5 Tips to Stay on Budget Throughout the Holiday Season

posted by Andrea | 10/30/2012

It’s already the end of October, which means if you haven’t started thinking or planning ahead for the holiday season, you might want to start!

I love the holidays (all of them!), and I honestly do try to keep them as simple as possible (this year more than ever before).  However, part the the whole “holiday experience” is all the crazy family parties, food, gifts, school programs, traveling, hosting out-of-town guests, more food, decorations, and did I mention food?

While we try to keep the real reason for the season foremost during this busy time of year, I have to admit that I do really enjoy most of the holiday busyness. I love having all our family around, I love thinking of and finding gifts I know people will want and use, I love doing lots and lots of holiday baking and cooking, and I love decorating our house.

However, all of that costs money.

It costs money to buy gifts, to travel to and from parties or out-of-town relatives, to buy food, to find that perfect decoration, to buy festive holiday clothing, etc.

Even if you’re a frugal person like myself, it’s almost inevitable that you’ll end up spending more money over the next 2 months than you normally would without all the holiday festivities.

That’s OK, as long as you’ve planned ahead and have the extra money to spend… so let’s start planning!

Here are a few of my tips to stay on budget throughout the holiday season. 

1. Make a holiday budget.

I don’t expect that you’ll be able to do all the extra holiday stuff on your normal monthly budget, so it’s a good idea to look at your bank account and figure out just how much money you have to spend on holiday things.

Everyone’s budget will be different, the point is that you have a budget  (and that you stick to it). Also, as you plan ahead for NEXT year’s holiday season, it might be wise to put a little money aside each month — starting in January already.

2. Figure out what you need/want to purchase.

  • What gifts will you need to purchase?
  • Will you need to do any traveling?
  • How much extra cooking/baking/grocery shopping will you need to do?
  • Will you need special clothing for any holiday parties?
  • Are you buying the turkey(s) this year?
  • Will you buy a fresh Christmas tree or use a fake tree you already have?
  • Did you want to purchase any other specific decorations?
  • Are you planning any special events/vacations for your family/children?

Write everything down so you can see exactly what you need and/or want to purchase this holiday season. It might also be helpful if you write WHEN the items need to be purchased by and approximately HOW MUCH you think they will cost.

3. Get creative.

Go back over your list above and then look at your budget. Realistically, is there enough money to cover everything?

If not (and there’s a good chance it won’t be enough!), you’ll have to get creative and figure out how to make your budget cover everything you need and want to buy.

Here are a few ideas to cut costs:

  • Make some of your gifts/decorations instead of buying them
  • Stock up on holiday baked goods and ingredients when they go on sale
  • Buy used (but still in good condition) gifts, decorations, clothing, etc. — I might be weird, but I’m not opposed to used gifts, especially for kids.
  • Shop online (Craigslist, Ebay, Overstock, Amazon) to find better deals on everything
  • Ask a friend, family member, or neighbor if you can borrow a specific article of clothing, decoration, kitchen utensil, etc. — I’ve borrowed and lent out SO many different items and saved so much money (and storage space) in the process!

4. Use cash.

Even though I don’t personally use an all cash budget, I do know that using cash is a fabulous way to stay on budget… especially if your budget it tight!

So if you’re worried about going over budget this year, I’d highly suggest using an all-cash budget. Figure out how much you have to spend on gifts, decorations, food, travel, clothing, etc. and put that amount of cash into an envelope (or on a pre-paid gift card — like Visa or American Express).

Once the money is gone, you’re done shopping!

5. Do without.

I know this isn’t necessarily the most fun option, but if buying the perfect turkey, tree, decoration, cheesecake, holiday outfit, or toy for your child is going to push you over budget, I can guarantee it’s not worth it! And 3 months from now, when you’re paying the bills, I’m certain you’ll be glad you didn’t go over budget too.

Keep in mind that although holiday festivities and traditions are fun, they are not the real reason for the season… and they certainly aren’t worth going in debt over or causing needless financial strain for your family! Doing without something — even if it seems important now — is always the better option.

We’re planning to stick to our relatively small holiday budget this year… and hopefully you’ll be able to do the same by implementing these tips!

What are your tips for staying on budget throughout the holiday season?

Filed under: LifeFrugal Living

Leave a comment


  1. Annet


    We have a beautiful collection of different sized holiday gift bags that we have reused with clean tissue paper for about 10 years! We still enjoy the new surprises inside without spending money on the wrapping. Each bag gets tied at the handle with barely used fancy ribbons that also get recycled. Santa has never wrapped the kids gifts, so no one is the wiser.


  2. Michele


    I look throughout the year at tag sales for gifts for my children. I have gotten many brand new in box toys, clothes and board games for just a few dollars.

    I also buy things throughout the year at clearance sales and put them away for the next year. Last year, I bought $35 snowboards at Target for my sons at 75% off after Christmas. They are the same ones that are there this year, back at full price. Can’t beat that! 😉


  3. Melissa


    This year, because of a tight budget, I have given myself a personal challenge. It is my plan to spend $10 or less for each person on my list. I enjoy making gifts, so this is stretching my creativity, to find bargains, discounted items and make the best choices for those on my list. Next year I will definitely take your advice and put some aside each month. Thanks for the great tips!


  4. Kristen


    I save money that I get from doing surveys throughout the year (Pinecone Research, Synovate, etc.), as well as from other programs like ebates, SavingStar, Rite Aid Single Check Rebates, etc. in an envelope all year. Then we use that cash in December, which frees up some room in our usual monthly budget for the “extra” things. It’s not like I make enough from doing surveys to pay for all our Christmas presents (I wish haha), but it does help.


  5. Chelsea


    I’ve been selling items on Craigslist for about two months and we decided every penny we make from that is specifically for our Christmas fund. We also asked everyone for Christmas wish lists NOW so we can start shopping early. (hopefully next year we can shop little by little year round, so long as we have a place to store the items) I hope we can shop day after Thanksgiving, too, for a few special deals.


  6. susie


    Decorate with nature! Like you did…. I saw in a couple of photos..


  7. Marie


    We don’t really set a budget each year but have scaled down for who and what we buy. We decided many years ago like others to stop buying for everyone. We decided to do a children gift exchange and each family would draw names for their children. We still would buy for our parents. The main thing that is different now is I really, and I mean really think about what I’m buying and will it suit them. No more shopping on a whim or buying something just because then thinking why did I buy that for them. I do this now because that is what I’m doing when it comes to my own everyday shopping. Think, do I really need this or do I just want it now. Plus, throughout the year I get the freebie or almost freebie stuff and things I know I won’t use, I put in a box. Then, holiday season I go through it and will use it as fillers for giftbags or donate it.


  8. Stel


    I also buy gifts throughout the year – don”t even want to go in the shops come November. By then, I’m usually all set. We also try to avoid the traditional Christmas menu (which in South Africa can include leg of lamb + chicken pie and/or venison pie) – when we have the choice we usually have a braai (bbq) with steak, chops, sausage or fish.


  9. Jen


    Excellent post, Andrea. We started a cash budget (no Ramsey or anything—just our own way) this year and we set aside $20 per pay period for Christmas. We also started buying gifts throughout the year when we found good deals on things our loved ones will genuinely like. It’ll be nice to be able to finish up our Christmas spending in cash and not live in fear of that credit card bill in January. There won’t be one, and that feels SO great.