately rather than wait for the credit card bill at the end of the month. I also show money spent in red. I like seeing a healthy black number, the larger the better at the bottom of each column, including the Christmas budget. Red numbers are never good and I definitely find the use of color helps. Plus, if I have over spent in a particular category it forces me to move money from another one (such as Fun or savings for future vacations or purchases) and feel the pain of losing ground saving for something I wanted. I find that making a realistic budget in advance is the real key and that sticking to it is just as easy for me with a credit card than with cash, perhaps even more so.

    • heather says:

      I agree we use credit cards to pay for almost everything. We always pay the balance and enjoy getting cash back bonus for the purchases that we have made. Credit cards don’t have to be a naughty word just like any thing you have to be responsible when using them. I know some people who use cash/envelope system but don’t seem to save any money. the key is to know what you spend and keep track of it. I also enjoy spoiling my chidren and christmas and I am able to do this and stay with in a reasonable budget. I also have to say that I do buy things for myself at this time just because I am alone and can try things on. Moms need to look good too.

      • Melissa says:


        I found myself nodding along in agreement as I read your post. Credit cards get a bad rap because of careless people…but not all of us are that way! I also love to indulge my kids at Christmas! They are only little once, and if they weren’t appreciative or grateful, I wouldn’t.

        Merry Christmas!

    • Lynn says:

      I totally agree. I know that “cash only” works well for many people, but definitely not all! My husband and I are MUCH more disciplined using credit cards than cash. We live well below our means using credit cards which are always paid in full every month, never a late fee or interest in over 20 years of marriage.

      We are all created differently, and I think that sometimes those who promote the cash only/envelope system forget that. For those it works for (Dave Ramsey and his followers) great, but money management is not a one size fits all.

      • Sidney says:

        I could have written your response, almost word-for-word, Lynn! (except that my husband and I haven’t been married 20 years yet)

        Right out of college I moved overseas and lived in a culture where very, very few places took credit cards or checks – so everything was paid for in cash. I once carried the equilivent of over $800 cash from the bank to my travel agent’s office to pay for a plane ticket – and was nervous the entire time. I now don’t like having more than about $20 in my purse at any time.

        And, because we pay our credit cards off in full every month, the rewards we get back really is “free money”

    • Amanda says:

      I also agree that it is harder for me to account for cash. When I used my bank card regularly, I always kept track of my deposits and spending. Then I started using my credit cards to get the cash back. I can keep track of and review my purchases as well as make some money using my cards. We pay our credit cards off monthly. When I have money I seem to forget how and where I spent the money. Some people may keep track of their cash spending, but I do not. I also feel very uncomfortable having any larger sums of money in my purse. I try to carry around $20 cash for smaller after coupon purchases, but much more than that goes right to the bank. My husband works as a sheriff’s deputy and he would also agree carrying around a lot of cash is a bad idea.

  • “Take inventory” is such a good tip! I’ve made it a habit to pick up gifts throughout the year whenever I stumble across killer deals. My problem is I *think* I remember what’s in the gift closet, but I was really surprised when I peeked into it before I headed out Christmas shopping. There was so much good stuff there I’d completely forgotten I’d bought already!

    At least I saw the already-purchased gifts before I spent more money!

    • Andrea says:

      So true. This happens to me with clothes I’ve bought or been given for the kids. Every time I think that I’m going to juggle things to make the clothing budget stretch, I look in my inventory and find that we need a lot less than I had expected!

    • Angela says:

      I buy things throughout the year too. I have shelves in my laundry room where I hide my stash in boxes. I also have a draft email where I keep track of the different things I buy for each person on my list. All I have to do is look at my list and I know what I’ve bought each person.

    • Melissa says:

      Knowing what I had already used to be a problem for me. I would buy things and stash them, then feel ridiculous when I realized how many things I had purchased for my kids, then forgot about. So, I started keeping an inventory notebook. Now, when I buy something, I write it down in my inventory notebook before I stash it, so I know what I have. I think it’s already saved me money this year! I also think it will be helpful when I start wrapping presents. I won’t worry that I forgot about something I bought, because I can check things off my list as I take them out of their hiding spots.

  • Amanda says:

    What wonderful and practical ideas! Christmas should not be a stressful time of year. Instead it should be about Christ’s birth. The entertainment world around us has insisted that Americans are not living up to their Christmas duty unless they have boughten the latest fashion trends and toys and/or have maxed out their credit cards. As Disciples of Christ we should not fall prey to this way of thinking instead glorify the real reason for the season.

  • Same here. I love making a list.

  • Some very good suggestions. May I also add “Start Early” to this list. I start my Christmas Spreadsheet in the summer, so I have months to think of a thoughtful gift AND find it at a good price. (Over the course of 6 months, the thing you want is bound to go on sale!) This saves me from buying for the sake of buying just to have something for that person, and also allows me to make the most of my budget.

  • Sandra says:

    I give the gift of soup to our friends and neighbors. I make several large batches, freeze the soup in large Glad containers (they have the red tops..very holidayish) and deliver them on the 23rd. Everyone loves it! There’s nothing like a great pot of soup on a cold winter’s night, especially after all that holiday food and right at your fingertip. What woman wouldn’t like a night off from cooking? Best of all, I can make it several weeks in advance so as not to interfere with holiday festivities.

  • Mary S. says:

    With regard to number 8 I find a great way to get around this is to plan to buy yourself a hot chocolate or a fancy coffee drink. I try to redeem a Starbucks gift card or something similar from one of my survey sites a few months before Christmas then I hold on to it. I do a lot of my shopping online but usually make one or two big trips into stores. If I know I am going shopping I put it in my purse and if I get an overwhelming urge to buy myself something I just stop in Starbucks. The $3 comes off of a gift card, not my pocket and it takes away the urge to buy myself a $40 sweater just because it is festive.

    I also save money by budgeting what I can afford with cash and then any gift cards I earn with swagbucks or other rewards sites add to that. I always end up with money leftover that way which is a great way to start the new year. The leftover budget money is my gift to myself toward what ever financial goal I am working on.

  • I also wrote a post about saving money this Christmas HERE
    Christmas is one of the most fun time of the year but it doesn’t have to cost a lot! I have a great time looking for bargains!

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