The holiday season is just around the corner. The shopping malls are especially eager – Christmas trees, lights, and decorations have been up for weeks, all to get us in the mood to spend, spend, spend. :-)

With this special time of year comes a special budget: Many of us buy gifts for friends and loved ones. With that in mind, how can I avoid going overboard and getting into debt during the holiday season?

  • I can't add any :( I'm notoriously bad for breaking the bank. I am eager to find out how others manage to make the season special without going into debt though!
    – Nat_Rea
    Nov 21, 2009 at 21:36

9 Answers 9


My wife and I made a pact with each other and my side of the family years ago that Christmas should not be about the commercialism or material things. It should be about the togetherness. So we all agreed that it's best to focus on what the holiday season is really about instead of getting sucked into consumerism.

Plus, my wife and I live in New York and my family's in California, so making the cross-country trip during the holidays is a big expense on its own, and everyone agrees that our being there to spend time together is enough of a gift for all of us.

We've all been happier and much less stressed ever since -- now that we no longer succumb to the consumerism that's hijacked the spirit of the holiday season.

Why must Christmas be so much about stuff?

  • 3
    Stuff is for the kids. With no kids, I can really see your point.
    – MrChrister
    Nov 22, 2009 at 19:53

I start shopping the sales and clearances right after our annual trip to Santa's Village. That way, the kids know they have seen Santa, and I can look for the best deal. Also, in our house, Santa only brings one gift (Grandparents and Aunts and Uncles fill in all the other massive amounts of toys). Mommy and Daddy generally take care of the pratical stuff like pj's...boring..but the kids don't mind


I make a list based on our holiday budget and starting in September I start watching for sales in stores and online. I buy if I see good deals and then I take 1 day in November to go out and do the remainder of my shopping all at once. When I'm done, I'm done. Saves me from endless trips to the malls where I would tend to buy items I didn't need for myself or just keep adding to the pile for the kids.


One way to save money is to participate in an anonymous group gift exchange:

  1. Participating friends & family each put their name in a basket.
  2. Each participant draws a single name from the basket.
    (Rules may apply such as "can't pick your spouse", "can't pick the person you had last year", etc.)
  3. You buy a gift only for the person whose name was drawn and nobody else in the group.
  4. The budget is a set amount such as $50 or $100. Sometimes, it buys multiple smaller gifts.
  5. A central "wish list" can be used to help a person find out what a given participant might want.
  6. (unofficially, some people may "trade names")

I participate in such an exchange with a small group of family members. It helps keep costs down, plus provides a great excuse for the group to get together over the holidays for a pot luck dinner.

  • +1 We do this among my siblings (there are 7 of us...), it means you get one gift that you might actually want, rather than a pile of "comedy" gifts that probably cost a lot more Dec 8, 2009 at 20:34

We have streamlined our gift list every year in attempts to control the "stuff" factor. We used to buy for all siblings, all nieces and nephews, a draw for extended family (cousins, etc), many friends, their children, etc. I love buying gifts, giving gifts, but started to feel like I was just shopping to get it done some years. And that I was buying for and receiving from people who already have so much...why were we all exchanging more and more things for the home, etc?

Be brave. Talk to a few close friends, send an email if it's hard face to face. Tell them that it seems like we all have so much, more good fortune and lovely things than one family can enjoy...would they consider limiting gifts to just the children? I have always found that people are eager to cut down on the amount of stuff they receive as well, and I usually just add a note saying...this Christmas, instead of spending a morning shopping for me, please come visit me instead! Let's make time to see each other instead of shopping for each other. Let's face it, many people you know will either share your desire to cut down on the consumerism, or will be trying to control costs and will welcome the suggestion.

We opted out of a very extended family draw, started a family draw in our growing immediate family, and agreed to only purchase for kids in another family. One group of adults may even opt out of the exchange to make a group donation. And my husband and I typically cut our budget in half for ourselves...if we are okay spending X, then we take half and donate it and then splurge on something for ourselves or for our home with the rest.

Slowly, our list becomes more manageable, full of kids' names and ideas of toys or things they would enjoy. THAT's a Christmas list I can be happy with.

  • +1 I hate receiving and giving gifts that I know were bought just to satisfy the status-quo. I would much rather spend several hour having lunch/coffee/breakfast with an extended family member or friend than have them spend those hours buying me something I don't need or particularly want.
    – crasic
    Jun 4, 2011 at 17:50

I guilt the heck out of my spouse, who really wants to shop more than I allow:

  1. Kids get gifts only. Adults can appreciate the togetherness.
  2. Plan ahead. Spend a weekend thinking about what to get, then spend a different weekend shopping online for a good price.
  3. Free shipping only (if you are shopping online)

Like anything it is about the budget. You must adhere to your budget. The only way I have accomplished this is to think about how I am taking away from my daughter's future if I waste money today.


Another couple of tips, specifically addressing the cost issue:

  1. Make a budget. Yes, a budget for gifts. Make a list of gifts to buy, put a dollar amount next to each that sounds reasonable. Then add in two amounts for extra grocery store runs, one before Christmas and one before New Years. Add in another figure to represent a run to the local liquor store for wine, beer, etc if you drink and are planning to entertain, have overnight guests, etc. Now add all the figures together. If your jaw drops and you feel weak and dizzy...go back and adjust the figures. Cut those numbers down until the total doesn't scare you. Now you have your budget.

  2. A tip I learned a long time ago when we were budgeting and trying to save money...if you are paid biweekly, there are a couple of months every year in which you will receive three paycheques instead of two. Now, your mortgage may also be biweekly, but many of your expenses will be monthly...think car insurance, loan payments, life insurance, house bills. If you set up a household budget, you can see when these months are...if there are two income earners in a family, there will be four times this will occur. It may not sound like a windfall, but if someone offered you enough cash to do your Christmas shopping every year without credit cards...and perhaps another cash injection in the spring for all your gardening expenses, or back to school costs...you'd pay attention. Capture any extra income like this and use it for seasonal expenses that tend to blow your monthly budget.


I don't buy presents,except for the children, Then as Christmas eve approaches and I feel guiltier and guiltier, having nightmares about it and losing sleep...................I finally cave in and buy for all my adult children and their spouses and even adult nieces and nephews.......................by the time my Xmas Anxiety has gotten the better of me ...........the prices are reduced( the retailers have had the same nightmares about NOT selling their wares)........................Isn't christmas fun?

  • +1 for kids only, but I should take it away for caving.
    – MrChrister
    Nov 22, 2009 at 19:53

Switch to LED Christmas lights and use timers. This saves energy costs but don't go overboard. :-)


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