If you don’t plan ahead, getting gifts for everyone on your list can add up quickly. No one wants to blow their budget when there are affordable ways to shop smarter. Using our seven gift-giving tips, you can get prepared and think creatively to avoid a bad financial start to the new year.
1. Plan out a gift budget before you get started
Items to include in your budget: the total amount you would feel comfortable with spending overall, the number of people you want to get a present for, and how much you want to spend on each person. Naturally, this number can obviously fluctuate per person, but it's best to set a maximum and a slightly lower target. Keep track of what you actually spent per person rather than just check names off the list and use this as a template for building out your budget next year.
2. Arrange a group gift exchange
If you have a large family and/or lots of friends or a group of coworkers, buying something for everyone can really add up. Instead of buying separate gifts, arrange a gift exchange where each person only has to buy one gift. This helps everyone's budget and creates a way to celebrate the holidays as a group.
If you want to get the snowball rolling, consider these ideas:
- Cookie exchange: great for big groups including office parties, each person makes at least one cookie per guest, then everyone goes home with a big pile of sugary goodness
- Secret Santa: where each person draws someone else’s name out of a hat and buys a gift specifically for them — and it doesn't have to be a secret
- White Elephant events where every person brings a wrapped gift, typically silly and inexpensive and everyone takes turns opening a wrapped gift or stealing an already unwrapped gift adds an entertaining activity to the gift giving
- No matter what exchange you do, cap the total amount that can be spent per person so that the presents are relatively balanced, and if capping the amount on the lower end, forces the gift-giver to get creative.
- If you're among talented friends, each gift could be a service — website design, knitting, knife sharpening — redeemable in the first quarter of the new year when everyone is less busy
- Customize your exchanges even more by adding a theme, such as all presents must be blue, or it has to be a book, or edible, or an item for the desk or office
3. Skip presents and opt for a holiday memory instead
Suggest your family or group of friends skips presents this year and instead makes a memory together. Everyone can chip in a fraction of what they would have spent on a gift for any of these group activities:
- Go out for a nice brunch
- Go see a show or local musical performance
- Go ice skating, hiking, or biking
- Group caroling (sing outside other families' or friends' houses)
- Visit the museum
- Have a potluck party
- Make gingerbread people and decorate them to look like your group
- Attend a wine tasting together
If you want a solid item to remember the year, have everyone write a meaningful card to each other or take photos during the day and create a scrapbook everyone can sign.
4. Get a group together to do charity work
This is a great idea for any group (family, friends, coworkers) and ties in with hosting an event rather than shopping for gifts. Get in a day of quality time together while helping out an organization that could use extra helping hands. Find a charity organization in your area that can host a group of your size. There are tons of options and resources out there including VolunteerMatch for searching your local area.
5. Host an “Abundance Swap”
Inspired by the efforts of the annual Ashland, Oregon event, it’s green gifting, yard sale, white elephant event, and regifting all in one! Have a group party where everyone brings a few quality items from home that they don’t mind giving up. Let everyone draw numbers to see who will go first. The “shopper” can only pick out one item per turn. Any items leftover at the end of the day can be donated to a local charity.
Added extra seasonal tip: host the swap early to allow friends to re-use these items as presents for others on their list.
6. Use cash or debit, not credit, to pay for your gifts
You may not have expected this practical suggestion, but it is always a winner. It’s best to use cash or debit to buy gifts so they won’t cost you more in the long run when interest is added in the months following your purchases.
Occasionally, stores still offer layaway so you can pay for your items in increments, rather than all at once. Look for stores that offer free layaway, since the fee for holding your items could come out to the same or more than a credit card interest rate. If you want to use credit, make sure you can pay it off at the end of the month.
If your community bank or credit union offers a Christmas account, it may be a viable way to plan your budget for next year, too. (Remember tip #1 on creating a budget?)
7. Buy gifts in bulk to save on each individual
If you always bring a bottle of wine to the holiday parties you attend, buy a whole case this year to bring down the price of each bottle. You can do the same for lots of different items. Buying in bulk saves time and money instead of picking out a dozen separate presents.
However, be sure you don’t buy items in bulk unless you know you’re saving money in the long run. If “bulk” for some item means twenty but you only need eight, it’s unlikely that saves much if anything over buying individual items.
Just keep in mind, your time and your money are both valuable this time of year. Planning around what best suits your budget or your schedule can be the secret sauce to holiday happiness.