I love Christmas shopping. The thought of buying stuff to give other people joy makes me happy, and Christmas is my free pass (well, budgeted pass) to do just that. I love watching people open the gifts I have given them and seeing my daughter play with the toys Santa’s picked out.
It’s very easy for me to want to go overboard with spending money on Christmas, and I’m going to have to work very hard to stay within my Christmas budget. I plan to budget for each person, use a spreadsheet to track my budget, use up my Amazon points, and shop Five Below for the best in low-budget novelties.
I also plan on sticking to a strategy that works for my budget. For me, keeping to my Christmas budget means knowing when, where, and how I should shop.
The best way for me to control my spending is to only buy the right gifts for the right person. If I’m thoughtful in my gift buying, I don’t try to substitute quantity for quality. I stick to my budget. I enjoy the Christmas shopping process.
If I’m going to be a thoughtful gift-giver, there are some times and places I need to avoid. Most especially, I want to bypass any pressure to spend that might cause me to ignore my Christmas budget. There are three basic ideas to my holiday shopping strategy, all designed to maximize thoughtful gift shopping.
Give the Busy Days a Miss
You know what I won’t be doing to save money? Shopping Thanksgiving or Black Friday. Shopping Christmas Eve, either.
I know, you can get some really great deals on Thanksgiving and the day after. If I had a shopping list that included expensive items like laptops or big screen TVs, I might rethink this strategy. For the most part, though, that’s not how I shop.
Shopping on Black Friday is for one of two types of shoppers:
- The careful planners, who know exactly what they will buy, scope out every circular for the best bargains, and zero in on exactly what they want. These folks will have all of their shopping done (outside of some do it yourself items and a few Cyber Monday bargains) by 2 pm on Black Friday.
- The people who think they are careful planners, go and get caught up in the hunt and come home with “bargains” on stuff that they bought on impulse. Most of the stuff they buy ends up being for themselves, and they’re still trying to finish up their shopping on Christmas Eve after spending 3 times what they thought they would spend.
Okay, there are other folks who go out and shop on Black Friday and Christmas Eve. If you are disciplined, you can save some money. I understand that they are really good days to buy a new car. You can pick up deals on home goods, DVDs and electronics if you are willing to step into the hullaballoo of Black Friday. And you can get good deals on what’s left of the Christmas-themed items if you wait until Dec 24.
Chaos Can Lead to Poor Decisions
I’m not willing. Hullaballoo is the enemy of my budget. A carnival’s no place for inspiration and careful consideration.
I’m not a careful planner when it comes to Christmas shopping, although I am a careful shopper. I like to be inspired by the things I see to find the best present, something that tends to get lost in the carnival-like atmosphere of Black Friday or Christmas Eve. It’s difficult to notice the perfect funny t-shirt for my little brother if I’m racing toward the toy aisle and fighting to get an extra $5 off of Barbie’s Dream House.
I find the best presents when I watch carefully for the right opportunity. I want to match person to present rather than plan exactly what I’m going to buy. For instance, two years ago I gave Jon a little Bose Bluetooth speaker for his birthday (which is a couple of days after Christmas. It’s still Christmas shopping.)
Jon’s an audio electronics lover, but he acquired most of his equipment when he was a teen and has lovingly maintained it for 40 years. He would never have thought to ask for a Bluetooth speaker. I would never have planned to give him one. I just happened to see it at Target last year and instantly thought about how much Jon enjoys streaming Pandora through his phone. After one use, Jon decided that the Bose speaker is the best thing ever.
If I had been trying to pick out presents from the Target ad, would I have even noticed the speaker? Would I have seen it in the crush of shoppers?
I had to see the speaker and connect it to Jon’s love of streaming music and good sound systems.
Don’t Rush to Buy
I also don’t like shopping busy days because it’s harder to check whether that bargain item you found has bad reviews, or whether the price is actually that much better than the regular price.
If I’m going to spend the money on a big ticket item, the type that I think might be worth getting up early on Black Friday, I want to know I’m spending wisely. I don’t want to buy a giant TV with a reputation for glitching as soon as the manufacturer’s warranty is up. I want to buy something that is going to have the best dollar-to-use ratio I can find. That takes some research, and that’s difficult to do while you’re shopping.
And before? Forget it. My Thanksgiving is filled with cooking, eating good food and visiting with relatives. Maybe taking a walk, or playing a board game. It’s a good day to be unplugged.
You also need to remember that not everything is on sale, which tends to get lost in the race for Black Friday Bargains. There will be some toy sales, but toy sellers tend to discount more deeply closer to Christmas. Winter clothes? Shop the after Christmas sales or even later for the best deals.
You can save money on Black Friday or Christmas Eve, but you can also spend money. A lot of it, if you let yourself get caught up in the spirit of the day.
Cyber Monday Fans of the World Unite!
So I like Christmas shopping, like to browse, like to research my purchases, and like to avoid crowds.
Internet shopping is my friend. Cyber Monday is a sale atmosphere I totally embrace.
Similar to Black Friday, there’s a “buy it now or never get it again at that price” atmosphere to Cyber Monday. There’s no herd, though. It’s quiet in front of my computer. I can easily open another window to make sure that bargain is really a bargain.
There may be a countdown, but it’s rarely going to lead me into acting like a blood-scenting piranha. I am more likely to take time to consider the purchase and resist making purchases for myself or exceeding my budget.
Internet shopping gives me the emotional space to be thoughtful in my gift buying. By being thoughtful, I spend less.
It can also make it easier to track my spending. I don’t know how many times I have looked at my total bill and started pulling items out of my shopping cart. Somehow that’s a lot easier to do online than in person when there’s 10 people impatiently waiting to check out behind you.
Give Yourself Time to Shop Brick and Mortar
I tend not to buy everything online, though. There’s going to be some visits to brick and mortar shops, which gives plenty of opportunity to buy frivolously. So I try to give myself plenty of opportunities to shop without buying.
Find the right thing at the right price, and go ahead and buy it. If not, give yourself time to keep looking another day.
Pressure to buy is the enemy of thoughtful giving.
If I see something that might work for a gift but I’m not completely sold, I’ll file it away for more consideration. I’m not afraid to come home from a Christmas shopping trip bagless, even if it means more trips later on.
In general I try to shop Christmas the first 3 weeks of December. That’s 3 weeks to browse, 21 days to think, or 336 waking hours to figure out the presents that will do the best job of satisfying the giftee.
Plenty of time to be thoughtful and to carefully match up spending and budgets.
Shop Later (but Not Too Late)
Another strategy I use to help with thoughtful holiday shopping is to shop later in the holiday season.
Some of the best pre-Christmas bargains on non-big ticket items tend to arrive around the 3rd week in December. This year, that means I’ll get some of my best shopping done the week of December 12-18. Stocking stuffers, wrapping paper, and little personal gifts to accompany gift cards, I’m looking at you.
This is the week when retailers start worrying they aren’t going to get rid of their Christmas stock, but the shelves aren’t completely picked over yet. That week is kind of a sweet spot. It’s late enough in the season not to be tempted into buying unnecessary items because you have too much to do.
Plan to finish all of your shopping no later than the 21st-22nd of December. Waiting for that last couple of days before Christmas can lead to overspending because you’re in too much of a rush. It’s also chaos in the stores again, so thought and budgets tend to go out the window. By that time, if you’re still shopping, you may be in a panic.
I’ve found the best strategy to be to leave those last few days before Christmas for food shopping, holiday cooking and cuddling by the tree with a cup of eggnog.
Dominate Your Christmas Budget
So here’s my keys to making sure my shopping strategy helps me buy the best gifts within my Christmas budget:
Avoid the madness of Black Friday and Christmas Eve.
Maximize the benefits of online shopping on Cyber Monday (and other days).
Give myself plenty of time to shop so I can be thoughtful instead of rushed.
Follow these steps. You’ll give yourself the emotional space to make good decisions about how much to spend and what to spend it on. Follow these steps, and you’ll dominate your Christmas budget instead of letting your Christmas spending dominate your new year.
What strategies do you use to make sure you stay within your planned holiday budget?
First published 10/30/15; updated 10/24/16