Join my email list and get FREE ACCESS to the MSM Freebie Library, including my top printables & eBooks.

21 Days to a More Organized Christmas: Plan Your Gift List

Once you’ve determined your Christmas Budget, it’s time to break that down further and create a gift list.

1. Use Your Budget As a Guide

If it’s not in the budget, you can’t buy it. Period. And even if it feels like you’re being a scrooge, I promise you that it’s always better to give small and simple gifts that you can afford than to give elaborate, extravagant gifts you buy on credit.

For the first few years of our marriage, we did nothing in the way of gifts for Christmas. We couldn’t afford to buy or make gifts, so we just didn’t. And we survived just fine. It wasn’t our first choice, but it was a sacrifice we made in order to survive law school without debt.

2. Pare Down Your Gift List, If Need Be

Sticking with your Christmas budget may mean that you need to pare down who you buy gifts for. I talked about paring down your gift list in my post on simplifying Christmas yesterday:

Evaluate your gift list: Do you really need to give a gift to your uncle’s neighbor’s dog? I’m pretty sure Fido will survive just fine without another fancy chew toy, so save your money and use it to buy gifts for those you really care about or want to bless.

Creating limits for how many gifts you buy helps to simplify things. reader Ashley says, “We give each of our children three, and only three, Christmas gifts. One gift is always something useful like pajamas; one gift is money for their savings; and one gift is something they want or a fun gift. By limiting the number of fun gifts to just one per child, we are able to say no when we see something they would love, but not love enough to be their fun gift.”

3. Be Free From Guilt or Obligation

Buying a gift for someone out of guilt or obligation gives you no fulfillment. I loved what Rachel from Small Notebook said in her post on simplifying Christmas without the guilt:

Sometimes Christmas seems like putting on a show. It’s wearisome, and it leaves us wanting more.

I’ve been thinking about what a simple Christmas would be like for us, and together with my husband we have chosen some things to cut back on. This means I won’t get to act like Martha and show off my amazing skills. (Which is a good thing, considering my past kitchen disasters.)

More and more, I have to remember that Christmas is not about me. It’s not about what I can do, what I can make, or how organized I can be.

If our Christmas is to resemble the way that Christ came to this earth, then we need to take a step back. The way Jesus was born was humble. It wasn’t a spectacular show. It wasn’t a production. I want my Christmas to reflect that, so I can dwell on him this season. (Read the full post here; it’s really good!)

4. Give Gifts That Are Meaningful

When you plan ahead and make a list of who you are buying gifts for, it allows you to put forth more time and effort into the actual gifts. Instead of hastily throwing together a gift or hurriedly running to the store and getting some generic gifts, planning ahead allows you to consider what would really bless the recipient.

Take time to consider each person on your list individually. Think what would really be meaningful to them. Ask another friend or family member for suggestions if you’re having trouble coming up with them.

Some people find it helpful to keep a running list of gift ideas and to update this list as someone mentions a particular like or interest. My husband does this for me and he always ends up surprising me with a completely unexpected gift that is something I love–all because he wrote down the idea on his list months in advance.

5. Experience Joy in Giving

When we give gifts we can afford and that we’ve put effort and thought into, there’s so much joy in giving! We don’t have to worry about a credit card bill coming in January, we don’t have to feel guilty because we just threw something together at the last minute. We can just thoroughly enjoy giving–no strings or guilt attached!

How do you plan your gift-giving? Do you use a spreadsheet online? Do you use a printed gift planner? Or do you use another method? I’d love to hear what works for you!

photo by yvestown

Practical Application

1. Sometime in the next 24 hours, sit down with your Christmas budget and plan out your Christmas gift list. Start by jotting down all the names of those people whom you’d like to give gifts to and then compare it to your budget.

2. If need be, pare down the list and then set a specific budget amount for each person.

3. Brainstorm possible gift ideas (we’ll talk about this more tomorrow).

Subscribe for free email updates from Money Saving Mom® and get my Guide to Freezer Cooking for free!


  • Robin says:

    So true! My 5 children are ages 14-29. I asked them last Sunday (at our weekly get together meal) what they remembered as a favorite gift. Every single one of them treasures the traditional Christmas eve gift of Jammie’s and slippers. Other than the huge trampoline I set up at 2am one year as a single parent they don’t remember ANY one gift they received! They remember the traditions, tree, candle light church services, cookies and sledding. I was amazed! Don’t stress.

  • Katie says:

    Can I just say I dream of having my home look like that picture haha. But I think I would have to take all the “life” out first and that is just no fun 😉

  • We nail down our Christmas budget and the people we want to buy for in early October. Sometimes we have already picked up several gifts throughout the year if we find items we know certain people will love that are well within the budget. By November we normally have a list of what gift(s) we’re getting/making for each person or family. Then I get busy shopping and crafting homemade gifts.

  • When I stumbled upon this post I had just written one about 30 Ways to Save Money This Holiday Season. I love the holidays but they don’t have to cost a lot. In fact I enjoy them more when they don’t. If anyone wants to see my list it’s here

  • This year we really used our budget as our guide- we had a certain dollar figure in mind, and we spent up to that. When the budgeted money was gone, that was it.

    It is a joyful thing to give when you don’t have to worry about unpaid bills later!

  • April says:

    We do Christmas lists for everyone in our family through email or using a service like With everyone being so spread out and having so many different interests, it is hard to know what everyone wants, has, or will be getting. This way, everyone gets things they need, rather than presents they will put aside and never use. We are able to go through the list, find things that fit into our budget, and buy them, knowing they will like them! And using an online Christmas wish list, we can make sure no one is doubling up!

  • Over the last 17 Christmases my husband and I have had married we have worked to get this Christmas thing down to a science. I don’t want to put it on credit (we don’t have credit cards anyway).

    We use a Christmas Club account at his work to save the money throughout the year.

    We spend a certain amount on each of our daughters, my mom and stepdad, Grandma and Grandpa and a very small amount of each of the (7) nieces and nephews.

    It may not be alot but it works for us and every seems to be pleased.

    I do try to and use whatever money I have for a person to get them something they would really enjoy. 🙂

  • Steph says:

    Drawing names or doing a “White Elephant” exchange is a great way to trim your list and budget down too. This year for the extended Christmas on my mom’s side, each person is to bring an under $5 gift IF they wish to participate in the “White Elephant” exchange. This cuts my list in half for this gathering! With my siblings, we do a “couples” gift exchange with a $30 limit. I only have to buy for one couple (ex. sister and her husband) now instead of five individuals!

  • Here is my most recent post on Christmas organization (my older posts are linked at the bottom):
    I start no later than October, but usually gathering things all year round, wrap each person’s gifts in the same wrapping paper, have bins for stocking stuffers, etc! 🙂

  • Brittany says:

    I know saving x dollars a month so you have money by Christmas works really well for a lot of people, but we do something a little different. Instead of putting money into tons of little envelopes for everything we need to buy throughout the year, in November we pay for 6 months of car insurance, in December we buy presents, in January we will make an expensive medical purchase. basically, as an example, you could put 5$ into 5 envelopes each month to save up, or you could knock out one 25$ thing this month, one 25$ thing next month. this probably wouldnt work for people who are seriously scraping by, but for us (we try to look at saving money over the long haul, not just right now) it works great. and its a lot less to have to keep track of each month.

    Also, we did our budget based off of four paychecks a month, but some months have five–so thats extra money that can go towards whatever financial goal we are working on. This year December has 5 Thursdays–Christmas!

  • Tracey T. says:

    We use cash envelopes to save money for Christmas all year long. Then, I use an Excel spreadsheet to budget for and plan out our Christmas shopping (I love Excel!). It is so nice to know exactly what you have to work with and who you’re shopping for!

  • Marsha says:

    I try to observe Advent as much as possible although I really do enjoy the cultural aspects of Christmas to exist alongside our religious ones! To make these two goals meet in the middle, I begin shopping and preparing right after Memorial Day Not in any “Christmas creep” kind of way, but just keeping in mind budget, wish lists, and a realistic what I’d *like* to do vs. what I actually have time to do. I do a very small minimum of shopping once Advent begins.

    I use Google docs to track everything. It’s free and very flexible – not to mention accessible from my home computer, work laptop, AND my phone! Plus, they can be made password protected to guard against little snoops.

    I create a worksheet tab for each year so I can keep past year’s records on what I bought and how much I spent. Each person for whom I buy has a dedicated column where I jot ideas through the year. Once a gift is bought, the remainder of the ideas are moved to next year’s tab. I also note the website or source of an idea (or link to the instructions for things to be made) as well as its location in my house so I don’t loose things I’ve stashed! There is also a tab where things like clothing sizes, favorite sports teams, authors, etc. are stored.

  • Diane says:

    “Buying a gift for someone out of guilt or obligation gives you no fulfillment.” I totally agree. We barely have enough money to buy gifts for our own children. I want to cut out buying for 3 nieces who live out of state—-they are my husband’s sister’s kids. We only see them once every 3 or 4 years. My husband talks to his sister only every few months and we never talk to the kids unless we’re visiting. I send them money for birthdays, but it’s never acknowledged with a thank you card. I have begged my husband to speak with his sister about cutting this Christmas exchange out. He reluctantly did 3 years ago, but his sister said she still wanted to send gifts to our kids. He won’t even discuss it this year and says he wants to continue it. Anyone have any ideas?

    • sona says:

      I dont have the answer just some insight about my own husband. He rarely speaks to his sibs (all sisters) not out of any anger or hostility I believe, but because men do not take the initiative generally (always exceptions) in these endeavors. Christmas may be the one time where memories/thoughts/regrets are just too strong to ignore….and rather than talking/dealing with it, sending gifts is a way to reduce not just feelings of guilt, but feelings of all kinds joy/pain/wishing etc. I can only speculate that the sisters get tired of being the ones to keep things intact. When I sounded frustrated with the situation and tried to press him, he dug in his heels. So I backed off and later when the “emergency” was over did my best to speak to him calmly and with compassion for what he may be feeling, whether he spoke of it or not. Wondering how I would feel if he suggested I curtail things on MY side of the family, for whatever reason? I suspect I would dig in my heels as well. I do not know the age of your husband but I do know as a little boy, he too had needs that were difficult to express… isnt easier for him today. Ultimately, I gently expressed that if his desire was to continue to connect through gift giving, I thought it would be very special to them and him if he were the one to purchase and send them. He did for a couple years after that then chose to call them instead. Either way, I chose to step back and let him face this touchy situation in his time and way. HTH

      • Diane says:

        That was nicely put. Thank you for your insight. Like your husband, mine and his sister are on good terms, they just rarely call one another. He did take on the role of buying their Christmas gifts 3 years ago but I still continue to do the birthday ones. I may now suggest he take over that role too.

      • Natalie F says:

        My husband has six step-siblings, and they each have several kids. We simply can’t buy them all gifts. We do an ornament exchange among the kids – and homemade ornaments are encouraged. It’s worked out great. Would that be a possible compromise?

        Good luck, sounds like a tough spot to be in. Gifts are not required, could you just send a card for Birthdays?

    • sona says:

      Diane, I just answered in a lengthy way…and it disappeared when I hit “submit”. Will try and respond later.

  • Jessica says:

    Back in September or October, my large family (4 sisters, 3 brothers-in-law, grandparents and 5 cousins) agreed on a $5 limit per person instead of drawing names. It has forced us to be creative and has been lots of fun. As a result, most of us finished our shopping by the end of October! I keep an excel spreadsheet of what I have gotten each person and I highlight the gifts I am still missing or need to purchase. I love keeping all of my Christmas lists organized in excel spreadsheet. There are spreadsheets for gifts, holiday schedule, activities we want to do, Christmas card recipients and items I want to bake. It sounds very OCD, but it’s soooo helpful!

  • Coby says:

    We have paired down our Christmas list….we only buy for our nieces and nephews (5 kids) and only spend about $20 per kid, I make a craft with my son for grandparents (this year we are sending hugs by tracing my son on paper with his arms out and decorating, then folding the arms like a hug.) We do buy one big gift for our son. Stockings are filled with PJs socks and undies. My husband and I do not buy for each other, if we have extra in the budget we will get something we need for the house or something that can be used as a family. That’s it. Simple and cheap! Plus we asked our parents and grandparents to only send money….no toys for my son. We are using it to buy annual passes to Sea World, cuts down on toy clutter and is enjoyed much more for a longer period of time!

  • We don’t have a huge list–our parents, grandparents, sibling and kids. Plus a couple close friends/neighbors. We assign everyone a budget though and stick to it! The kids get a gift and stocking from Santa, a gift from us and a gift to give each other. We don’t buy gifts for each other — it saves a lot of money, time and stress from our holiday budget. You can read my post about it here:

  • Carol says:

    We set up a rule that we only buy gifts for our parents, and siblings (although once married, with children, we only buys gifts for each others kids.)
    My children get 2 gifts apiece. One practical. One desire.
    My husband and I saved up this year, and we’re spurging on a nice propane fireplace insert as a gift to ourselves.
    (Normally, we don’t get each other gifts, though.)

    We have a set dollar limit.
    Everyone sends a list through e-mail before Thanksgiving.
    The lists are put into a notebook where I jot down the prices that I find online.
    This way, I know exactly which items I can afford to buy that are within my limit.
    I prefer to buy all gifts online. It’s much easier for me to stick within my budget that way! (We live very simply, and I’m quite content….until I go to the store and find out how many “things” I need LOL. I try to stay out of stores, period!)

  • Rachael says:

    For the first time, we are using an Excel spreadsheet for Christmas and it is working. We are actually UNDER budget. We’ve been using a lot of deals and free coupons to help pay for things. I actually bought my son’s Christmas outfit for $2 new. No guilt this year 🙂

  • Natalie F says:

    This was a fantastic post!
    My extended family has decided rather than exchange gifts among adults (large family) or even draw names – we would rather adopt a family at Christmas time or make a group donation to a local food shelf. Last year money was tight, so we did a “spare change” collection and among all of us, we still were able to donate a decent amount.

    The kids draw names and have a small exchange.

  • Amani S. says:

    My husband always has a dollar amount in mind that he wants to spend on our two boys. I’m assamed to admit the amount in these times when so many people are having rough times. We really need to cut back. However it make me feel better that I am able to give to many family, friends and neighbors at nearly Zero dollars! I collect items all year long when sales and coupons allow. I love being able to give great gifts. And I don’t let anyone know ahead of time. This way they don’t feel the pressure to add me to thier list.

Money Saving Mom® Comment Policy

We love comments from readers, so chime in with your thoughts below! We do our best to keep this blog upbeat and encouraging, so please keep your comments cordial and kind. Read more information on our comment policy.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *