Budgeting for Christmas Shopping Before it’s too Late

Yes, it is only just Fall and the leaves are barely starting to change color but before any of us realize it, the snow will be on the ground and Jingle Bells will be playing at the mall (OK, the holiday music will start once Halloween is over).

Budgeting for Christmas shopping now may sound like a chore but it can be the life line you need to avert debt.

Typically when a person goes Christmas shopping and there is no budget, then this gives the illusion of having no limits – and no limits often leads to January credit card bills that hurt.

Designing a budget helps you to avoid that steep downhill in January; and this helps to keep the happiness of the Christmas holidays lasting well into the new year.

If you are like so many other people, chances are budgeting for Christmas could be a first!  If so – congratulations!  There’s no shame in budgeting, and in fact, budgeting can be applied to other life events such as birthdays, weddings, or family reunions.

Some financial experts advise keeping your budget within two to five percent of your annual income.  So, if you earn $30,000 a year, then this allows the budget to rest between $600 and $1,500.

For some families this may not be possible.  The best thing to do is sit down and work out how much can you take out of each paycheck from now until December 25th, and work with that.

budgeting for christmas

You should start budgeting for Christmas Before it's Too Late!

Here comes the real chore; you need to make a list of all expenses.  Do you have to travel at Christmas?  It may sound trivial, but even an extra tank or two of gas to drive around visiting relatives and can cost more than you think.

Here are a few ideas to help you organize a budget:

  • Who do you “need” to buy for and who would you like to buy for?  When you have made this list – prioritize.
  • Where are you going to buy the gifts? Discounts are out there to be had, such as Black Friday, Cyber Monday, and Free Shipping Day, among others.  When you have a list of gifts, do a little homework online and find the best prices and you will find you can save a lot and make your money go further.
  • Do any gifts have to be mailed?  If so – factor in postage.  Factor in time too so you aren’t stuck paying extra to get the gift out on time.
  • Wrapping, decorations and the tree.  Buy early, on sale, and in bulk when possible.
  • Christmas cards and postage costs.  
  • Baking and food costs.
  • Travel costs.

When shopping there is a huge temptation to purchase more extravagant gifts than budgeted, but always ask: where am I going to get this extra money from?  Always keep your receipts to help track what has been spent (not to mention should you need one to return an item).

Budgeting for Christmas shopping can be enhanced with some creativity. If buying an expensive item for a family member is not attainable on your own, then make it a family/group gift.  Homemade baked goods are generally better than any store-bought goods.  Take photographs of the people you love – print them off and find a nice frame.  If you recycle Christmas cards, get some bristol board and make your own cards to send and wrapping paper can be colorful magazine pages or comics.

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The internet holds a wealth of ideas that can help you have the best holiday ever – even on a very tight budget.

Above all else, keep in mind that the focus of the holiday season should be on what can be given that costs nothing and yet is the most valuable – spending quality time with family and friends. Sharing an evening of laughter together is a memory that will outlast any purchased gift.

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Published or updated December 5, 2011.


  1. I have to brag a little: I’m 95% done. I buy a good amount of gifts for about a dozen people. I pick up things during the course of the year as I find them on sale or when I have a little extra cash. I keep gift ideas in my phone in a simple app that reminds me what still needs to be purchased.

    Wrapping will be done before Halloween.

    That gives me two months to focus on the things that I really enjoy doing for Christmas: making homemade bows for the gifts, and baking lots of cookies and elaborately decorating them for gifts.

    No, I’m not some Martha devotee. I work on the road and am only home on weekends. I’ve learned how to budget my time as well as my money. Get crackin’ kids, there’s about 93 days til Christmas!

    • That sounds great! Imagine actually spending the holiday season enjoying the holiday season instead of running around through crowded malls, trying to get last minute gifts.

  2. I officially started my Christmas shopping yesterday. I had received free giftcards to stores from the actual stores, so it made everything free!

  3. The Wife has already started for her family and the baby. We get into a fight every year around Thanksgiving about when I will shop for my family lol…EVERY YEAR!

  4. I like the idea of planning ahead for Christmas. It helps prevent the over-spending and keeps people conscious of what they are spending (or will spend). I also like the idea of “secret santa” where everyone only buys one time for people. People still get to open a present and no one goes broke. :)

    • Secret Santa is great. I don’t think the holidays are supposed to be about an over-abundance of gifts. It should be more about consideration and sharing.

  5. My wife started making some of the gifts. She has to start early because it takes a lot of time.

  6. Jenna, Adaptu Community Manager says:

    I make most of my Christmas gifts, so it’s just stocking up on supplies and making sure I have enough prep time to get them done.

  7. I’m curious how much people budget? Last year I budgeted $600 and blew through it, spent more like $1200. This year I’m going to try a combination of being more frugal and more realistic.

  8. I have been keeping spreadsheets of which gifts I give to whom for nearly 12 years. I spend an average of $1800 – $2500 annually, and I shop for roughly 14 people.

  9. I buy all (well at least 90%) of my gifts on Black Friday. Black-Friday.net is my favorite site right around this time…

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