Silly Season Series ~ Christmas Shopping and the power of planning

A guest post by Andréia

So, there is Christmas just around the corner and the dreaded shopping season is on its way again. Some will start shopping now and not stop until Christmas day. Some will not shop at all. Some will spend way more than they can and have a January and other months filled with angst at unpaid debts and regrets at impulse shopping.

One way to celebrate Christmas, for those of us who celebrate it, is to not buy gifts at all. But we want to celebrate the season and gifting one another seems a very warm way to do it. But the gifting has to have meaning and be useful. Otherwise we end up cluttering up the homes others we love and taking clutter home in return. And by clutter I don’t mean bad stuff, or ugly stuff, but stuff that will lay unused and forgotten in our house, thus being…clutter.

Since I became the “Master of my own House” (aka. I am the one who does ALL the Christmas shopping, lol) I have designed strategies and ways to get what me and my family needs and come January, be debt free.

Here are my strategies:

  1. First, foremost and always: Have a budget! That means, set aside money to spend and don’t go over it, with no excuses.

  2. Select who you are gifting: Most of us have a network of contacts, that being at work, at your children’s school, at church or whatever other activity you are involved throughout the year. There is not enough money to gift every one of those people. If you want to gift those who are not close to you, but deserve some recognition, make a list of relevance (this list can include your child’s teacher, a monitor, a church member who made a difference to you…) and gift them with small, consumable things. Sometimes a small consumable item is more appreciated. Set aside a small amount of money (around 15% of your budget should be enough) to buy a bunch of nice little consumable for some people you appreciate, but are not close. A nice soap, a different sweet, something small, cheap, but nice, will show appreciation and not make you sink in debt. If you can buy local handcrafted consumables, it helps your local community and the prices are often modest.

  3. Make a list of people you exchange gifts with: We have family members that gift us and to which we gift in return. Listing then is a good way to keep track of how many gifts you are buying and to allocate how much money you are spending on each person, within the budget you set aside. I suggest you only gift those people who are really important to you, and with whom you have a tradition of spending Christmas with.

  4. Ask what the person wants to get at Christmas: Now that you have established a budget (how much you have and how much you are going to spend on each person), ask the person what he or she is needing, WITHIN THE BUDDGET YOU SET ASIDE TO SPEND ON HIM/HER. If you are gifting a child, it is always great to ask the parent what the child needs/wants, rather than buy a larger than life toy (believe me, I know…. “sigh”…). It may sound crude to say “look, my budget for you is “x” dollars, what would you like for that?”, but it does save some grief and money, and you might be very surprised with the answer. Some of you might say that takes all the joy of Christmas giving, because there is no “surprise”. Once I wrote this on a comment in this blog and was criticized by another reader. Well, let me tell you, I rather someone I love spends their money on something I need or want, than on something they want to “surprise” me with and I might or might not like, or is useless, or whatever other reason makes it…clutter. Seems a waste of money to me. Only time I did like the surprise was when I got my Star Wars box of movies. But my husband was sure I would love it. And he was right.

  5. Do a Secret Santa, or suggest it to the family: According to the amount of Family members you have, it might be impossible to gift everyone nicely. If you have a Christmas party for 30 people, plus your family, it gets heavy on the budget… A secret Santa will allow you to buy less gifts but nicer ones. Again, it is important to set a minimum amount spent and a maximum amount. The difference should be no more than 15% from the minimal and maximal amount. And encourage everyone to a little sleuth work to find out what their recipient would really like. You could even create a closed FB page, so everyone can list what they want, WITHIN THE BUDGET, SO THERE ARE NO FRUSTRATED GIFT GETTERS or givers for that matter. And tell the avaricious relatives that should they gift below the minimal they will have to reimburse the aggrieved party (well, maybe not, but it is a good suggestion nonetheless…LOL).

  6. And last but by no means least ~ Buy in cash or debit card: This is the best way to not over spend. No credit cards, just hard cash. By paying with money you have, not only will you be more aware of what you are spending, but you also follow the budget because once the money is gone, it is gone. If you are already in debt, consider downsizing your Christmas gift list and budget and instead gift yourself with a debt free Christmas this year, and maybe there might even be money left over to pay of some of your debt as well.

Hope my suggestions help and enjoy your Christmas!

It matters not how fast I go, I hurry faster when I’m slow

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About Colleen Madsen

Colleen is the founder of 365 Less Things and lives in Newcastle, Australia.


  1. My close family have always written Christmas wish lists, which works well for us as it removes the stress and everyone receives things they want/need. I like the idea of small consumable treats Andréia, thanks for the post.

    • Hi Sally! I find it excellent to have wish lists, as it saves a lot of time when shopping. As for consumables treats, you can never go wrong with a nice bar of soap or a good chocolate, or a jar of home made jam, or home made cookies…

  2. We only buy gifts for hubby’s family. From us the kids get money. In the past the money has always been put inside balloons…may change that this year, not sure yet. We also put a small amount of money in each stocking…kids and adults. The adults play Dirty Santa with a limit of $25. The oldest child turned 18 this year, and he has chosen to play Dirty Santa with the adults…a hard decision for him because it means he has to bring a gift, and he will not get all the kid gifts. Easier for us because we will take one less kid’s money gift. We were wondering how to stop this at some point because the kids will be having wives and kids also. We had discussed stopping at age 20 or when married. This 18 YO has made it easy for us, but it will be hard to take him off our list…he was always the most excited of all about his money gift… :((

    • Meant to mention that most of the Dirty Santa gifts are usually gift cards.

    • Hi Deanna! I am not from the USA and I would like you to tell me what is a “Dirty Santa”? As for gifts for kids I think they can get their gifts until they are married. That is when I think they go on to have a family of their own and are adults just like us. As for gift cards I find the idea very interesting, but I would ask the person if he/she likes the store where I got the gift card from. If you give cash, you don,t have that problem. Keep your boy on the kids list this year! LOL

      • Hi Andreia, this is a link to Dirty Santa game rules:
        OR you can google it for different ideas.
        As for gift cards in Dirty Santa, you can’t ask what the person likes because you don’t know who will end up with the gift card. Some of the most popular gift cards are for restaurants, iTunes, Cabelas, etc. If a gift is specifically for a woman or a man, it needs to be specified at the beginning of the game.

        Merry Christmas Andreia! Where do you live?

  3. Great post, Andreia. I think you have covered the topic very well.

    Regarding Deanna’s topic of when to stop gifting the children of the extended family, we stopped as they reached about age 18 also. But then there was a year when one family had lost their dad two years after losing their mom, so the rest of us went together to buy gifts for the grown kids. There can always be an exception and the answer is to be flexible and to use common sense.

    Another thing we have done is to bake for each other’s families once we stopped buying for children. We would bake anyhow and this way we get different goodies from usual.

    • Hi Jo H! I find your baking idea very good. As for kids, I think that at 18yo they think they are grown up, but they are still our little kids 😀 ! Where I live the parents gift their children well into adulthood. But being flexible and using common sense as you said is the key to make it work in each family.

  4. This is a good post Andreia. Lots of good points.

  5. Hope I’m not repeating myself. If ever I’m in doubt about a holiday purchase of gift or decor, I ask myself “Did Jesus leave perfect heaven to live among us so I can buy a 3rd world labor made doodad and/or go into credit card debt?” Amazing how this “forces” my arm to put item back on store shelf.

  6. Good list.
    My life was transformed when I started buying Christmas gifts with cash. No more going over budget & no dreaded January bills. With cash when it’s gone that means I’m done!
    Have been using cash for 12 years now & can’t imagine it ever changing.

  7. They are good strategies Andréia.
    I would like to add my own strategy, avoid shopping centres.

  8. Hi everyone! Thanks for reading my post and for commenting! I am sorry I did not come before, life is a bit hectic around here… and it is not because of Christmas shopping! 😀 😀 😀

  9. Hi, Andréia. 🙂 Nice list of tips for Christmas shopping. I try to keep an eye out for sales throughout the year, so that I can pick up some gifts in advance. Spreading it out helps to alleviate the year-end stress and it’s a relief to be able to avoid the last-minute marathon shopping sessions and the crowds.