Over the years, my husband and I have gone from stupid to poor to debt-free. Unfortunately, much of our emotional rollercoaster is directly related to learning ways to Christmas shop on a budget. The amount we would (or wouldn’t) spend at Christmas time seemed directly related to the amount of debt we carried throughout the rest of the year.
So, during moments of forced frugality, I taught myself to keep a Christmas budget.
Some years, the budget was a big fat $0, and I had to get extremely creative. Other years, I was well-prepared and had a little more to spend.
PLEASE NOTE: If you are serious about celebrating Christmas (or any winter holiday) without accumulating new debt, the first step is always setting a Christmas budget. If you don’t have one, MAKE one. We include our Christmas cards, postage/shipping, gifts, special baking, decorations and anything related to December 25th in our Christmas budget. We also have budget per person for gift-giving.
As you sit down to draw out a budget, keep your focus on the reason why you celebrate. For us, we focus on the meaning of Christmas as the birth of our Savior, Jesus Christ.
Best Tips for Keeping a Christmas Budget
This entire post is packed with awesome tips for Christmas shopping on a budget, but if I had to narrow it, this would be the top tips.
If you have a specific gift list, start watching those prices and keeping a Christmas price book. If you are waiting for inspiration, do not forget to browse the clearance section each time you visit a store. This includes office supply stores! I was able to score Cross pen gift sets ($29.99 value) for $5 each one year.
Don’t feel like you have to meet a price-per-person.
If you get a deal on a gift, use the retail value as the cost to apply toward your budgeted amount per person. There is a person in my family who feels obligated to spend the same amount for each person and if this person finds a deal, they use the sale price and by more. Nope, nope. Remember that the true value of the gift is not the price you paid but the thoughts of love you had toward that person when you purchased it.
Be willing to go back for a price-match to get a great(er) deal.
We actually had to go back three times to Toys R Us last year to get them to keep matching the price on a particular item we purchased because they lowered it each week. That time of year is busy with errands anyway so it was no difficult to swing back by there with the receipt. Just verify that a store will offer you a price adjustment, the amount of time included in that policy, and whether or not you need to bring the items or just the receipt to receive the difference.
Use Shopping Apps
Put the power of technology to help you save. Download these awesome apps:
iBotta: The first grocery rebate app I tried, and I am still using it. I can really cash in with iBotta when they have rebate offers on the products my family uses, but they also have generic offers too where you can receive a $0.20 rebate when you purchase milk. But, they also have rebates for TOYS… and underwear and other stuff you could use as gifts and stocking stuffers.
Black Friday: Know what will be on sale, where, and the best prices before the sales advertisements hit the newspaper. I love using this app to plan ahead prior to Black Friday, but it still comes in handy throughout the season.
Ebates: If you are going to be shopping online ANY time of year, you need Ebates. It is totally legit. I have made over $1,000 in cash back. CASH back. Not points. Not gift cards. CASH. All you have to do is remember to click through your Ebates account when shopping. They have thousands of stores available with up to 52% cash rebates. And… they keep a running list of discount codes for each retailer.
A few years ago, I created a HUGE list of homemade stocking stuffers. Don’t miss it because these are REAL gifts that are doable… by average people with no craft skills like myself.
Choose Your Payment Options Wisely
How you pay for Christmas makes a difference. Trust me.
When it is time to shop, use cash only. Cash only will keep you shopping smart and will help you avoid overspending.
If you must use a plastic card for shopping (like online and such), use a card that gives you rewards.
We have a debit card with a VISA logo, meaning you can run it as a credit card through swipe machines and even pay with it online. When I run a transaction as a “credit card” instead of “debit,” my bank rewards me with one point for every $1 I spend. We even pay our bills with our debit card to get more points. Those rewards points can be exchanged for travel, merchandise, or my personal favorite… GIFT CARDS!
Now, you have to keep in mind that this is NOT a credit card and you MUST have the money in the bank so the transaction does not create an overdraft problem.
Christmas Shop for FREE
How would you like to be able to do your Christmas shopping for absolutely free? This requires work throughout the year but pays off BIG TIME during the holidays.
Refer your friends and score FREE credit
Typically, when you join a shopping website (such as Groupon or Zulily), you can purchase items for up to 75% off, but most of those groups have a bonus feature…
When you refer your friends to these websites and they make their first purchase, you get cash to spend on the deals the company offers. The more friends you refer, the more cash you have to spend. Then, when a great deal comes along, you can snatch it up and put it into your Christmas gift closet. for. FREE.
Now, you might have to pay shipping, but honestly… you would be paying shipping later anyway.
How to refer your friends:
- Subscribe to the emails so you will know when the good deals are available.
- Make sure you are signed in to the shopping website before referring your friends.
- Use your individual referral link to share deals with your Facebook account, Twitter account, Google Plus account or blog.
- Tell your friends about the great deals you have gotten in the past.
- Be consistent. When you see a good deal, share it!
- Be real. Don’t share the flaky deals, and there will be some. Hold out for the good ones.
Collect points that convert to gifts
Do not be so quick to toss those tiny codes in the trash because they can add up to some awesome presents.
MyCokeRewards: If you purchase soda, you might as well get something back from it. How about magazines, gift cards, photo developing or other cool gifts? For FREE? Yeah, it’s a good thing.
I love My Coke Rewards so much that I have been know to pull codes out of the recycling bin and even had Bill stop on the side of the road once for me to grab a box worth 20 points. Crazy? Could be. But I never pay to have my photographs developed and have several magazines subscriptions free of charge. This year, I even picked up a few really cool Christmas gifts.
Huggies Enjoy the Ride and Pampers Gifts to Grow: Diapers cost a bundle, even when on sale. So, get in the habit of clipping the codes from the package, put them in a drawer and then sit down every once in a while to plug them into your account.
You don’t even have to purchase diapers to score some of these codes. They come available all the time, and you can use the to pick up toys for gift-giving or even coupons for FREE diapers.
Swagbucks: You might be sick of hearing me rave about Swagbucks but seriously… where else can you use a toolbar and get points which translate into prizes? Okay… other than Bing Rewards! Now, I must admit that I do not use Bing Rewards but the value of their prizes are over-priced compared to Swagbucks. So, I will still be a Swaggernaut and happily so! To the tune of FIVE $5 gift cards to Amazon.com a month, on average. Not to bad for searching the internet. Those gift cards can add up quickly and pay for a few of your Christmas gifts.
If you have a great way to keep your Christmas Budget on track, please drop a comment below!
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