It’s the most wonderful time of the year! December is upon us and Christmas and other holiday traditions are beginning. I love it.
The lights and decorations make our homes and communities a little more beautiful and inviting. The traditions and time spent with family and friends remind us of what really matters in life. There seems to be a special feeling in the air as everyone seems a little nicer and more likely to say hello and wish us a Merry Christmas, and as we do the same.
All of these wonderful things, however, can quickly become overshadowed by the stress of decorating, buying gifts, wrapping presents, preparing for parties, and then spending money to make all of these things happen.
And so, this week I thought I would share some of my thoughts on how to make the Christmas season a little less stressful, and most specifically from a financial perspective. (This is Let Luc Finance after all.)
To be clear, I am all for generous giving. Absolutely. Definitely. But, just because you have the money doesn’t mean you can afford it. Sure, you could cash out your retirement account, pay the taxes, and a penalty and buy someone a REALLY nice gift, but you shouldn’t. I think we all know that much. But it is also important to look at our cash flow and determine how much we can AFFORD on Christmas gifts and other events throughout the season. Here are some of my thoughts.
Your Holiday Gift Shopping List
- Make a list of everyone you need/want to buy gifts for this year. This likely includes some combination of friends, family, co-workers, gift exchanges you’re participating in, and the people who make your life easier (such as your mailman or landlord).
- Budget how much you are able to spend in total this year on gifts. This will be different for everyone and a different process to determine for everyone. Some people plan for the extra December spending by saving a little each month for Christmas specifically. I suspect many of us will need to go back to our monthly spending and determine how much discretionary income we can allocate to gift giving this year. Maybe you decide to take all of the discretionary money you normally spend on yourself in a month and instead allocate it to others. Find what works for you. Ask yourself how much you can generously, but also reasonably, spend? We’re not going into credit card debt or derailing our other goals here! (You may also need to include a budget for gift wrapping materials and to ship packages into this number.)
- Then, allocate this budget across the various people on your list. I’m guessing not every person will have the same budgeted amount, but make sure in total it adds up to the number you determined in step 2. I like to make sure my per person allocation actually adds up to LESS than my overall budget. This makes it OKAY for me to throw in an extra something or buy a gift that is a little more expensive when I find something especially awesome.
- If you’re having trouble balancing your Christmas shopping budget, consider some free or less expensive alternatives. (See the tips below.)
- BEFORE going to the store or shopping online, think of a couple of ideas for each person. (If you start wandering the mail or aisles of Target, you will likely either start throwing way more things in the cart than you’ve budgeted for or become frustrated as you can’t find anything to buy for the people on your list.)
- Then, start shopping around online. Make sure the gifts you have in mind cost about as much as you budgeted for each person. If not, refine your list.
- Once you have your shopping list (both the people and the items you’re shopping for AND the budgeted amount for each) start shopping. (Remember, you’re shopping for others, NOT yourself.) And I suggest doing so early. I find that once my shopping is complete, I then spend next to no time stressing about shopping for gifts, crowded malls, and the associated traffic. Instead, I can spend a lot more time enjoying the Christmas season.
- Gift giving is not a contest where each year we try to outdo the gift we gave the prior year.
- We don’t need to spend the same amount of money (or more) each year. Maybe this year we didn’t make as much money or went from two household incomes to one. That is okay! Plan your budget accordingly. I highly doubt anyone is keeping a tally of how much you spend on them each year.
- Not all gifts need to cost money. Thoughtful, handwritten notes can sometimes be the most meaningful gifts.
- If we’re trying to cut back, there are several gift options that cost significantly less. Maybe instead of a gift, you invite a friend over for dinner or take a home cooked meal to them. Maybe you plan TIME to spend together over the holiday doing something you both love (and that doesn’t cost a lot of money). There are lots of options. As one personal example, after returning from Fiji and working for a non-profit and receiving no paycheck for over a year all three members of my immediate family had birthdays within a month. I knew I could not afford to buy gifts similar to what I had done in the past. Instead, for my mom I wrote her a list of “Things I’ve Learned From Mom.” For my siblings I made lists of “30 Memories For 30 Years” and “Lilly’s Life Lessons – The Rules She Lives By” (things I’ve observed my sister do and which I admire). I loved preparing these lists. I felt closer to my family by doing so and reflecting on our best memories together as I prepared these gifts.
- Giving experiences is often much more memorable than gifting more stuff. (Maybe this is a year where you can spend more than you usually do. What gifts and experiences can you give that will be valued and remembered for years to come?)
- Giving your time can also be extremely valuable, especially if you’re offering to share a skill someone could benefit from.
- You should NEVER feel bad for giving a thoughtful gift (no matter the cost).
- If you’re trying to impress with the price tag related to a gift, just stop.
- If you’re still having some trouble, ask yourself to name every gift you received last year and who gave it to you. I’m guessing you won’t remember every specific and even some gifts at all. Now ask yourself which events and traditions you remember from last year. I’m guessing you are likely to remember the TIME you spent with family and friends, the experiences you shared, and the acts of KINDNESS extended to you much more than the individual gifts.
Finally, as you’re planning and budgeting for other parties and events, it may help to remember:
- Budget for these things, too, and look for ways to save where it makes sense.
- You don’t need a new outfit for everything. You probably have lots of outfits in your closet already (maybe something festive you’ve worn before, but only once). And I’m sure you have red or green or gold somewhere in your closet that can be paired with some classy accessories to make for a fabulous outfit.
- If you need several gifts for hosts as you attend various parties, consider making something (such as homemade bread) and pairing it with a nice jam…or several other thoughtful and creative options.
Are the holidays a stressful time of year for you? What have you found that helps? I’m interested in hearing your stressors, concerns, tricks, and advice. Thanks, as always, for your emails!
Christmas is a wonderful time of year and should be enjoyed. Plan ahead of time, stick to your budget, give generously and in creative and thoughtful ways. A little kindness goes a long way.