Christmas On A Budget: 5 Tips For Making Your Holiday Affordable And Still Enjoyable

Holiday gift giving can be a drain, both on your mental health and your wallet. We’ve put together a list of ideas to help your celebrate Christmas within your limits.

Chritmas on budget

As you age deeper and deeper into adulthood, the holiday spirit takes on a different meaning. Hopefully the feelings of cheer and good will stay the same, but your attitude towards presents starts to shift.

Namely, it changes from something you await eagerly to something you endure wearily.

That might be an exaggeration, but gift-giving does take on new connotations once you’re expected to give as much as you get. It can feel like an imposition to spend so much money on so many people – especially if you’re living on a shoestring budget. It’s no wonder that so many Americans find themselves deep in credit card debt by the time the new year rolls around, often failing to pull themselves out by the next holiday season.

But Christmas shopping doesn’t have to be a budget-buster. There are plenty of ways you can cut back on holiday expenses, shaving off a few dollars or even eliminating them entirely. You just have to be willing to try something new.

If you’re looking for ways to cut back this holiday season, here are some of my favorite methods.

Make a Budget

Christmas spending often goes overboard when consumers fail to reconcile their budget with their shopping list. To avoid overspending, determine how much you can afford to spend on Christmas and then make a list of all your holiday obligations, including presents, travel and decorations. Then, ascribe a dollar amount to each item, overestimating slightly.

It will probably hurt to spend less this year, but consider this: almost 25 percent of consumers surveyed in October said they haven’t repaid their credit card bills from last year’s holidays. If you’re in the same boat, add up how much you’ve spent on credit card interest and stick to the budget this year.

Find Extra Savings

Looking at a long list of presents to buy? Here are some of my favorite shopping hacks:

Look for discount codes

Sites like RetailMeNot or Honey aggregate coupon codes so you can always snag the best deal. I also try to shop through retailers who use Ebates, a browser extension that gives you cash-back for most of your purchases.

Sign Up for a Store’s Email List

Usually you’ll get an extra 10-20 percent off if you’re a new subscriber. Sometimes I’ll even create a new email address to get multiple discounts.

Use a Cash-Back Credit Card

The Chase Freedom® credit card offers five percent cash-back at department stores such as Nordstrom, Nordstrom Rack, Macy’s, Kohl’s, JCPenney Sears, Bloomingdale’s, and Dillard’s.

The Discover it® Cash Back card provides five percent cash-back at different places each quarter you activate, such as at Amazon and on groceries, up to $1,500 in purchases. Discover will also match the cash-back earned for new cardholders, effectively making it a 10 percent cash-back rate in select categories for the first year.

Shop with Used Gift Cards

If I know exactly where I’m doing my holiday shopping, I’ll buy used gift cards for those stores. and are the most popular sites, where you can sometimes save up to 10 percent on a card. You can even find discounted gift cards at Costco or Sam’s Club, with savings up to 25 percent off.

Save on Wrapping

I love wrapping Christmas gifts more than anything, but wrapping paper, bows and ribbon add up quickly. I shop at the dollar store for all my wrapping needs, where you can get more than enough paper for just a few bucks.

When I was really living on a tight budget, I saved cartoons from the Sunday paper to wrap my gifts. Yes, your gifts won’t look as beautiful under the tree, but it’s better than spending $20 on something that will end up in the trash.

Cheap Gift Ideas

A couple years ago, I asked my friend Melissa what she’d put on her Christmas list. A recent homeowner, Melissa was practical and asked that her parents come down and help her with some house projects instead of buying a physical gift.

I remember thinking how grown-up she was, eschewing traditional gifts in favor of sweat equity. Now, I understand the genius behind her thinking.

If you have a special skill, such as woodworking or landscape design, give that as your present. The monetary value will be much higher than whatever you’d find at Macy’s, and it could be especially precious to the beneficiary. Plus, it won’t cost you anything except for your time.

Other cheap gift ideas include baking mixes, homemade soaps and bath salts – and of course, anything edible. My husband and I love to buy food and beverage-related gifts because they’re often less expensive, we know they’ll always get used and they won’t add extra clutter. We also put together a pretty long list of cheap Christmas gift ideas for you to consider this holiday season.

Alternatives Gifts

Instead of buying everyone on your list an expensive present, here are some gift alternatives that won’t make you look like a Scrooge.

Take the money you’d spend on gifts and treat everyone to dinner at your favorite restaurant, an evening at the movies or an afternoon at an escape room. The camaraderie you get from sharing an experience together will last longer than the thrill of opening a cashmere sweater.

Another popular alternative is to do a gift exchange instead of buying each person a present. Draw names and set a price limit, such as $30. That’s enough to buy a substantial gift without ruining your holiday budget. This is perfect for big families, where gift giving can get pricey once spouses and children come into the mix. Some families even decide to skip presents for adults and only buy gifts for the kids.

Talk to your Family and Friends

If money is tight, Christmas can feel more like an imposition than a celebration. Stressing about the holidays isn’t fun and can lead to feelings of resentment towards your more affluent family and friends.

Talk to your loved ones about avoiding a gift exchange or minimizing how much you spend. You don’t have to give them all the reasons why, just enough so they understand. Who knows – your brother-in-law who’s just had a baby might be grateful to take a year off from the craziness of gift-giving.


As an adult, getting gifts for your friends and family feels more and more like a chore. But it can still be fun if you come up with some alternatives to traditional gifts! These ideas above are just a few ways to get you started.

Source: Zina Kumok []

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