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10 Tips on How to Budget and Organize Your Holiday Gift-giving List

Shopping for holiday gifts doesn't have to whip you into a frenzy. A little planning and organizing at the beginning pays off big time on the big day.
Shopping for holiday gifts doesn't have to whip you into a frenzy. A little planning and organizing at the beginning pays off big time on the big day.
iStockphoto/Thinkstock

Holiday shopping probably isn't on most people's "favorite things" list. For many, it's a frenzied month-long process that begins with a Black Friday stampede and ends with a desperate trip to the mall on Christmas Eve. In between, there's usually a lot of confusion, anxiety and money-hemorrhaging. If, like so many holiday shoppers, you don't keep careful track of your spending, you can easily get carried away and end up maxed out -- with stress and your credit cards.

So how do you avoid busting your holiday budget this year? Two words: Get organized. We've come up with 10 ways to spend less, be more productive and stay calm throughout your holiday gift-giving. If you take this advice to heart, we guarantee you won't be making that dreaded trip to the mall the day before Hanukkah or Christmas.

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Camping out for Black Friday is many people's idea of starting early for holiday shopping. But we suggest getting started much, much sooner. If a gift idea pops into your head in March and you see a great deal, why not grab it? By making holiday shopping a year-round activity, you'll be able to shop around at your leisure and avoid panicky last-minute spending.

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Follow Santa's lead -- make a list and check it twice.
Follow Santa's lead -- make a list and check it twice.
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The holiday shopping spirit is certainly infectious, and when you're in an overcrowded mall with just a few days to go before exchanging presents, it's easy to panic and lose track of exactly who you need to buy for. So think ahead and make a list of the absolute must-buys -- with a spending limit for each person -- and stick to it.

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"Thou Shall Do Your Research" is the most important of the shopping commandments, and at no time is it more crucial than during the holidays. There are so many deals and promotions online that you'd be crazy to buy the first thing you see. Chances are you won't have to pay full price if you shop around a little -- even if you don't find a good sale right off the bat, you should be able to score a coupon code or free shipping. Sites like RetailMeNot.com and PriceGrabber.com are good places to start.

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It's fun to dream up gifts for your friends and family, each one more special (and expensive) than the next. But you'll be doing yourself -- and your budget -- a favor by getting an idea of what people want. Asking for gift advice might remove the surprise factor, but it also eliminates time-consuming guesswork -- and impulse buying.

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With all this thoughtfulness, research and advance planning, you're going to choose the perfect gift for everyone on your list, right? Sure, it's possible! But chances are you'll strike out with someone, so play it safe and always include a gift receipt to ensure a hassle-free exchange. You wouldn't want your hard-earned money to go to waste on a gift no one wants or uses.

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A homemade gift is always appreciated, especially yummy cookies like these.
A homemade gift is always appreciated, especially yummy cookies like these.
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Handmade gifts are by far the best way to save cash over the holidays. Wannabe Martha Stewarts can whip themselves into a frenzy this time of year, but don't count out homemade if you're not a crafty type. You can never go wrong with the gift of baked goodies. Find an easy cookie recipe and bake away -- if the gift is from your heart, that's what really counts.

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Pay for gifts with cash -- you'll be more aware of how much you're spending and on whom.
Pay for gifts with cash -- you'll be more aware of how much you're spending and on whom.
iStockphoto/Thinkstock

Remember that episode of "The Office" where everyone fights over the iPod that Michael brings to the Secret Santa party? That's where your gift swap will end up if you don't set a strict price limit. Workplace holiday events are awkward enough without adding money confusion (and overspending) to the mix.

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This scarf and hat qualify definitely for re-gifting.
This scarf and hat qualify definitely for re-gifting.
iStockphoto/Thinkstock

Yes, re-gifting is kind of tacky. But we've all done it, and it's definitely hard to resist if you're on a tight budget. Just make sure the gift is unworn, unused and unopened -- and that you're not re-gifting to someone who could possibly know (or be!) the original giver. Send it as far away as possible -- to the other side of the family, maybe, or to a friend on the other side of the country. We won't tell.

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Why not give charitable contributions for the holidays? It's guaranteed to be appreciated, especially if you pick specific causes that each of your loved ones loves. Plus, sticking to your budget will be a breeze. Oh, and should we mention another little advantage called "tax deduction?" Just be sure to keep track of the charities, the amount you contributed and in whose names.

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Remember that gift list we talked about? It won't do you any good if you don't pay attention to it. Stay within your budget for each person and keep a running tally of how much you've spent. If you have the list with you at all times, you'll be much more likely to keep impulse purchases in check.

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Sources

  • American Research Group, Inc. "2010 Christmas Gift Spending Plans Jump." Nov. 22, 2010. (Oct. 11, 2011) http://americanresearchgroup.com/holiday/
  • Chicago Tribune. "10 Holiday Money Mistakes." (Oct. 4, 2011) http://www.chicagotribune.com/features/holidaily/sns-holiday-christmas-shopping-mistakes,0,2701299.photogallery
  • Consumer Reports. "Holiday Money Savers." December 2010. (Oct. 11, 2011) http://www.consumerreports.org/cro/money/shopping/shopping-tips/holiday-money-savers/overview/index.htm
  • Dettweiler, Gerri. "Holiday Shopping Statistics: Are You Average?" Credit. Nov. 24, 2010. (Oct. 11, 2011) http://www.credit.com/blog/2010/11/holiday-shopping-statistics-are-you-average/
  • Grant, Kelli B. "9 Genius Ways to Save Money Christmas Shopping." Good Housekeeping. (Oct. 4, 2011) http://www.goodhousekeeping.com/family/budget/save-money-christmas-shopping
  • Mendelsohn, Josh. "Just Starting Your Holiday Shopping in December? You're Not Alone." Greenbook. (Oct. 11, 2011) http://www.greenbook.org/marketing-research.cfm/holiday-shopping-in-december
  • National Retail Federation. "Holiday Shopping Tips." (Oct. 11, 2011) http://www.nrf.com/modules.php?name=Pages&sp_id=883

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