Practical Strategies for Holiday Budgeting and Organizing your Gift List


Every year, when the leaves start to fall, I can’t help but get excited. I love all things fall: apple-picking, carving pumpkins, Halloween, baking pretty much anything that involves cinnamon, and consuming anything and everything pumpkin spice flavored. But, while I’m enjoying all things fall, thoughts begin to creep into my head about the upcoming holiday season. I wouldn’t exactly say that the holidays stress me out, but they do require quite a bit of planning. Holiday gift giving is an important part of our family’s traditions, and if it’s the same in your family, you know that coming up with extra money for holiday gifts can be quite a stretch to your regular budget.

To help ease some of the stress, I’ve come up with a list of some ways to help with holiday budgeting, as well as some ways to organize your gift list.

Holiday budgeting strategies:

#1 – See if your bank offers holiday saver accounts.

Ours does, and we’ve been using one for a few years now. It took minutes to set up: I have $5 transferred from my checking account into the holiday saver account each week, I never have to think about it, and it’s transferred back into my checking account in mid to late October. I can add little bits of money here and there if want, but even if I don’t, it’s a nice chunk of change for holiday shopping, and not so much that I miss it from my regular paycheck.

holiday budgeting, gift list, getting organized, holiday shopping
Having a holiday saver account means I can spend less time thinking about saving money, and more time planning our gift list.

#2 – Purchase a gift card each month and set it aside for holiday gift buying.

Be sure to purchase cards for stores or websites where you are likely to buy holiday gifts. You can vary the amount based on your budget for the month: if money is tight, a small gift card of $10 or $15 might be all you can afford, but if you have any 3 pay period months (like we do twice a year), try to buy a larger gift card, maybe $50-$100. I recommend getting a card for your local drugstore or grocery store so you can purchase gift wrap when it goes on sale.

#3 – Keep an eye out for special programs or surveys that offer gift cards in exchange for participation.

I get a $75-$100 gift card each year in exchange for participating in our work’s wellness program (and meeting a certain points goal.) I put this aside and use it for holiday gifts.

#4 – Return bottles to the grocery store and, instead of cashing in this money, use it to purchase a gift card.

Many stores have little gift card walls now, so there are lots of stores to choose from.

#5 – Use a coin-counting machine at a local grocery store, and instead of walking out with the cash, have it converted into an e-gift card.

Your gift card code prints right on the receipt and you can put that toward your holiday shopping.

#6 – If time is tight and money is scarce, consider doing a Secret Santa type gift exchange with friends and/or family.

This is a great idea, especially if you have a big family and/or big group of friends. Make a list of everyone who would like to participate, then have each person draw a name. This way, you are only responsible for one gift (or two if you are doing an exchange with both friends and family), and the financial stress is much lower.

holiday budgeting, gift giving, holidays, Christmas
Having a “Secret-Santa” type gift swap means you can focus on just one gift, making your holiday shopping routine a heck of a lot easier.

#7 – Make a deal with friends and/or family to do a homemade holiday.

Skip the shopping altogether and make a pledge to give only gifts created with your own two hands. Need possible gift ideas? Try making a no-sew fleece blanket with tied edges, baking a batch of your aunt’s favorite cookies, or writing a name poem for your niece and putting it in a colorful frame. Acts of service (lawn mowing, organizing, babysitting, and cooking are also really appreciated, and not too costly.)

holiday budgeting, upcycling, budget holiday, gift giving, holidays, Christmas
I frequently upcycle packaging to hold homemade gifts.

Tips for organizing your gift list:

#1 – Create a spreadsheet on Google Sheets.

Every year, a few weeks before Black Friday, my husband and I sit down, tally up the money in our holiday saver account, and make a list of any gift cards and promo codes we have. We make a list of people we’d like to give gifts to, decide how much we’d like to spend on them, and start brainstorming ideas. Because the document is shared between both of us, we can add/remove ideas and keep track of purchases at any time.

#2 – Create a Pinterest board for gift ideas throughout the year (or Fall, or however many weeks you have left before the holidays).

You can use the comments feature to note colors/sizes and when/where you purchased the item. Whenever an idea strikes or you stumble across a product or tutorial online, pin it! Of course, it’s a good idea to keep the board “secret” – that way, when I pin a gift idea for my mom, it doesn’t pop up in her feed next time she logs on.

holiday budgeting, gift list, getting organized
One of my nieces mentioned she really wanted a big hair bow, so as soon as I was near my phone, I quickly pinned something similar to my (secret) gifts board.

#3 – If you use a planner on a daily basis (like I do), dedicate a notes page toward the back for gift ideas.

Make a note when someone mentions something they might like to have or try. Notes like this are super helpful when I suddenly get brain freeze and can’t think of anything my dad might like. I also use this list to help with birthday shopping.

#4 – Create a shared Google Doc with clothing sizes and general needs.

In early November, my husband and I start one, add all the clothing sizes for the kids in the family (and any adults who would like to receive clothes or shoes as a gift), and add general notes. It’s super helpful to refer to on your smartphone when you’re out shopping.

While some of these tips and strategies are best utilized throughout the calendar year, most can be modified to start in September or even later. For example, instead of buying a gift card per month, you can buy a small one each week in October and November to take some of the pressure off of December spending.

What tips and strategies do you use for holiday budgeting and organization?


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