christmas on a budget - 6 questions to ask yourself for the jolliest christmas ever

6 Questions to ask yourself for the jolliest Christmas ever!

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Stress. Arguments. Guilt. Oh boy – Christmas is coming! Do you want to avoid those nasty feelings this year? Embrace a calm and stress-free Christmas with these holiday tips for giving your family the happiest Christmas – on a budget! It’s possible to make it through the holiday season without busting your budget, going into debt, or feeling like you haven’t done enough.  Ask yourself these 6 questions to get real about the financial side of the festivities.

When should I start? 

I can already hear the sleigh bells jingling – Christmas must be close! (Admittedly, our son’s favourite song of all time is Rudolph, and we hear sleighbells all.year.long.) We have been reminding you to “please start saving for Christmas every month” since forever. Tucking away $100 a month is far less painful than trying to come up with the cash in December alone. So – hopefully – you have some money saved up to cover the extra expenses. If not – now you know for next year. Build ‘Christmas’ into your budget every month, decide on an amount, and tuck it away in a sinking fund. (Learn more about those handy sinking funds right here!) Then when the jingle bells start for real, you’ll be ready!

It’s not just saving that you can start early – start shopping early as well! My mom has been known to buy Christmas gifts in February and tuck them away. This trick allows you to spread the expense over the year in a way that doesn’t impact your budget. 

The key is just remembering where you hid them!!

How will I pay for it? 

Bottom line – if you do not have the cash to pay for it, don’t buy it. If this is your first Christmas on a budget and you don’t have a single penny saved up, then embrace a small-scale Christmas. Even if you have been saving, there will be temptations to spend more than your budget. 

Just say no to credit cards. 

Do not charge your gifts, with the promise to pay them off later. If you are already in debt, you’ll just be digging yourself deeper. And if you are debt-free already, I KNOW you don’t want to slip back into those habits again. 

How much can I afford to spend? 

Before you start shopping, take some time to think about your financial goals. Just because it is the most wonderful time of the year doesn’t mean you should lose sight of your dreams for the future. 

Get real with what you can afford and set a Christmas budget. And then – HERE is the key – stick to it. It can be SO tempting when you are out shopping to add more and more and MORE to the cart. I’m so guilty of this because I want to buy my boys ALL the things they would love. 


After the holidays are over and your house is full of unplayed with toys, you’ll be working harder to catch up. 

Aim to set a reasonable budget, and then stick to it. Check out this post from Shannon at Affording Motherhood for a free Christmas Budget Planner and some great advice on how to create the perfect holiday budget for your family. 

Who do you need to buy for?

Before you click the back button and leave this post forever, bear with me for a minute. 

I’m not being a total grinch and telling you to cull your list completely and not buy gifts for anyone. 

But I want you to take an honest look at your list and consider who you really WANT to buy for. There were years in my life where I was buying gifts for everyone: coworkers, every cousin, niece and nephew, and family friend. And while yes, that is lovely – it comes at a cost beyond just your wallet. Your mental health is far more important than scouring the malls for, plus when you buy for everyone, there is some weird social reciprocity that comes into play, and …blech! (Can you tell that gift-giving is not my love language?)

Bottom line:

Buying gifts for everyone is expensive. If you have several siblings and their spouses and their kids – that is easily twenty gifts right there. And when you budget $20 ($30? $40?!) per gift – wow does that ever add up fast! 

Maybe as a family, you decide to only buy for the children. Or, within siblings and spouses and parents, a name draw or a yearly rotation of who buys for who might ease the load. 

And – don’t hate me – it is okay NOT to buy gifts. Have a discussion early and set a new boundary. Explain your reasoning and your goals – we are on a budget, we are trying to pay off all of our debt, we would like to spend time together rather than exchange gifts. 

Can these conversations be awkward? Yes. Could people get upset? Also yes. I know family dynamics can be challenging to navigate, and you don’t want to fight during the holidays. But… if people are offended, that is on them. You can choose to stand by YOUR choices and not let their guilt affect you. 

In all honesty, I would much rather open my house up for an afternoon of holiday cheer than have to slog through the malls trying to find the perfect gift for Aunt Jane or cousin Sally. 

Time is a gift. Togetherness is a gift. Embrace it. 

How much do you need to buy?

How much you need to buy comes back to the budget. You do not need to have 15 gifts, per person, under the tree. Try scaling back a bit. I really like the four gift challenge that has been circulating on Pinterest boards for years. You buy something they want, something they need, something to wear, something to read. They still get gifts, but it helps keep you focused on your shopping. I like to add something to do to that list – an experience of some sort. And, in our house, there will still be a delivery from jolly old St. Nick. But rather than buying cartfuls of toys that yes, he would love (for a minute), it keeps me focused when I am shopping. 

Why are we doing this? 

The real joy of this season comes from spending time with each other, and focusing on gratitude and giving. Not giving gifts to each other, but giving our time and sharing the abundances we have with people in need. Shopping for the food bank, or toys for the yearly toy drive. Making sock bundles for the shelters. You get the idea.

We like to do small random acts of kindness in our community – we call it elfing. Leaving quarters in shopping carts or parking meters, scraping snow off of our neighbour’s windows in the morning, paying for the coffee order of the person in line behind us in the drive-thru. 

By focusing on the spirit of giving, we are teaching our son the best part of the season. Plus, we do these things together, which for me, is the best part. 

It can be easy to get caught up in the marketing bonanza that is in our faces every time we leave the house from September until the big day arrives. Bigger. Faster. More.More.More. Try to stay focused on the real spirit of Christmas – giving your time and heart. 

Some free Christmasy things to do as a family: 

  • go Christmas light looking
  • bake cookies together
  • watch a Christmas movie
  • write Christmas cards together
  • have a board-game tournament
  • go sledding
  • sing Christmas carols
  • visit the library to borrow some Christmas books
  • attend a choir concert at a local church
  • volunteer together 
  • go for a winter walk
  • look through pictures from Christmases past
  • write thank-you cards 
  • do a Christmas jigsaw puzzle
  • watch a holiday baking show

Final Thoughts

The last thing I’ll say about Christmas on a budget is that it doesn’t feel any less magical. We make the best family memories without paying a penny of interest! The whole point of the season is to spend time together, so take a deep breath and crack out the board games! 

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