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21 Days to a Simple Christmas: Day 2 {Update}

Join the 21 Days to a Simple Christmas Challenge

Today’s project was to read Chapter 1 of Celebrating & Savoring a Simple Christmas (Did you sign up for your free copy yet? If not, click here and fill out the form to be emailed a copy.) and to determine your Christmas budget.

Our Christmas Budget

We typically start planning for Christmas spending halfway through the year. Since we use a cash envelope system, we just start socking away most of our gift cash for Christmas. In addition, we also save up our Swagbucks Amazon gift cards to use for Christmas presents. And I keep my eyes open for other ways to earn free gift cards or products that would be good for gifting.

By the time December rolls around, I usually have a nice stash of gift cash plus gift cards to use for gifts and this becomes our Christmas budget. By doing it this way, we don’t have to dip into any of our regular savings or other money to pay for Christmas–we just have to plan ahead and then look for deals to stretch that money as far as possible.

This year, I’ve saved up around $250 in our gift envelope plus Amazon credit that I’ll be using for gifts. We’re scaling back on Christmas presents this year and just drawing names for our extended family members, so this should make it pretty easy to stick with our budget.

Jesse has a separate cash stash that he uses to buy gifts for me and our kids for Christmas (most of it is from his blow money!), so I only buy a few things for the kids. I found a couple of deals on Black Friday that I snatched up, so other than stockings, I’m done with their shopping!

Did you figure out your Christmas budget? Share it with us in the comments. And if you’re blogging about this challenge, I’d love it if you left a link to your blog post, too. Let’s encourage each other to simplify and savor this season more.

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  • Honestly, it feels a little late to be budgeting for this year well, but I’m definitely going to try to set money aside next year. Luckily, I try to do my Christmas shopping throughout the year when I come across great deals instead of trying to do it all in the last few weeks before Christmas day.

    Simply Christmas Day 2 at Harvey Ever After

  • Shelly says:

    We also draw names for extended family and it makes the shopping and budgeting so much better. I have most of our shopping done too. I just have a few more presents to purchase and I’ll be done. Our budget also includes money for purchasing the supplies for my holiday baking. I bake quite a few different cookies and make candy for all of our neighbors, family and friends.

    Here’s my post for day 2,

  • Jessica says:

    I budget $100 out of pocket per child and we have 3 kids, ages 7, 3, and the baby will be 1 on Christmas Eve. If I have credit or other gift cards I’ve saved up, I use that too.

    The baby’s $100 was spent on commissioning my friend to sew a quilt from the receiving blankets.

    As for the older two, we bought a family iPad mini as a gift. I got it for $299 plus I got back an $80 off your next shopping order at Meijer when I bought it. I juggled my budget around so that $80 of the iPad’s cost was grocery, since I’ll be using the $80 coupon on groceries. I also had $100+ in credit- a combo of swagbucks and $75 from participating in our health insurance’s program. I used $20+ for some grocery staples and then the rest for a few Lego sets. The stocking stuffers were free after rewards items from the drug stores on Black Friday.

    So, I’m done with shopping!

  • Do you happen to have any tips on how you convinced the extended family that drawing names is a good idea? I’ve tried to convince them for years, but no go so far… and buying all those presents HURTS. Even when we find discounted items to purchase. There are just so many!

    • Jenny says:


      I don’t know if this will help you but I wrote about my struggle with emotional triggers yesterday in this challenge. We resisted drawing names for the family because I enjoy buying everyone a little something. But instead, of buying EVERYONE a $20-$50 gift, as some of my friends and coworkers do, we buy the family a $20 gift and then spend a token amount of a few dollars on each member of the family.

      Sometimes these are trinkets, used items (like discount books or summer clothes that were on sale for a couple bucks at kohls’ for the kids, always purchased 1-2 sizes larger so they fit them next summer), or a token gift card to Starbucks or McDonalds. This way we aren’t plagued with hundreds of dollars of gifts per family. If you have more time (and creativity) than money, homemade crafts and baked goods can be a frugal way to gift to everyone.

      I hope you can figure out a way to gift to your family without breaking your budget this year!

    • Jennifer says:

      Sadly sometimes the only option is being the “rogue” family member and just refusing to purchase gifts for everyone:) You could tell them you are making goodies for each family instead. My extended family decided a long time ago to only buy for the kiddos but this year even that changed. We just had all the kids exchange names and set a $25ish budget they could spend. The kids have loved it! They love picking out the gifts and I loved being able to purchase a more “quality” item that the child really wants.

    • Pamela says:

      We recently moved near my husband’s very large extended family. We are hosting a huge extended Family Christmas Party and have rented a meeting room at a local hotel in a nearby smaller community. It is a beautiful space and is not widely used. I priced several different venues and this option was by far the least expensive. It was less money that renting a room at the local library.

      This family Christmas party is OUR GIFT to my husband’s entire family and it is this Saturday. We are so excited to not be buying presents for his siblings and their spouses and children. We invited his uncles and aunts as well as the grandparents.

      (I did go ahead and make a photo calendar for my in-laws, as my mother-in-law loves to receive her yearly photo calendar. However, I was able to purchase one calendar and get two free, so it cut the price in thirds and I was able to cross two other gifts off of my list).

      We are hopeful that this party goes well and that it will become our yearly tradition. I have shopped the sales to purchase snacky food items at rock bottom prices ( I got 2 huge boxes of catering crackers that would normally cost $16.00 to $20.00 a box for $2.50 each), and purchased all the vegetables for the vegie tray last night at Aldi before they changed their sale flyer today. I will be making the rest of the food from scratch tomorrow.

      For the table decorations, I used Christmas things from my home. We will be having a children’s table where all 20 cousins will be making an ornament for their parents for Christmas. I bought the classroom size ornament kit when it was 50% off, so the final cost per ornament is less than 25 cents a piece. For the wrapping of the ornaments, we are putting them in individual white paper lunch sacks, with the ornament wrapped in a half sheet of tissue paper. I punched holes in the top of the lunch sacks and tied the sacks with baker’s twine.

      Looking forward to the party!

  • Jenny says:

    We are always very good about budgeting for Christmas.

    But then, when the actual parties and time to gift arrives, we suffer from emotional triggers like “Did we spend enough?” and “What will people think if we do/don’t…” so that’s what I wrote about today.

    Also, doing the bucket list each year helps us prioritize what’s most important and truthfully, half of our activities cost little to no money each year. That keeps the spirit of the holidays and our holiday priorities in order.

    But sometimes I feel like the only one who says “No” to spending more at Christmas when those emotional triggers go off. Most of my friends, family and coworkers spend it and worry about it in January.

    I wrote about my struggles here at

  • Melissa says:

    This year is the first year I feel so in control of my spending and I actually think that I have allotted more $$ than we may need! WooHoo! A first!
    We don’t buy for my family – a decision based back a few years when the economy tanked so bad – each family decided that we would instead just spend time together (my parent’s still buy for the children and they do us up a large basket of fruit and goodies to enjoy over the holiday, but we don’t buy for them because they say they don’t need or want anything other than time with us) – I do a pretty large amount of cooking Christmas Eve and host anyone in the family that can come on Christmas Day to just enjoy the food/fellowship.
    This year will be the first that we won’t be buying for my husband’s family (due to a long story, that I won’t bother with here, but safe to say, that cut a huge chunk of spending off my list and that’s a good thing).
    We do homemade gifts for neighbors, friends, etc that we want to “give something” to – and my children help. We have only a few friends we actually buy for, and our 4 children. I did the “Yearly Savings Plan” this year, so I have a good bit of $$ socked away and expect I will have plenty left over even after gifts and groceries for our meal. We spend about $30-50 or so on each child (they get one big gift each based on what they REALLY want) and then about $10-15 on stocking stuffers for them(most of their stuff in stockings is stuff I gather through the years, drug store deals, discounted or free gift cards from points rewards, etc). Since we don’t spend a lot individually on each child, we do a “family” gift – last year was a trip to FL to stay with their favorite Aunt & Uncle for Christmas (which was free except for gas and some food while traveling because they have a huge house for us and feed us like royalty lol). This year, we have plans for a long weekend at the beach – rates are super cheap and this helps up maintain the goal we set to spend more $ on “time” together than on “things” that waste away.

  • We set money aside all year so that we can have it all ready to go at Christmas. And like others we also save up our gift cards in order to use those at Christmas. It’s really great to go into January knowing you won’t owe money for the gifts you give.
    My husbands side of the family is big so we draw names and that helps to keep us in our budget.

  • Sarah E says:

    I only started saving back in October, but I was able to set aside about $250. We are only spending about $50 on our 2 children and then we don’t give to siblings anymore {only to the kids}, so that helps. Also, my husband and I usually don’t give to each other or if we do, we agree to spend no more than $20 a person. I like the idea of setting aside money back in the summer so that we’re not scrambling at the last minute. Great idea! Planning is key! I’ve been blogging each week about this as well. My post on budgeting is:

  • Victoria says:

    I set our Christmas budget each January based on what we spent for Christmas. It normally gets paid for with my husband’s third checks (he gets paid every other week, but we base our budget on what 2 checks a month would be, so twice a year we get what we call a third check, which pays for Christmas and Homeschooling supplies). We really only buy for our family of five, the extended family stopped giving gifts to each other years ago. So our gift budget is not a lot, however with no extended family in town I try to do a lot of activities during the month of December and those add up and are included in our Christmas budget. For instance we do a shopping weekend just my husband and I that includes 2 nights hotel, a family shopping day with the kids that includes a meal out at something fancier than our normal value menu type stops, a stop for hot chocolate before driving through 2 local towns light shows, a family movie night at the BIG theater and usually a 3D one at that (rest of the year it is Netflix). Then there is the annual cookie decorating party where I go through pounds of butter, flour, sugar, eggs and a tonne of sprinkles. Events like these are in the Christmas budget as well as a small stash of money for after Christmas sales to pick up new lights, wrapping paper and such for the next Christmas.

  • Because our income is irregular and is still so small, I plan our Christmas and birthday giving differently. Starting in January, I write down ideas for each child for birthdays and Christmas. As the year continues, I add to the list from things that are mentioned.

    Most items on the list are handmade, and can be made from things I already have on hand. I go to two community garage sales a year, where I look for items on my list as well as supplies to make the gifts on my list.

    I used $15 of survey money to purchase supplies on Etsy to make some gifts this year.

    I used some Amazon credit to purchase a few things throughout the year.

    Here ismy gift list for my 7 children, ages 1-12. As I make each gift I am blogging about it in my Gift a Day series.

  • Karen says:

    This year we are budgeting $250 for gifts for the 5 of us, ($90 of that is on Amazon gift cards) 4 more gifts for extended family, candy etc.

    For the 4 other people on our list we are giving grandparents and an aunt mini picture albums that we are filling with pictures of our family from the past year of us doing different outings. Most of them are group shots of our family. Since they all live away from us this is a great way for them to share in our lives and see our kids. The pictures we are using for these albums we have gotten really cheap or free from Walgreens. So this has been a really inexpensive gift. I have found that our parents have everything they need or want so this is a practical small gift that they will enjoy more than something that will clutter up their house.

    I blogged about this challenge here :

  • lyss says:

    Curious if your drawing names for extended family members includes everyone? I’m a similar age as you, and come from a big family. So us adult kids(5 kids plus 4 spouses means 9 of us) draw names, which is a huge help. But our parents are not included in the name drawing, so we give to them. And then there’s the little kids to buy for who are not included in the drawing(3 siblings who still live at home plus grandkids, which is a growing number!) So even with our name drawing, we still have 8 people to buy for on my side of the family. And my husband’s side won’t draw names. It’s not that I don’t want to give, it’s just that there’s so many!!! Do you include parents and all children? I would think little kids could be included, and parents would of course do the gift-buying. Any thoughts from anyone from large families?

    • L says:

      What if just the kids draw names? This is just me, and I am somewhat conservative, but I think most adults buy the things they want/need anyway?

    • Crystal says:

      On my family’s side, we draw names for everyone — babies included. That way, everyone just has to buy the number of gifts that they have family members. On my husband’s family’s side, they draw names for siblings/family groups only. So each person/family group just has one person to buy for.

      • lyss says:

        Thanks for your reply. That sounds so much simpler. For this year, we’re already set, but maybe I can spark a suggestion discussion for next year. Especially since our family is growing…3 more expected next year with a wedding and also 2 babies on the way! That will give my parents 19 kids/spouses/grandkids! I love that they are generous, but really, maybe they should draw names, too. We shall see. : )

  • Maureen says:

    We tied our Discover points directly to our Amazon account. I also use my Swagbucks points. I also try to find really good deals throughout the year for our three girls on Amazon. This year I found necklaces for $1 each and nail art brushes for 50 cents each. By the end of the year, our entire Christmas is paid for.

  • Shannon says:

    This year’s shopping is almost done. I did a few gifts early, when I saw things people would love. We also went in with some friends to make wine this year (a gift for some of the adults). I spent a $25 gift card on some BOGO Lego sets at Toys-R-Us. I also got a $50 gift card for transferring some prescriptions – lots of pharmacies are offering this this month, and some who aren’t offering will match the deal. Our house only has 2 prescriptions for the little ones’ flouride which only runs $15 for both — net gain $35 Christmas cash. I used this to shop Black Friday to get jeans, a donut maker, and some other small gifts and stocking stuffers. A zillion drug store freebies from the same week polished off the stockings. Some rewards bucks from the $50 deal and some additional coupons made another craft set free (and will give me $5 toward my next order). $35 in amazon cards became 2 music cds (spent $3 for shipping). A few homemade food gifts, jams, jellies, and the like. One more gift from etsy – the most expensive by far, but the recipient has a value/money hangup, so it’s worth it to spend more on her so that she feels “Christmas-ed”- , and one “Save-A-Round” coupon book for the more thrifty among us, and I’m done, wrapped, and under the tree.

    Christmas on a budget is MORE FUN than worrying about what you’ve over spent.

    OOP this Christmas for 21 recipients — $110 in gift cards (including $35 from Swagbucks and the pharmacy) and about $120 cash. CHA-CHING!

  • Laura says:

    I don’t have a budget written out but we always keep it to one big item for each child and then get deals on clothes and fun stuff. We also like to buy games. This keeps us together and spending purposeful time with each other!
    Our six kids and spouses do a gift exchange with a $30 limit. (Our kids are all over the age of 15.) I have 3 grandchildren and we contribute $25/month to each of their 529 college savings accounts. This is the bulk of their Christmas and birthday gifts from us. We will buy something small for them, usually clothes, because they already have all the toys they need.
    My husband and I usually opt for an event gift that we can share like a pro football game or wine tasting dinner. This year we are going to the Big Ten Championship game on Saturday!!!! OH – IO!!

  • I’ve decided to keep each gift for my immediate family at or under $25.00. Hopefully I can make gifts for friends and other relatives. I have about three gifts already.

  • We start putting money away mid-year for Christmas, too. And the year before last I had enough Swagbucks to do ALL of our Christmas shopping!

    But what I want to mention is, one of the ways we keep our budget down each year is by shopping at a store near us called “Five Below.” Everything in the store is $5 or less (plus tax, of course). Now, I can’t vouch for “Five Below” stores in other areas but the one by me has good quality games and items (including brand names).

    Several of my nieces love crafts and the other day I bought all of them quality craft sets from there!

  • Tina Kaye says:

    Our budgeting began January 1, when we discussed the total to spend on gifts for the year (birthdays, baby showers, weddings, Christmas, etc.). We looked at what was gathered in mid-November and started estimating how many gifts for teachers, leaders, and gift exchanges needed to come out of that amount, then decided about what to spend per person in our household. Since we have kids ages 3-16, we decided less was needed for some than others, too. We don’t aim to treat them all equally, just similarly at the same age and appropriately for that individual’s maturity. (e.g., A budget of $100 won’t go far with the teens, but it’s a ton of stuff for a toddler.)

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