Two weeks until Christmas, and I’m almost done!
I have some cooking to do, which will cost me some money, and I need to make a run to the liquor store. I might need a trip to the dollar store for tape. Other than that, yesterday was my final day of shopping, and I’m well under budget.
Last year, I spent a lot of money on Christmas. I didn’t really track my spending, but to give you an idea, I probably spent $300 on gift cards alone. Heck, I easily spent $100 on Christmas cards, not including the postage to send them.
Like I said, last year, I spent a lot. I overspent. I bought on impulse, without a plan, and with no real appreciation of what I was doing.
Last year, we had more income. This year, that approach to Christmas wouldn’t work. Job loss and launching new ventures change things.
This year, we’ve struggled to adjust to having less income, and that meant changing our approach to spending. We’ve had to pay a lot more attention to our budget, overall and for the holidays.
We’ve quit the Y membership we were only using for the outdoor pool in the summer. We’ve switched our phone service from Verizon to Cricket. We’ve stopped our subscriptions to the Sunday newspaper. We’re still trying to cut our grocery spending, but we’ve greatly cut back on eating out.
There are still some moves we can make, but scaling back Christmas needed to be one of them.
No more mindless over-spending on every holiday impulse (well, except holiday treats, which needed an adjustment.) Instead, I’ve carefully tracked each purchase by giftee. Money was earmarked, and credits from m Amazon Visa were put to use but still tracked as part of the overall spending.
Having those limits has really changed my overspending this Christmas. I’m still buying presents but I’ve cut back to a much more reasonable level, thanks to a few changes in how I’ve bought presents.
The Benefits of a More Reasonable Christmas
I don’t know that I’ll ever be someone who has a truly frugal or minimalist Christmas. I’m still spending some money, buying gifts, and relishing the season.
I’m not adopting the three gift rule (something big, something to wear, something for growth) or the four gift rule (something they want, something they need, something to wear, something to read). It’s too foreign to my own experiences, where so many people gave me gifts.
I remember as a kid, getting up to Santa, then heading to my Dad’s parents to be showered with toys, then jumping in the car for the two hour trip to the happy chaos of Mom’s parents’ home and all of those cousins, aunts and uncles.
It was present-palooza. I need to scale back, but Christmas presents are still part of my season.
If there was ever a year to put the brakes on Christmas over-spending, this was it. I still want a Happy Christmas, but I need to spend less.
I’ve definitely spent less, which I expected. Putting a stop to this over-spending has had some other benefits as well.
I’ve finished my shopping earlier, and shouldn’t have any last minute trips out to pick up gift cards or other little add-ons. (although I may have last minute trips out for baking supplies.)
Knowing my spending limits has also helped me concentrate on what people actually enjoyed about their previous holiday gifts, and how long the benefits of those gifts lasted. Impersonal gifts that have little impact or meaning have been eliminated.
It’s been less stressful to adjust from overspending to a more targeted and reasonable Christmas budget.
The Big Savings: No Gift Cards
I was giving my brothers, my stepmother, my dad, even my husband gift cards for Christmas. This year, I’m not doing it.
I enjoy getting gift cards, and I know my family does too. An Amazon card is probably my absolute favorite thing to get. However, I spent a lot more on gift cards than I would on a present. I also tended to give the cards accompanied by a more personal gift, like the Belgian Beer set I gave my brother last year that ran $30.
This year, my brothers and I agreed to just give each other (obnoxious) Christmas cards to reduce our Christmas shopping. I may still end up giving them each some homemade treat that might cost $5-10 to make, but with no gift card and no present, that’s over $150 less than I spent last year.
For the others, I’m giving gifts. I’m just not including the gift cards. I’m not sure they were necessary before, but they certainly are an easy thing to cut out this year. Another $200 saved from last year.
Saying no to the cards has meant big savings. As much as everyone likes the cards, I think I can safely eliminate them for this years and in many cases going forward. They may still make an appearance for birthdays, but there’s other gift-giving choices that mean more at Christmas.
Scaling Back the List
One of the surest ways of spending less is to buy for fewer people.
I just mentioned not buying stuff for my brothers.
In the past, I’ve also picked up stuff for their girlfriends, and their girlfriend’s kids. Not necessarily big stuff, but the things you buy for people you’re sharing the holidays with but don’t really know well: gift baskets from Body Works, candle sets, scarf and mitten sets, Target or Starbucks gift cards…all stuff that falls into that $20-$30 range of impersonal gifting.
I looked. I really looked, especially after one brother’s long term girlfriend started texting me asking for Little Bit’s sizes and favorite colors. The things I thought about buying seemed in the same vein as previous years-gifty items without real soul and with no insight into the things the person likes.
To me, that’s the sort of present that screams overspending.
This year, I’m going with homemade treats for her family. It’s less expensive, more personal, and will probably be more appreciated (she has three growing boys at home). She’ll get an investment of time, rather than just a gift basket.
I’m also cutting way back on Christmas cards.
In previous years, we mailed out 50 or so photo cards. We still did the cards, but we picked a cheaper one-sided design and we’re cutting our list to just extended family. Between the per card price and the postage, that’s a savings of about $60.
I also used to go to World Market and pick up individual Christmas cards for everyone on my list, the ridiculous, funny and often not for little eyes to see kind. They’re about $4 a pop, and I bought 15 of them last year.
Let that sink in: I spent $60 on Christmas cards last year to accompany other presents.
I loved giving the cards. The cards were funny. My family got a lot of pleasure from passing them around and reading each other’s cards.
It lasted about 5 minutes.
This year, only my brothers will get the cards (and won’t be getting other stuff except maybe cookies or a pie.) That’s $52 less.
Scaling back the list is paying big dividends.
Putting a Hold on an Unnecessary Tradition
For years, every Christmas we’ve gone to World Market and each of us have picked out a new Christmas ornament. I love World Market’s Christmas decorations, particularly the small wooden animals, but this was a completely unnecessary (if small) expense.
We aren’t lacking in Christmas decorations.
I had a robust collection of ornaments before I got married, and years of adding ornaments piled up even before I inherited my mother’s collection of holiday decorations. As it is, we pick and choose amongst our favorites, and leave many off the tree
I’m pretty sure we have a box of ornaments in the basement we haven’t gotten out in the 6 years we’ve been in our home.
So this year, however reluctantly, I’ve put the new ornament tradition aside. Yep, it’s only about $16 that we saved, but it’s also a way of reducing unnecessary spending and clutter.
If I’m really good, maybe some of the existing excess decorations will make it to Goodwill next week.
Some Frugal Substitutions
In several years past, I’ve bought Jon a Hickory Farms box. He doesn’t do much with sweets, so I try to treat him with savory items instead.
He likes the summer sausage. He eats the cheese and mustard, although better cheese and mustard can easily be found in our fridge most of the time. He gives our daughter those little strawberry candies.
The crackers? I think we finally threw away the crackers from last year in October during our great pantry cleanout.
So why was I buying the whole box to get two items in it? This year, he gets just the summer sausage. I’m sure there will be some good cheese and Triscuits around for him to enjoy with his sausages. Meanwhile, I’ve spent a few dollars less.
He also likes the ability to augment his morning coffee with a packet of instant coffee on days he’s particularly dragging. Caffeine is the essential element here, because it’s probably not going to taste fantastic anyway. Last year, Starbucks Via. This year, Taster’s Choice.
Last year, sweaters and LL Bean boots. This year, a smaller haul. (He’ll read this, so I can’t reveal what he’s getting. No $130 boots though.)
The substitutions and scale backs aren’t just for Jon. Instead of just toys and candy, Little Bit will also find much more practical items in her stocking. She’ll get a new toothbrush and toothpaste (because all of the regular kinds you can get at the grocery store are “too spicy”) and a replacement water bottle for the one that has been leaking all over her backpack.
She’ll find some other staples under the tree as well, like drawing paper and markers. She got to pick out new winter boots and gloves, but they’ll be wrapped under the tree. Welcome to practical Christmas, kid.
Little Bit’s still getting toys and books, and she’s getting some candy (though less than in previous years.) No need for Santa to be too much of a Scrooge, but she’s definitely getting some things for Christmas that previously might have been presented as just everyday purchases.
Making some careful substitutions and scaling back means I’ve spent a couple of hundred less for Jon and Little Bit even after accounting for no gift cards.
Putting Overspending on Ice
Last year, I overspent on Christmas presents by continuing traditions I’d established and followed for 20 years. I added unnecessary items to my list, and bought for everyone.
This year, I rethought my approach, scaled back my spending, reduced stress and saved hundreds, all without feeling like a Grinch. I applied spending changes I can carry through future holiday seasons, even when funds are flusher. In short, I went from overspending to celebrating the season in (reasonable) style.
Are you guilty of holiday overspending? Do you follow a limited gift rule, and if so how do you stick to it?
Image courtesy of radnatt at FreeDigitalPhotos.net