Elf on a Budget: Staying on Track for the Holidays


Christmas can be a budget buster for sure. In our materialistic society, its easy to think that you have to totally blow your budget treating everyone around you to everything their hearts desire. But that’s so not the case.

You know who makes you feel that way? Advertisers and people who make money selling things you don’t need. Especially the ones that advertise on kid’s channels and make your kids think that if they don’t have the new extra special XYZ, they’ll never have fun ever again, and no one will want to play with them.
Love those guys.

Bailey Family Christmas 2015, after Santa Came

Social media does it’s fair share in blowing gift giving out of proportion too. It seems like every day I log on to Facebook or whatever, I see pictures of trees overflowing with gifts that dwarf the tree and spill put onto the floor, followed by comments about “how happy their lucky kids must be!”

What parent doesn’t want their kids to feel happy and loved on Christmas?

Spoiler Alert: Kids don’t need mountains of junk to experience a magical Christmas. And you don’t have to participate in the yearly Social Media Mom-Off.

The picture above is our living room last year after we put out all the Santa gifts. The gifts include both Sam and Abby, some for Ben who was’t born yet, me and Jeff, and our gifts to my mom, her boyfriend Mike (Rick), my sister, brother and both of their significant others. There’s nothing stuffed behind the tree or out of the shot. Some people would think its a paltry few.

Our kids were overjoyed.

They each got their one gift they’re allowed to ask for from Santa, plus two from mom and dad and a stocking full of mostly candy. And thats plenty. We stuck to our budget for that year (same as this year, $500 total) and put other efforts into the magic of Christmas. We read stories, made crafts, baked cookies, listened to music, went to see lights. Each of these are more memorable than any toy that will be broken and forgotten by Easter. And honestly? Sitting here thinking about it, I don’t recall a gift I got at Christmas. Or one that I wanted and did’t get. I do remember decorating the tree, making apple pies, driving around to see lights, listening to the same Bing Crosby record I still play.

So our family tips for staying on budget for Christmas start with:

The Mindset. Remind yourself, Christmas is not presents, and presents are not going to make or break a Christmas. Think of all of the things you remember about Christmas as a child. Is it the lights? Visiting family? The Music? Religious services? It will take some imagination for some of us, but you can make these special memories with your family.

Make a Budget and Stick to it. Every year on New Years Eve when we do our budget for the year we decide how much per month we want to put away in anticipation for birthday and Christmas gifts. When it comes to gift buying time, see how much money you have set aside and realistically how much you can spend. No credit cards. No special financing. Do this with cash if you have to. When the cash is gone its gone.

Luckily, though this might be the most expensive day of the year, Christmas comes on the same day every year. This means we can plan for it. Start as early as possible for minimum impact on your life.

Think Simple. Growing up, my mom always felt obligated to give a gift to all of her five sisters and her three in-laws, even though we were living paycheck to paycheck. One of her favorite, simple, cheap gifts that people loved getting were her breads. She would go to the dollar store, get a bunch of those little ceramic, Christmas decorated bread pans for $1, then make cranberry breads, cinnamon bread or my grandmother’s zucchini bread, wrap them in cellophane and colorful ribbon. Viola. Instant Christmas gift. $2.

This is still a great idea for kids teachers, bus drivers, extended family etc.

Pare Down the List. You don’t have to acknowledge every human being in your life on Christmas. If your budget is super tight, start paring off the list. Most people will understand and most likely even forget if they’re excluded. Immediate family, your own children, spouses are all important. Friends, neighbors, every aunt uncle and cousin, every  teacher or aide and coworker can all get cut.

Then remember to give yourself some grace. Remember why you tightened your belt and keep the bigger picture in mind.

And lastly, this is what I’m working on for this year. I call it “transcend.” Rise above all of the negative people grumbling about gifts and “bah humbugging” and complaining about gifts they didn’t get, parties they didn’t get to go to, family drama, arguments. Transcend. Recently someone wrote a bitchy comment on something I had posted on Facebook and almost instantly my mom texted me saying “can you believe what a B she is?”

Usually I would have gotten all grouchy, and then unleashed a slew of choice descriptions for this person and let it interrupt at least a portion of my day. Instead, my response was “Whatever, I transcend her negativity.” And that was it.

People can’t trample on your happiness and the joy of your season unless you let them.





Author: Christina

I'm Christina! A 20-something wife to Jeff, mother of 3, just trying to take over the family finances, drink coffee and raise babies.

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