Make a list, and check it twice

If you've waited until the last few days before Santa comes to town to finish your Christmas shopping, here are some ideas to get you through the holidays on a tight budget.

What do you need?

First, take a closer look at what you're dealing with. How much do you still have allocated in your budget for gift-giving? Who do you still need to buy a gift for? It's important to make a list to ensure you aren't forgetting someone. Having to make an unplanned purchase later may throw you over budget.

Check your list twice

Santa was on to something when he made his list and checked it twice. Maybe consider doing the same. Do you really need to buy a gift for everyone on your list, or did they make the cut simply because you're in the Christmas spirit? It's easy to get overzealous and want to give a gift to each friend, colleague, and teacher your child has. However, that can get super expensive. Review your list and narrow it down to only those that are truly necessary. This will give you a better idea of how much you can spend on each gift.

Don't overindulge

There will be plenty of cakes, pies, cookies, and other treats to overindulge with this season. Make sure you're checking account isn't included on that list. Consider purchasing your gifts using only cash or gift cards. It's easy to spend an extra few dollars here and there to upgrade a gift, but it's not necessary. Trust me, your friends and family would not want you in a financial bind over a Christmas ornament or candle box set. As Jim Carrey says, "No holiday should manipulate you to the point where you're going into debt just to show someone you love them."

Bust up the boxes

Speaking of box sets, consider splitting up a gift set. Yes, you heard me correctly. Bust the set apart to create multiple gifts. For example, I recently purchased a two-candle set, each with a different scent. Although it was boxed together, separating them could provide me with two gifts instead of one. This allows you to spread the joy to more recipients.

Boutique antique

Remember, it is "Tis the season to give", not "Tis the season to buy". Consider making something to give as a gift. Are you good at baking? How about crafts? Oftentimes you can find clearance items at discount stores or even a thrift shop. Dust it off, spray it with some Windex, and slap an initial on it. Now, instead of something used or boring, you have a boutique style one-of-a-kind gift.

Consider donations

If you're the type that burns your cookie, or your finger on a hot glue gun, you can always take a different route. Consider making a donation to a favorite charity. Some shy away from this, out of embarrassment for the size of the donation they can afford. Believe me, the charity will be happy to receive any amount. You won't even have to let the recipient know how much was given. Simply give them a card that says "Merry Christmas! A donation to (fill in the blank) was made on your behalf."

If you would rather take a more hands-on approach when making a donation, you can always check with the charity and see if volunteer help is needed. Your card can then include something like "5 hours of work was donated on your behalf". 

Gifting it forward

It's also important to remember that gift-giving issues are truly a first world problem. Some would care less about the scent of a candle versus the warm that it can provide. Consider creating gift bags with socks, gloves, toiletries, and snacks to hand out to those less fortunate. For the amount of money you plan on spending for one gift, you could make multiple gift bags. I assure you, it will truly be appreciated.

If you're really short on cash, consider giving the gift of time. No, I'm not talking about a watch, but your actual time. Set up a meeting for now or in the future to get together simply to hang out. It may be over lunch or even a cup of coffee.

Whatever you choose to do, just make sure not to overdo it, with the cookies or the gift spending.

Merry Christmas! 

Michelle Kuehner is a Registered Investment Advisor Representative and President of Personal Money Planning. She is also a Certified Credit Counselor and Certified Financial Health Counselor, writes Fix Our Budget blog, and has over 25 years of experience in the financial industry.

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