Holiday Shopping Without Breaking the Bank

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Once Halloween comes and goes, stores quickly trade their spider-webs and ghosts for fake snow, bells and candy canes.  As the weather gets colder, we start planning for the Holiday season and remembering happy memories of years past, spent surrounded by our family.  For many, the Holiday season is bittersweet as they remember the pain of paying off the debt they incurred buying gifts for all their friends and family.  Although the spending cannot usually be completely avoided, I hope to help you keep the spirit of saving this Holiday season!

Make a list and check it twice

The key to reducing your spending is planning.  This applies to Holiday shopping as it does for everyday purchases.  The first step is to make a list of people for whom you plan to get a gift.  I make a list on my phone so that I will always have it handy to jot down gift ideas or to refer to if I see a good deal.

List everyone you will buy for, whether it is your parents, siblings, children, friends, coworkers or neighbors.  The idea is that we do not want to have any surprise people to buy for at the last minute, which will end up costing more than if planned in advance.


Make a budget

Budgeting is the only way to limit your Holiday spending and ensure you don’t spend more than you can handle.  You will want to go through the list of people you want to give a gift to and assign a budget.  Often gift exchanges will have a pre-defined budget but it is just as important to set a budget for the other gifts you will buy.  Keep in mind the relationship you have with the person as well.  You may want to spend more on your immediate family or spouse than your neighbor or work colleagues.

Once you’ve assigned a budget for each person on your list, add up all the amounts to see if the total fits within your means and your annual budget.  Even though you want to spend 50$ on 10 people, you may not be able to afford 500$ of gifts.  Be realistic in this step otherwise even if you stick to the budget, you will still end up over-extended.

Homemade gifts

One of my favorite part of the Holidays are all the amazing family recipes and traditions.  The reason we give people gifts is to tell them we appreciate having them in our lives and to let them know we are thinking of them.  Often exchanging homemade treats is a great gift both to give and has a much higher value than the cost of the ingredients.  For example, every year since I was small, my mom would exchange our homemade truffles for her friend’s famous shortbread cookies.  We now look forward to this tradition every year!


Once you’ve decided who will be getting delicious homemade gifts and who you will be buying for, you will need to come up with a few ideas for each person.  This is the time to think about each person.  What do you know about them?  What activities do they enjoy? Have I noticed anything that they are missing or could enjoy?  Have I recently gotten something I enjoy that they might as well?

List down all the ideas that come to mind even if you feel they may be over your budget.  You could always approach someone else buying for the same person to combine your budgets and buy the person a bigger gift.

What if your list is still empty or you have very few ideas?  I like asking the person or people close to them if they have any gift ideas.  Some people would rather come up with an idea on their own or want to keep the element of surprise.  I feel that if I can’t come up with an idea on my own that I know the person would love, I would rather get them something they want or need.  Often, a thoughtful gift can be cheaper and more appreciated than an expensive gift that will collect dust in their closet.

Shopping (& Research)

You may think this is the easy step: take your list and go shopping.  Not so fast!  We’ve started early this year to save money, so we have to continue the planning.  With your list of ideas in hand, you will want to look up the various ideas you had, to see which ones fit in your budget.  I typically look online for price ranges, either through local stores’ websites or on online shopping sites such as Amazon.

Once you’ve narrowed down your list to one or more ideas that fit within your budget, you can start shopping.  You will want to follow the tips I outlined in a previous post.  To stay within your budget, make sure that the total price for each gift is within the allotted budget including taxes and shipping fees.

We have time, so keep your eyes open for sales.  Black Friday and Cyber Monday are great times to shop for sales on the items you are planning to buy as gifts. Buying in advance also gives you the liberty of buying online even when there a long delivery delays and prevents needing to spend extra on rush shipping. Also, if you are planning to buy gifts online, be sure to buy them all in one transaction to avoid paying shipping fees if possible.

Be sure to check return policies for the stores you are shopping at to ensure the gift could be returned if it is not the right size, etc.  I always try to add a gift receipt with my gifts so that the person can exchange it if it doesn’t fit.  Once again, trying not to have gifts collect dust in a closet!


By this point, you have already saved all the money you can on the gifts you need to buy.  Why not wrap the gifts you’ve purchased and use them as decoration in your house! I stock up on Holiday wrapping, ribbon and name tags when they’re on sale (often after the Holidays) or buy rolls at the Dollar Store.


What looks better than a decorated tree with a pile of gifts underneath?!


How do you save on gift shopping?  Leave your comments below.

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