Make Your List, Check it Thrice


I am very conflicted around the holidays.

Part of me loves the holidays.   This time of year tends to bring out the best in people, it is the most charitable time of the year.  I love the spirit of giving and generosity.  I honestly wish that more people were this generous 365 days a year.  I am not just speaking of financial generosity, but of being generous with your time and love.

The other part of me cringes at the thought of the holidays. I think of the constant pressure to buy the biggest, best gift. The pressure to get the gift “just right”.  Sometimes, this pressure we feel can lead to not only stress, but to serious overspending. I believe many of us go into the holiday season with the intention of minding our budgets and really do mean to stick to them. Somewhere along the line, we succumb to this pressure to outdo ourself or others.

It slowly becomes oh, $5.00 extra for Johnny won’t hurt and oh, if I buy Sally a gift, I better buy Suzie one too.  Those extra $5.00 gifts turn into hundreds of dollars, which usually turns into debt.

My challenge to you this holiday season, whether you celebrate Christmas, Kwanzaa, Hanukkah or another holiday, is to make and stick to your budget. I promise you will have a more fulfilling holiday season if you do. I spent so many holidays trying to get the perfect gift and really ended up stressed out and broke.  I challenge you to make a list, check it THRICE, and stick to it.

Here are some tips that I use to make sure I stay on budget:

First and foremost – Decide on what your family can afford for the holidays. The ideal situation is to do it 100% without going into debt. I know that is not feasible for all of us, so if you are going into debt, be sure that you can pay it off by February 1st, not one day later.

1. Sit down and write down every name you would LIKE to buy for. This includes friends, church family, coworkers, extended family,etc. This way there will be no surprises on December 20th, oh I forgot about Uncle Joe. Think about the list for 24 hours.

2. Once you have the list made, cross out 10% of  the names – so if you have 10 people – 1 person has to go.  These are the people that you just cannot afford to buy for.  Remember, you cannot buy for everyone.

3.  Pick a few people that you can make give homemade cookies or baked goods to. Go to the dollar store and buy tins. Spend time making cookies and drop them off personally to wish your friend/family well over the holiday season.

4. Once you have your list down to who you really can afford to buy for – subtract 10% of your total budget. This 10% will be your cushion should you have last minute expenses.

5. Divide up your total amount for each person.  Once you pick the amount you are going to spend, you need to be committed to it!

6. Keep track of your spending throughout the entire shopping season. When you meet your maximum spending for each individual you are DONE.

7. Use your 10% cushion for any extras you may need.

Here is an example of the spreadsheet I am using:

holiday budget

What are your tips for sticking to your budget this year?

This post may contain affiliate links. Read my disclosure policy here
  • Pingback: Inexpensively :: 5 Simple Ideas to Lower Your Gift Budget()

  • Shannon – I can take a pic of one of ours this weekend when we get the ornaments out of storage! I have to get through my daughter’s birthday party first.

  • Pingback: Inexpensively :: Weekend Wrapup Link Fest 11/21()

  • Jessica

    The best thing I do for my budget, is to buy all year long and use the deals that are posted. My very first Christmas gift for Christmas 2009 was purchased in January 2009…Its a christmas ornament for my daughter that I got for less than $1 instead of $12.

    I keep a box in the top of my closet & add to it as I get little trinkets from cereal boxes (my kids can’t read yet so this works) or as I get freebies. This year my sister & I will both be recieving (from Santa) the free travel kit from Victoria secrets that was advertised a few months ago. We got them, then left them in the box. Our Santa will fill stockings with free deodorant, chapstick,nail polish, razors & shaving cream from Kmart’s Doubles. This doesn’t work as well for my 2 year old, but he’ll be happy with the 2 for $1 matchbox cars coming up!

    We also do toy drives every year and this year I purchased 4 games for $14 dollars & got back a $10 gift card from toys r us…so that makes it even easier to run out and get cheap mr. potatoe head tomorrow.

  • I have a notebook that I write all of the gifts for Christmas and birthdays throughout the year. I write all of the people that I get gifts for with spaces between them. I write the gift description, value of the gift, and the price that I paid for items under each person’s name as I get them. With this system, I can see everything throughout the year to make sure that I get lots of bargins for each person and don’t spend too much. Then I pull out everything right about now and start wrapping. Each present that gets wrapped gets a checkmark so that I know it is ready to go. This way I stay in budget and get everyone great bargins. It saves at least 50% per person and allows me know who is the best fit for some of the freebies that come up. Hope this helps others to get organized and stay under budget.

    • Shannon

      This is awesome Alison.

      Thanks for the tip!

  • Jennifer

    Oh! I forgot to mention my other ornament making idea. Grab a box of clear ball ornaments. (On sale right now at Hobby Lobby. I think the whole box was $3 or less for a dozen). You can cut out and insert a photo or other personalized paper. Add some glitter for a neat effect. (The static makes it stick to the side. Looks like snow.) Tie on a pretty ribbon for a hanger. You’ve got yourself a gorgeous personalized ornaments for cents!

    Tip: make out a circle pattern on some scratch paper and try it and trim it until it fits. You can insert the paper by wrapping it around a pencil and dropping it in. Use a pair of tweezers to hold it still and manuver it around with the pencil (don’t write on it!) until it sits straight. Put the ornament top back on with one prong on each side of the insert. This keeps it in place.

    • Shannon

      You wouldn’t happen to have a picture of this. I would love to do a separate post on this!

  • Jennifer

    Instead of individual gifts for each family member, I’m focusing on couple gifts this year (except for my single brother, of course). And at that, I’m doing giftbaskets. They look really nice and are very inexpensive. Got baskets at the Dollar Tree that can be re-purposed. I’m saving jars to do cookie or cocoa mixes in. Scored some cookie cutters at an outlet store (9 for $3). I found some candles in an after Halloween sale that are actually apple cinnamin, so great for Christmas. I crafted up some beautiful ornaments from pinecones, silver paint, a sprinkling of glitter, and a ribbon hanger. I spotted $0.99 Christmas handtowels at Walgreens, so I may include some of those. Beyond that, I’m trying to brainstorm for a few small items to personalize each basket for each couple. If I’m lucky many of those will be freebies, like tea samples, lotions, and golf tees.

  • Nanell

    I say get the class involved for the gift to the teacher. I bought a christmas tree craft kit for Oriental Trading co. for $4.47 (they are no longer available)

    I am giving each kid a block to decorate with their paretns and then when you put them all together it makes the tree. This way each kids is participating and the teacher will have a decoration to remind her of the class for years to come.

    Over 20 years ago my mom helped us make my 2nd grade teacher a quilt with each class members handprint on it The teacher tells me she still has it and loves it.

    We used an old white sheet cut into squares and placed our hand in paint and then on the blocks.

    • Shannon

      This is an excellent idea. I love the quilt idea.

  • rebecca

    I found some really cute CHEAP gift ideas on another blog, I love her hand sanitizer teacher gift, it’s cheap and cute. I have been collecting freebies since the summer and so I will be doing a lot of really nice but very inexpensive gift baskets.

  • Pingback: Planning Your Holiday Budget : My Frugal Adventures()

  • Charlene

    I am a little concerned that Charlene was the 10% cut from the list. This is not the actual spreadsheet you are using right?

    • Yep, Evan didn’t make the cut either. Poor Guy :)

  • Skye

    Im planning on making baskets for both the boys teachers, and the principal.. maybe the secretary too! BUT!! I dunno when to send them! any ideas?

    • Bree

      Skye –

      I’m on the PTO Board at my daughter’s elementary school and whenever the board or the parents send teachers gifts for Christmas, it’s usually done the last day of school before break (for us it’s Dec. 22nd or 23rd). The children love to hand deliver them.

  • Dizzy Mommy

    Since money is extremely tight right now so there are people I threw out the window. One of these are my kids teachers. If might sound harsh however I have many relatives who are secrataries and teachers… it never fails the day after school lets out for winter break I get nearly $60 in starbucks giftcards for my birthday… all in $5 increments. My family also tends to not use many of the items… anyhow… it sounds bad but thats $30 right off the top I just called afford this year. For my kids I am sticking to$50 and thats all… if I get great deals then thats wonderful. Tomomrow I am going to Toys R Us to grab a MP3 player and a Vtech laptop for my two older girls. My teenager will then have $30 left and my 7 year old will have $20…I bought the snow white movie at Meijer when it you got a free doll… so stuff like the doll I dont count because I bought the movie for the family. Its tough right now because I’ve noticed the baby toys dont really go on sale like the 8-15 year old toys do.

  • I agree with sticking to your budget. It’s so easy to get caught up in the season and overspend just to regret it the day after. You can check out some inexpensive gift ideas on my blog here:


  • Bree

    Thank you for this post and thanks to everyone for sharing your great ideas! This is such a beautiful time of year but it’s hard to see that “beauty” when you’re so stressed about running around making sure you’ve gotten everyone their gift.

    Shannon, or anyone else who would care to give some insight, how do you personally handle the situation where __________ has given you or your child a gift, but you did not buy one for them? These holiday moments can be awkward and can most certainly lead to hurt feelings.

    • Shannon


      This is a hard situation. I wish that everyone would be able to be happy to give and not have to get in return…. I know that is not feasible.

      For my family, we just all had a very frank discussion a few years ago about expectations and we have not had any problems with it.

      If it is a close friend, I would suggest having that conversation as well.

      If it is someone that you do not know very well, you can thank them kindly for the gift. Lets be honest, if you turn around and spend money on a gift for them , you are now just perpetuating the problem. They will now expect a gift next year.

      I know this is hard with younger children, but this is how people end up over spending.

  • They are great gifts! Thanks for sharing! :)

  • Hi Sharon!
    Did you really get the teachers a $5 gift? What did you get? Please share, since every Christmas I have trouble deciding what to get for the teachers!

    • Shannon


      I totally do.

      For the sunday school teacher its the reusable tote that I posted earlier this month. I plan on going to the dollar store and buying one of those candle lighters and putting in a few free glade candles.

      For the school teacher it is a mousepad of a class picture that i took at the class party earlier this month and I put her name and grade and year on it, I paid $2.99 for that, along with a personalized desk calendar for 2010 that I paid $1.99 for.

      Are they nice gifts? They probably aren’t the most expensive, but I think they will like them, especially the personalized touch.

      • Amy R

        I love the idea of the candle lighter from the dollar store with the glade candles! i’ll have to add some of those to my gift baskets!!

  • maelynn

    This year I started putting $20 a week into a Christmas fund and I was able to start shopping early since I had $ in the fund. It has been so much less stressful this year and I even think I will have leftover $ because of all the great deals you share. Thanks.

    • Shannon


      That is the most AWESOME way to do Christmas. After the holidays, I am going to write a post about how to plan for next year!

      Thanks for this great idea.