3 Keys to Staying on Budget for the Holidays

3 Keys to Staying on Budget for the Holidays

By: Angela Caban

During the holiday season, many of us are taking the time to reflect on the meaning of the season. If you’re like me, you’re working to decorate your home to perfection and ensure every meal is a feast. Even when our spouse or loved one is deployed during the holidays, we tend to not slow down and keep on with tradition. However, the reality of the holidays is that without a plan of action, we are likely to burn out and overspend – a classic blunder. Let’s face it – the holiday season can be stressful, add to that mix a deployed loved one and the stress can be overwhelming.

With a plan, you can make the impossible, possible and lower that stress level. Here are three keys to staying on budget for the holiday season that has been my go-to year after year. Minimize, Manage and Make it Happen.

First and foremost, set a budget and stick to it…

This is one of the most difficult things for most of us to accomplish, because we want to do more than our budgets will allow. The “Christmas spending guilt”, as I call it. You want to make up for the deployment of a spouse by overspending on elaborate gifts hoping that will fill the gap of an absentee loved one. Let’s be clear on one thing, there is no gift on the planet that can fill the gap left by the absences of a loved one- so stop trying! How many of us remember the exact gifts we received at five years old, fifteen or even twenty? If we are honest with ourselves what we remember most is the feeling of surprise when we got what we asked for or the little things we did with family and friends that became traditions, we can pass down to our children.

So, try not to stress about the gifts too much and follow the three keys when budgeting:


By minimizing your budget, you can maximize its potential. This means that by minimizing your needs you can maximize your budget, something like a financial triage. My husband is a medic, and one of the most important skills he learned was to triage patients so the most important needs were met first, do the same with your gift list. Immediate family, spouse and children come first.

Budget tip: If you haven’t had contact with someone in 6 months, a card is enough. I know that seems harsh especially when it’s a blood relative, but if they’re on a budget too, they’ll understand.

Some easy ways to minimize your needs:

  • Have a conversation with your extended family about keeping the gift list minimal
  • Buy for only children in the family and make it clear that since you won’t be buying for adults, you do not wish to receive a gift.
  • Try a family lottery where each person in your extended family draws one name of who to buy for
  • To minimize spending for your own children, try the 5-gift rule, where they pick one of each; something they want, read, wear, need, and a surprise. This limits the number of extra gifts you are purchasing.

Being budget conscious for your extended family helps everyone. A large extended family will appreciate the budget break as much as you will, and remember you’re not in competition with anyone for the quality or quantity of gifts.


It is so very important to manage your resources wisely. Consider… dare I say it? Re-gifting. I know it has gotten some bad press. Re-gifting has negative connotations because most people use it to re-gift stuff they don’t want, but truly thoughtful re-gifting can be a treasured gift for a dear relative.

Some budget conscious re-gifting ideas:

  • Make a DVD of family home movies. Put together all the old home movies and transfer over to a digital file or DVD.
  • Take old family recipes and create a family cookbook.
  • Think of re-gifting something you treasure to someone you know would enjoy it more, perhaps a grandmother’s piece of jewelry, or cuff links to a favorite nephew.

Re-gifting doesn’t have to be getting rid of junk you don’t want, it can be a wonderful way of passing on your heritage and culture to a younger generation.

Make It Happen

Make it happen for your budget by researching and shopping around. Many large retail stores have layaway programs for the holidays which make it easier to budget yourself and have no debt going into the New Year. Also, don’t be afraid to shop for gifts online; search online for the beat deals.

Some budget friendly places to shop:

  • Bookstores that sell gently used books or DVD’s is a great way to shop on a budget.
  • Garage sales, even pawn shops have gifts that can be perfect for that family member. No one needs to know how much you saved or where it came from, that can be your little secret.
  • Be creative and make your gifts. If you have a skill, give that as a gift. I can’t tell you how meaningful it is to have a friend who is a photographer give the gift of a family portrait, it’s something we all treasure.

So, with the three M’s in mind; Minimize, Manage, and Make It Happen, and by making a plan to preserve your holiday budget it is possible to survive the holidays. It may not be a Hallmark moment every day, but I can promise it will be less stressful than if you walk into the season without a plan.

Happy Holidays!

What tips can you share on surviving the holiday season? Share with us in the comments below!


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