Family, Kids & Relationships

7 Simple Tips For Keeping Your Budget In Check During the Holidays

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It’s the holidays and no matter how good your intentions are, it’s not just your diet that may take a beating, it’s also your wallet.

According to a 2019 WalletJoy survey of 1,330 adults, 19 percent of people said they were planning on racking up more than $1,000 in debt over the holiday season—and one in five of those shoppers admitted it was likely to be more like $4,000. Unsurprisingly, things look a little different in 2020. The 2020 Deloitte holiday retail survey surfaced that 1 in 3 families are in a worse financial position than last year, and at least 2 in 5 expect to spend less. Of course, simply “spending less” can be easier said than done—here are some tips to help keep your budget on track.

Set a realistic spending limit

For parents who want to keep their budget in check, experts agree the first order of business is to set a realistic spending limit—and firmly commit to it. Without doing at least that, there’s a far greater chance you’ll struggle to curb your spending. According to recent YouGov research, the average pre-planned holiday budget is just over $700. While that might seem steep to many, the average American is expected to actually spend about $1,387—meaning that setting a budget in advance could save you over $600.

Parents with multiple kids may want to consider setting a cap for each child, then making a list of their biggest gift requests. When deciding what to buy, remember some children might prefer to receive one more expensive “must-have” and nothing else, while others might be happier to receive multiple less expensive gifts. And when budgeting, don’t forget to include those less-noticeable holiday expenditures that still impact the bottom line—like generous tips for service workers and delivery folks, teachers’ gifts, wrapping paper, or the office/class party that everyone chips in for.

Reassess your savings

Here’s the good news: the National Retail Federation reports that about one in five people who would normally travel for the holidays are staying home this year instead, due to the pandemic. While that might mean you miss out on a taste of Aunt Bev’s famous pecan pie, lots of families are using the money they would have spent on airfare or gasoline on gifts or festive decor instead. If you’re cutting back on some of your holiday plans, do some honest calculations to determine if any of those savings can safely be spent on making your home-based celebrations more cheery, without busting your bottom line.

Shop early

The earlier you start snagging gifts, the more leeway you have to wait for sales, promotions, and coupons. Granted, your kids will probably change their minds 100 times between October and the end of the year about what toys and gifts they want most, but there are surely others on your list who are a bit more predictable.

Just don’t fall into the trap of overbuying later—if you find something on sale for your sister over the summer, cross her off your list! Resist impulse buying something else you know she’ll love in November.

Change your exchange

Even if it’s always been the tradition in your family, there’s no reason you have to buy gifts for every single sibling and cousin. Ask around, and chances are there are others looking to scale back in 2020, too. Some alternate arrangements you might consider:

  • If most of the adults are parents, you might agree that everyone only buys gifts for the kids in the family. Or you might all give “family gifts” like board games instead of individual presents.
  • Draw names so that everyone is only buying for one other person. If you have a large family, you can have multiple groups that exchange names, like siblings, cousins, kids under age 12, etc.
  • Have a “regifting” holiday, which is easier on both your wallet and the planet! Only give each other gifts that are “gently used” or that you made yourself—for example, make a set of greeting cards that your aunt can use to stay in touch during the following year, create a book of family recipes to share, or pass down a stack of t-shirts that are still in great condition to your niece who loves vintage Ts.

Give the gift of memories 

Another great way to keep your budget in check during the holidays is to give the gift of experiences—and that doesn’t have to mean expensive trips. For example, you might try making a coupon book for trips to the ice cream shop, the arcade, or a museum. This way you won’t have to pony up the money all at once and you’ll be setting aside quality time together. Depending on the age of your child and your financial resources, these experiences can be as simple (and free) as a playdate, a trip to the park, or a DIY scavenger hunt. The more creative, the better.

Shop smarter

If possible, use credit cards that pay rewards or offer cash back when you use them, which can add up to substantial savings—though use cards with caution, and only charge an amount you can comfortably pay off when the bill comes to avoid ending up in debt in January. Better yet, if you go to brick-and-mortar shops, try leaving your credit cards at home and only use cash. It’s a lot harder to overspend when you have a finite amount of money on hand. 

Smartphone apps like Shopular and ShopSavvy can help you find the best price across multiple stores and in some cases, provide coupon codes and opportunities to earn cash back. Shopping online to avoid the crowds (and the virus)? Honey and CamelCamelCamel are browser extensions that spring into action the moment you click to buy something online. They check for coupon codes and promotions and compare prices across retailers, so you can snag the lowest prices. 

Plan ahead

If this isn’t the first year that keeping your budget in check during the holidays is a challenge, try saving up for next year beginning January 2021. Each month set aside a fixed amount and come next December, holiday shopping won’t feel like a huge hit to your wallet.

Don’t forget: No one said the most wonderful time of the year had to cost a fortune. Activities such as volunteering as a family, baking cookies for neighbors, and making cards for military members who are far from home are great ways to make holiday memories—for free.  


Dealing with school closures, childcare issues, or other challenges related to coronavirus? Find support, advice, activities to keep kids entertained, learning opportunities and more in our Coronavirus Parents: Parenting in a Pandemic Facebook Group.

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