Oh crap! You forgot to get something for Uncle Cornelius! And, did you get enough presents for the kids? You don’t want them to look back at Christmas 2017 and think about how indigent and thoughtless their parents are. Oh dear God, you don’t want your kids to think you’re dirty underprivileged people. And, you can’t stiff any relatives. They’ll find out you rarely think about them!

Does this scenario sound familiar? If you’re not careful, holiday spending can put you in the poor house. Therefore, you need to create a holiday budget early on so you aren’t paying for Christmas all year round.

What Are You Doing for the Holidays?

The first step is to figure out what you are doing for the holidays. Is your family going to celebrate the season in a traditional way: going to Hawaii? Or, will you have your stinky in-laws over? This will determine whether you need to budget for travel expenses or extra food to feed your army of linebacker nephews.

Who Do You Need to Get Presents for?

Presents are the big expense that everyone knows about. Yet, few of us are methodical about our shopping list. The Brainses start by listing everyone we want to get gifts for: relatives, friends, coworkers, maids, chauffeurs, gardeners, private chefs, nannies, and the rest of our staff. On your list, add a few spots for mystery people. These are the folks that come out of the woodwork on holidays. For example, if your daughter shows up with some girlfriend she’s madly in love with, you should probably give her a gift. And, white elephants always sneak up on you.

What Other Expenses Will You Incur?

Wouldn’t it be nice if you could just give presents to people without a bunch of pomp and circumstance? Unfortunately, you can’t, and you are an evil person for even thinking about it. In order to make your holiday celebration valid, you must buy a Christmas tree, set up Christmas lights, have ornaments and other decorations, and wrap all of your gifts. All of these things cost money.

Additionally, at the end of the year, you should make charitable contributions that you can write off and, therefore, keep the government from choosing where your contributions will go (via taxes.) Plus, if you are a member of a group with annual dues, you’ll probably have to pay that off at this time too. Aren’t the holidays magical?

Set a Spending Limit

Now that you have a list of all of your expenses, create a new column for how much you expect to spend on each person/item. Remember, if you really don’t care about someone, feel free to just spend $10 or less. Save the big money for yourself and your kids. These are the people that matter. I also like to create columns for what I’m getting specific people and how much I have spent on them so far. Here’s an idea of what it looks like:

What a cheapskate’s holiday budget may look like.

I buy a lot of gifts through Amazon’s lightning deals. That way, it looks like I bought something more expensive than I can actually afford. After all, isn’t the point of Christmas to show people how generous you are?

When you hit your limit for an individual category, STOP SPENDING. Or, if you must, shift the money around. After all, a budget is only good if you stick to it. I think Robin Williams said that.

Coming up Short?

Does it appear that your expenses are way more than your income can support? Unfortunately, this means you need to get creative. Here are a few options to save money around the holidays:

  • Giftless Holiday – Spend November getting into petty arguments with people close to you. Make it clear that you are no longer getting them anything for Christmas. Then, make amends with them in early January. Or, you know, you could just be upfront with them and tell them you don’t have the funds for the commercialistic holiday. If they get pissed, you don’t need them in your life.
  • Gift Exchanges – Instead of everyone exchanging gifts at your family event, draw names, and each person can buy a nice gift (set a dollar limit) for an individual.
  • DIY Gifts – Write a personalized poem (it doesn’t have to be good if it rhymes), knit stuff, make candy from scratch (we made candy sushi one year), or just hand out terrible drawings your kid brought home throughout the school year.
  • Regift – This takes skill because you need to know who gave you the gift in the first place and be certain they won’t be at the gift exchange location. To avoid embarrassment, I always have a Sharpie on hand when opening presents, and I quickly write the giver’s name on the gift. Regifting is ideal for white elephant events. Be sure you check local laws before you do this because regifting is still illegal in five states.

With these tips, you should be well on your way to beating the stress of the holidays. If you have any additional tips, don’t keep them to yourself! Share below!