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21 Days to a More Organized Christmas: Creating & Sticking With a Christmas Budget

One of the key elements to enjoying a stress-free and organized Christmas is to plan a Christmas budget and stick with it. Here are four tips to help you:

1. Create a Budget

Yes, it’s kind of a no-brainer, but you can’t stick with your Christmas budget if you don’t have a budget in the first place. Take some time to look over your bank account and the money you have available, and the money you’ll have coming in over the next week or two (if any), and decide what is a realistic budget amount to set aside for Christmas.

If possible, only budget money you already have on hand, not money you are expecting to get in a paycheck soon. That way, you’re not banking on being able to spend money you don’t already have.

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 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.

2. Make a Plan

After you get your Christmas budget created, sit down and make a list of everyone you need to buy Christmas gifts for. There’s a free printable Master Christmas Gift list here you can use to keep track of everyone you plan to buy for and what you’re planning to buy. If you prefer to keep a running total on a spreadsheet, you can download the Excel Christmas Budgeting Worksheet here to help you stay organized and stick with your budget.

3. Use Cash

If you’re at all tempted to go over your written Christmas budget, I highly recommend that you have a cash-only Christmas. Take the money you’ve allotted for your Christmas budget out of the bank in cash and then only use that money to pay for your Christmas gifts. This will force you to carefully evaluate each purchase to make sure it is the best use of your money and it will guarantee you don’t go over-budget.

Since many of the best deals are online, I suggest that you either use Paypal and refund the money to your bank account immediately from your cash envelope or take money from your cash envelopes and purchase gift cards for your online purchases. This is a bit more of a hassle, but it means you don’t have to worry about any staggering credit card bills come January!

4. Keep It Simple

Christmas should not be about impressing people with expensive gifts. If you’re going to give someone a gift, do it to bless them. Meaningful gifts don’t have to be extravagant and costly. Consider giving experience gifts or handmade gifts as opposed to high-dollar items. Sometimes, the most remembered gifts are those that took time and thought, not money.

photo by yvestown

What are your tips and tricks for sticking with your Christmas budget? I’d love to hear!

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  • We also make a plan and use a spreadsheet. This year, we decided on both sides of our family that we would all only buy gifts for children. For us, that means we are buying 6 gifts. Also, all of us are fine with second-hand gifts from consignment stores, etc.

    Communicating all of this with everyone early really helps, and everyone was thrilled with the idea.

  • Planning early really helps. 🙂 We try to save money throughout the year and purchase items when we find them on sale.

    I have some free printable planners on my site if anyone needs them:

    Christmas Gift Master List (brainstorm all the gifts you want to give this season onto this categorized list):

    Christmas Gift Planner (includes space for names, gift ideas, budget amount and a column to check when the gift has been purchased.)

  • Crystal says:

    This year I have put all of the gifts purchased into a spreadsheet. This has really helped me to “see” what we have bought for our kids so we don’t go overboard. I agree that the cash system is best, but there are some good reward cards out there too that can help you earn store credit. You just have to be careful and make sure you pay the card off quickly. I am also making some of the gifts we will give.

  • We love baking bread and cookies as gifts for friends and neighbors. Another simple idea is a homemade chai tea kit.

    Otherwise, we do like you and only pay cash. We set aside all year for it, and it’s a wonderful feeling to leave the month of December without any additional bills! True peace!


  • My husband and I have a $30 gift budget for each other in this season of student life and it is really quite fun to see how well we can stretch that money!

  • Jen says:

    We have found that putting a set amount of cash into a “Christmas” envelope each month works for us. We decide how much we will spend on Christmas (using prior years as a guide), divide that amount by 12, and put that line item right into our written budget. It seems strange to be budgeting for Christmas when it’s only March, but it’s such a relief in Nov/Dec when the money is already there!

  • Caron says:

    I would like to remind people that it is ok not to give too. At my workplace, we do not do secret santa anymore or exchange gifts. We pick a charity and donate items instead. What a relief to not spend energy and time buying gifts for people you may not know that well. I am the recipient of gifts every year that are immediately regifted. Coffee and tea sets (I don’t drink either) are one example. I would rather receive a heartfelt “Merry Christmas” then a gift that collects dust. I no longer buy for my child’s friends or cousins. They have too much anyway and I feel the best, simple gifts (like art supplies) are over-looked with the excitement of light-up, noise making gadgets. I have well-too- do friends who have everything they want. One year I gave them a box of oranges and they raved about it. Don’t be afraid that someone will notice that you aren’t giving and don’t make excuses. I wonder why so much emphasis on gifts when I get less Christmas cards every year. I would rather have the card! I used to shop for 15-20 people. Now I shop for 5 or 6, and I finish by Dec. 1st so that I can enjoy the holiday concerts and plays instead of shopping! Staying out of the stores as much as possible in December is probably the simplest way to keep to a budget. Especially if you have couponed all year and your freezer is full and your cupboards are full of food, toilet paper and toothpaste!

  • Heather says:

    We fill the space under our tree with lots of necessities and gifts under $2.00.

  • I’m implementing an idea I’ve seen all over Pinterest where my husband and our kids will each get something they Want, Need, (to) Wear, Read. I was able to get gift cards at a grocery store when they ran a promotion that gave free groceries after purchasing the cards. Money I would have normally spent on groceries became Christmas money. I’ve learned lots of tips and tricks this year and have also gotten activity gifts through Living Social (tickets to events). Finally, I’ve used Etsy as a great resource for unique gifts like a handmade bookmark for someone who’s a huge Wicked musical fan.

  • Anna says:

    We shop year round for Christmas presents. I have 15 nieces/nephews on my side and we buy them pjs for Christmas, we buy them in Feb. and store them for next year! Saves a TON and it saves the headache of doing shopping during the CRAZY season!

  • Nick says:

    Between simplicity, discipline, and maintaining realistic expectations and a focus on what Christmas really is about, Christmas doens’t have to be hard or out of control.

    We tell our son (2 and a half) that Santa comes to give “a present” to the good boys and girls to celebrate the birth of “Christoolie” – the Greek word used when we talk with kids about Christ. So our son expects to get “a present” if he’s a good boy. In fact, since we already bought him a mini table, he’s expecting to get “a table on Christoolie’s birthday” if he’s good. Any advice from parents of older kids?

    Of course, managing expectations of 30-year-old toddlers is more difficult, but at some point you just need to get back to basics and tell it how it is! 🙂

    Great post.

  • Sandra says:

    I’m always keeping my ears open for ideas throughout the year. I find almost everyone mentions something about an item they’d like just in conversation and not necessarily at the holidays. I keep the ideas in mind and as the year passes and sales present themselves, I buy as I can. I also try to keep my budget to the surveys and studies I do througout the year or with the gift cards I get from points I earn on my credit cards. I pay my credit cards off each month without ever paying interest so, it’s like free money to me. This year I earned $150 on one 3-day study alone. It sure does make holiday shopping a whole lot easier.

  • Kendra says:

    My husband and i both have large extended families who love giving and receiving gifts at Christmas as well as many friends that we buy for, which is great fun but adds up soooo quickly if we’re not careful. One thing i do isI shop for Christmas gifts all year long. When I see something that makes me think of someone, I pick it up and save it for Christmas to help spread out the expense and limit last minute stress. I also save any giftcards that I receive throughout the year and try to use them for Christmas shopping. I have also been known to re-gift if say I receive something from a co-worker that I know I’m not going to use but that I know my mother-in-law or cousin or whoever would really enjoy, why not!?! This year I am also trying my hand for the first time at making many of the gifts we will be giving (mostly from ideas I’ve gotten from MSM!) so wish me luck!

  • HokieKate says:

    We trimmed our budget by giving gifts to families. I have four siblings at home, and I sent one gift for the whole family in that house rather than six (four siblings + Mom + Dad) individual gifts. We’re also just sending one gift to my in-laws.

    • Andrea says:

      One of the best gifts we ever received was a box of hot cocoa, a bag of marshmallows, candy canes and a holiday movie to watch together as a family. $30 for a family of six…less if you hit a good sale on DVDs and use coupons!

  • Amy says:

    This is the first year I have actually budgeted for Christmas gifts and it’s been a huge stress reliever. However for next year I need to include other things that come up for Christmas such as Christmas cards, baking supplies and the extra grocery costs for holiday company. But each year is a learning process with this budgeting, I appreciate all the advice you have Crystal it’s changed my life. Thank you.

  • I make an Excel spreadsheet like this one to stay organized:

    I should add I make this spreadsheet the summer before Christmas so I can start thinking about gifts and thoughtful ideas early, instead of buying for the sake of buying (usually full price) later in the season because I haven’t thought about my gifts.

    Finally, I stick to my budget by remembering that the best things aren’t things. It’s not OUR birthday, it’s not our children’s birthdays. It’s Jesus’ birthday, and our gifts should be to bless those we love, not overdo it and see how much we can spend.

  • Meredith says:

    I hate to stray off topic but could someone tell me how they got that tabletop in the photo above? Is that a fabric or something. That’s way too cute.

    • Jenni says:

      I don’t know for sure, but I’m guessing that it’s either an oilcloth or laminated cotton covering because of the reflection. Or, who knows, maybe they actually painted it :).

  • Niki says:

    I get discombobulated in a busy store and buy stuff I don’t need. I try to do some shopping during the slow time of year. We budget through the year for Christmas, then I buy online. Otherwise, I blow the budget.

  • I keep who I am buying for very simple, my best friend and I spend time together instead of buying for each other. It means more to us then a knick knack anyways.

    Since I run a money saving website, I like to challenge myself by setting a budget per person and then seeing how much I can get for someone within that budget. Usually the retail value is more than double the budget value!

  • Kristie says:

    Well, with 6 kids, and a small-country-church pastor’s salary, I absolutely LOVE hunting for bargains all year long. I start Christmas shopping in January, with the post-Christmas clearance racks. And I love, love, LOVE ebay!! Our kids appreciate that we are on a tight budget, so they do not expect electronics for Christmas. But I love being able to fill the tree with fun presents that I got for a fraction of the retail cost: books from series they like, used clothing, even art supplies (brand new!). We just love Christmas around our house. And for those outside our family–we love to make special food treats for teachers and friends.

  • Sarah says:

    Last year, I started putting all my “extra” money in an account for an old fashioned “Christmas Club”. I get money from doing surveys, selling at consignment shops, etc, and just from July to November last year I had saved up over $700! I used to let that money just fritter away, and it was so fun to pull it out of the bank before Black Friday and have cash to spend. With bargain shopping, it can go a long way! This year, we started saving in January and in July it was obvious it was a banner year, so we decided to go for Disney this year. Thus, we are buying very few gifts and Disney is our gift to all of us!

  • Kandy says:

    This year we set up a Christmas fund account at our bank and signed up for a program where they take $1 out of our checking account and move it to our savings account every time we use our debit card. You don’t even notice it, and now we have plenty of money available for Christmas!

    • Mandi says:

      Last year we purchased a Wii as a gift for the whole family, so we only bought about 2 smallish individual gifts for our kids. Between those gifts and what they got from grandparents and our cousin pj gift exchange, our kids had plenty to open on Christmas. I realized that even without the Wii our kids would have been fine, so I’m trying to do the same thing this year (minus the Wii!) Our kids will get a stocking (on the smaller size), 2 gifts (I’m spending about $30 to $40 total per kid on these), and a one “all the kids” gift (Pictionary Jr- they love to draw!) It was just an eye opener last year that it’s really not necessary to go overboard (something I have a tendency to do!) in our family.

  • Becky says:

    This is the first year I have ever had a Christmas budget. It’s small, but with it we were able to buy our son a handful of nice gifts, photo calendars for family and by getting a little creative, we were able to get gifts for everyone on our list. I included in this budget anything related to Christmas – the cards and postage to mail the cards, the ornament I always get each year, the Santa pictures, gifts, etc. It helped me not to go overboard with gifts for our son, and reminds me to keep it simple. I’d like to increase that budget for next year and start saving in January – I started saving for Christmas in Aug/Sep and had it fully funded by October. I’m nearly done shopping and the cards are all sent. I will be doing a Christmas envelope from now on, it gave me such peace. 🙂

  • Erin says:

    We have at our house what we call “The Treasure Box”. Its a stash I keep for when I need a gift. When I find an amazing deal on a baby item, free lotion, toys, clothes, ect. or come across something that reminds me of someone, I pick it up using money from our weekly cash budget. I also put in there items to re-gift. Then when I am invited to a shower, birthday party, ect. I have a box full of gifts to choose from! Come Christmas, our treasure box is usually full of items I already found and most everyone on our list already has a gift. And all at little to no cost to me! Plus, it has saved me many times in a pinch when I didn’t realize it was someone’s birthday or forgot about that shower I was invited to!

  • Emilie says:

    This is our first year with a budget and me without a credit card. Very different but so great to know that the balance on the cedit card will nto change even with my shopping. It really makes me think, if we need an item and to watch the sales to get the best deal. I have already returned three gifts as I was able to get a better price somewhere else.
    My sisters and I are doing all handmade for each other and our parents. It has been fun to make the crafts, but I could use a great idea for my dad.
    The other thing we budgeted for is food. Groceries at Thanksgiving and Christmas (and birthdays) is always more as we feed more people than normal and make extras like peanut butter balls and pickled eggs.

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