Christmas on a Budget

by Erika Torres

The holidays can easily put a damper on your wallet. Eric and I went a little spend crazy this weekend with buying a tree, going out to eat, buying coffee out instead of making it at home…every penny adds up! I think we’re not only sensing the consumer-driven atmosphere of the holidays but we’re also ready to go a little nuts now that we know we’ll have a second paycheck coming in by the end of this month. Here’s a few ways we try to trim the overspending:

Re-gifting gift cards

The only thing I’ve ever re-gifted are gift cards. It’s just too easy. I get gift cards as bonuses sometimes from work, or through winning them in a blog contest. This year, I scored a gift for my brother through a company bonus, and I also scored my other brother’s gift by using an Amazon gift card I won from Budgeting in the Fun Stuff. Two gifts–didn’t cost me a cent! I still had to sacrifice not using the gift cards on myself–which I really wanted to do. So in a sense it’s still money lost, I just never actually got to see it in my hands.

Are you pro or anti-regifting?

Christmas Activities

Some of my favorite things to do over the holidays are completely free or inexpensive:

Driving around to look at the lights
Christmas Parades
Newport Beach Boat Parade
Ice skating (scored a Groupon for $12)
Tree lighting ceremonies
Cookie decorating parties
Drinking hot cocoa and watching Christmas movies
Decorating the tree
Baking Christmas cookies

What are some other inexpensive Christmas activities you like to do?

Holiday leftovers

The holidays mean lots of food. And with two families (mine and Eric’s), that means even more food. I didn’t have to go grocery shopping for over a week after Thanksgiving, thanks to all the leftovers we had. I plan on scoring some more free food with leftovers from our company potluck and our two Christmases coming up.

Inexpensive gifts

We don’t do a Christmas gift exchange at work and I don’t do a gift exchange with friends either. Not to sound too much like a Grinch, but no one ever really likes their gift anyway, and it’s always extra work to go out of your way to buy a gift.

However, if I somehow do find myself stuck in a gift exchange–my go-to gift is a bottle of wine from Trader Joe’s with some nice cheese and crackers and proscuitto–usually doesn’t cost much more than $20.

Remembering the meaning of Christmas

Whenever I get the urge to splurge, I remember what Christmas is really about. I remind myself about how thankful I am for what I already have and count all the blessings God has given us.

This doesn’t mean that we still don’t splurge, but we try and curb it a bit ; )

What are some other ways you manage your budget during the holidays?


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Lindy Mint December 9, 2011 - 3:11 pm

I don’t see anything wrong with regifting at all, especially gift cards.

I love looking at Christmas lights, it’s really a miracle I have yet to crash my car during the holiday season, because my eyes are always off the road.

As for our budget, a few years ago I set up an automatic transfer of $50 per month to go to our Christmas fund, this way at the end of the year we have $500 for presents and don’t have to stress.

Teacher Girl December 9, 2011 - 1:35 pm

Re-gifting gift cards is the best!

Good Cents Savings December 9, 2011 - 7:16 am

Great ideas, and great inspiration to keep costs down around this time of year. I am with you on the re-gifting gift cards – it’s not like you’re giving away a handmade gift or something someone put a lot of thought into. Love your free Christmas activities – the Christmas movie and hot chocolate sounds pretty great right about now – I’m thinking that might have to be our Friday night plans!

lifeloveandhighheels December 8, 2011 - 9:12 pm

My brother and I always ask if we’re getting each other gifts. Usually we do, but afterwards admit we didn’t see the point. We agree to spend the same amount and we give each other a specific list, so it’s never a surprise and really we could use the money on something else. So I think this year, I’ll just skip it with my brother. I’m hecka broke after paying 2 rents for 2 months and fees to get out of an apt lease. So it really just leaves getting my parents something. And we don’t do gifts at my extended families- it’s “family time” and we don’t see the point of gifts. We all bring wine to share and maybe play games.

I think re-gifting is totally fine like you explained above. Giftcards? Heck yes. Re-gift. I think as long as people don’t know and it’s not a tacky gift or something- totally acceptable.

Yay for holidays!

Marissa December 8, 2011 - 8:32 pm

This is the second year where all my friends and I get together and do a “steal a gift”. We put a limit of $25 on it. The best part of it is that we all get together and spend time with each other. i know that may sound corny, but I really don’t need any more scarfs or beer store gift cards. i do want to see and spend with the people that I am thankful for.

World of Finance December 8, 2011 - 7:14 pm

Another inexpensive activity to do in the winter is sledding, that is if you live in an area where there is snow. 🙂 Happy holidays!

Aaron Hung December 8, 2011 - 9:32 am

This is our first Christmas living on our own. The Holidays does cost you a lot of money if you don’t know what you’re doing but I’m going to try and minimize my spendings as much as possible like coffee and eating out.

Just Real Happy December 8, 2011 - 7:20 am

My big thing is not exchanging with friends. I don’t really have the time to shop and you’re right, no one likes their gift anyway. I couldn’t get out of exchanging at work, but I actually liked my gift…a $20 gift card to the wines and spirits store! I plan on using it for Chef Boy and I’s getaway AND my birthday party next month. Woo!

Shaun @ Smart Family Finance December 7, 2011 - 5:39 pm

I try not to avoid “everything” where spending is concerned. If I’m going to spend money on activities at all in a year, the holidays are the best time to do it. What I try and do is plan it out ahead of time. That way I’m not just throwing caution to the wind.

Aloysa December 7, 2011 - 2:47 pm

We actually have our Xmas tradition to go for a Xmas walk (that’s how we call it.) We go downtown and just walk around. If we get too cold, we stop for a drink to warm up. It is a lot fun and quite cheap, especially if you skip drinks. 🙂

Emily December 7, 2011 - 2:45 pm

I don’t mind re-gifting since it can feel wasteful to have stuff you don’t even want. I’ve done ornament exchanges which can be fun and keep the budget down. Growing up we always got a grocery store gift of something our parents would never buy. It was always fun to open Lucky Charms or Little Debbies since they were a treat anyway.

Hawaii Planner December 7, 2011 - 10:59 am

Love your post! We stick to our budget, cut out all gift giving for adults (my husband & I only exchange between ourselves – no other family members) & focus on the kids. We try not to go completely overboard on the kids, and funnel some of the budget into their college accounts. They are young & have plenty of toys & clothes. They don’t need a zillion new toys at Christmas.

I do sometimes regift, as long as the item is on someone’s list, or I know they would love it. For example, in my old job, I got lots of free makeup/beauty products/designer accessories. Who doesn’t like a Tory Burch makeup bag with Stila lipgloss inside? 😉

Taylor December 7, 2011 - 9:02 am

I am really feeling the spend-spend-spend pressure too! The gift card re-gift is a great idea! I’ll keep that in mind forever now! I am, obviously, pro re-gifting, as long as one remembers not to re-gift to the one who gave you the gift in the first place!!

I love to just watch the lights, and, dangerous as it is, I like to window shop at Christmas. Lots of stores have really pretty displays during this season. There are lots of free/donation based concerts this time of year if you’re a music lover. Check out the listings at the churches or universities/colleges in your area!

Hannah December 7, 2011 - 7:44 am

LOVE this post! I am a huge fan of re-gifting, especially when you know someone will love and appreciate the gift! (Which is why I like wine, if they don’t like it – you know someone will!)

I like to give presents at the holidays for a few, personal, reasons. But I also like to give presents on a random Tuesday in August, just because. I keep extensive lists of what my friends mention they might want or like and when I know someone is having a bad day I find a way to cheer them up. To do this well, I stock up on my gift closet with freebies and other great deals and I keep things under $20. It might mean I’m missing out on something for myself, but I like making someone’s day a bit brighter.

Michelle December 7, 2011 - 6:25 am

Great post. I always tell the BF that what I want for Christmas is just the ultimate Christmas experience, not exactly presents.

jobo December 7, 2011 - 6:20 am

Exactly. The holiday is meant to be celebrated and shared, not blown out of the water spending $$$ endlessly. I’d be much happier with a glass of wine and some yummy cheese on the couch, than going gangbusters. Totally agree with you (and want to go ice skating!!)

Daisy December 7, 2011 - 6:06 am

I keep my brand samplers and other freebies and little samples I get throughout the year and put them in stockings. We give each other necessities in stockings anyway – toothpaste/brush/floss, batteries, snacks, etc. It works out great and saves a couple dollars!

Pam at MoneyTrail December 7, 2011 - 5:47 am

We have four kids and they each want to give presents to each other. That can really add up. I purchase small presents throughout the year whenever I have great (or free!) coupons. I will get small candles, lotion, gloves, baseball cards, etc. I create a “Mom store” and let each child select gifts for his/her siblings. This saves lots of money and time by avoiding taking them all shopping during the holiday season!


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