Preparing Now for Holiday Shopping on a Budget

Holiday Shopping on a Budget

‘Tis the season to… go broke buying gifts for your friends and family?! We certainly hope not!

The holiday shopping season is coming up, and it can get pretty expensive. You don’t want to have a reputation as a stingy gift giver, but you also don’t want to rack up credit card balances or take out an expensive personal loan to pay for your holiday spending.

That’s why we talked to the experts so you can get your holiday shopping done without doing in your bank account.

Don’t wait until the night before.

Start planning right now. The sooner you start preparing, the better off you’ll be. Then you can sit back and enjoy a big glass of eggnog while everyone else is scrambling.

As Sean Potter, the writer behind My Money Wizard (@moneywizardblog), told us: “Like anything else related to personal finance, managing your holiday shopping spending is all about planning. The time to allot for your holiday spending is now, rather than a last-minute budgetary surprise on Christmas Eve.”

Making a list, checking it twice…

How should you start? Just like Santa would: make a list.

“Make a gift list,” advises Kendal Perez (@HassleFreeSaver), savings expert with Coupon Sherpa (@CouponSherpa). “Know what you want to buy before it goes on sale (or sells out) by creating a gift list for everyone on your list. Download an app like Santa’s Bag (iPhone) or Christmas Gift List (Android) to keep the list and your budget at your fingertips.”

And speaking of budgets, that should be your very next step.

Create a budget for all your holiday expenses.

Perez walked us through her budget process:

“Gifts are not the only expense associated with the holidays, and the only way to get a clear understanding of how much you could spend is to review how much you did spend during the previous year. Review bank and credit card statements during last year’s holiday season and note how much you spent in each category, including food, travel, gifts, events, etc.

“If you want to spend less this year, start chatting with friends and family to establish expectations so there are no surprises. Now is the time to suggest that gifts only be purchased for kids in the family, or to organize a Secret Santa swap so you’re only responsible for one gift instead of multiple gifts.

“Once you calculate your potential spending and set expectations for the upcoming holiday, create a budget for this season. It can be an overall, not-to-exceed number, or it can be individual budgets for people on your list plus other expenses, like groceries, travel, etc.”

If you need help with a budget, check out the OppLoans Personal Finance App Directory! We have an entire category of smartphone apps that are specifically for budgeting!

Make sure your accounting “accounts” for everything.

Karen Hoxmeier, creator and owner of My Bargain Buddy (@MyBargainBuddy), also supports starting off with a list and budget: “The key to not wasting money is figuring out how much you can comfortably spend before you start spending. A holiday budget for everything from entertaining to gifts is the way to go, and a simple Excel spreadsheet will do the trick.

“Once you’ve determined how much money you have in your holiday budget, make a list of all the people you need to purchase a gift for and assign each person a maximum dollar amount for their gift. If you are hosting a holiday party, set the maximum amount you can spend on food, beverages, decorations, etc. The total for gifts and entertaining cannot exceed the amount you set for your holiday budget. Every time you make a purchase, log it on your spreadsheet.

“It’s okay to get creative when it comes to budgeting. Cut back on entertaining costs by making it a potluck. Instead of buying a gift for every adult in your family, suggest a ‘white elephant’ gift exchange. For friends and family that live far away, order their gifts online from stores that offer free shipping.”

Save paycheck to paycheck.

Ashley Feinstein Gerstley, money coach and founder of The Fiscal Femme (@TheFiscalFemme) broke down her ideal method for holiday shopping preparation:

“Make a plan. You may not know exactly how much you will want to spend come November and December, but you can make a realistic guess. How much did you spend last year? Are you throwing any parties? What gifts would you like to buy? Write it all down, and don’t forget to include the professionals in your life like your hairdresser, doorman or mailman!

“Think about when you’ll need the money. Your party might not be until mid-December, but you might want to purchase things ahead of time. Perhaps you can snag a deal in November for a gift you’re planning on buying anyway. Look through your holiday expense plan and estimate when you want to make each of the purchases.

“Map out your paychecks. How many paydays do you have from now until you plan to make each of your holiday purchases? Considering your overall earnings for the rest of the year will help you to figure out your budget.

“Make some calculations. Going to need $500 for your holiday plans and have 5 paychecks until it is time to spend? Start by putting away $100 per paycheck. How much do you want to put aside per paycheck to hit your holiday spend plan?

Create a holiday fund.

Gerstley says that the best way to way to save for the holidays is to keep the money separate from your regular accounts:

  • Create a holiday fund. If possible, make a separate account in your online savings accounts specifically for holiday spending.
  • Automate. Have the amount you calculated per paycheck transfer over automatically to your holiday fund each paycheck. This’ll save you a lot of stress during purchase time.”

Gerstley isn’t the only one who recommends creating a holiday fund. “Set up a Christmas fund and put money away each month,” recommended Justin Lavelle, Chief Communications Officer at BeenVerified (@BeenVerified).  “It will be easier to budget if you give yourself 12 months of planning as opposed to just trying to pay off a big credit card bill in January.”

Lavelle is also in favor of getting an early start: “Start shopping now. Spreading out the gift buying will allow you to spread out the cost of shopping. Do a little gift shopping each month and you can even out the bills so you avoid that big shock in the New Year.”

But you don’t just want to shop all willy-nilly.

Save money by shopping smarter.

Starting early means you’ll have a lot of time to keep an eye out for the best deals. No one on your list will appreciate a gift more just because you had to spend additional money on it, so why should you?

Natasha Rachel Smith, financial expert at TopCashBack (@TopCashBackUSA), told us some tips for saving:

  • Shop smartly. Do research prior to going shopping. Identify the items you need to buy, head online, and check out where you can score them at the cheapest price. It is senseless to pay more for the same item at a different store!”
  • When shopping online, make sure you get free shipping! Competition online is fierce during the holiday season, so plenty of retailers will be offering free shipping that you can take advantage of. Remember, every dollar counts when budgeting!”
  • Shop for deals on Groupon. Groupon has awesome deals – at least 50 percent off the standard price – on goods, pampering, and local experiences. Providing someone with an experience or service can be cheaper than a traditional gift. Consider shopping for discount massages or tickets to a concert, show or museum.”
  • Use cashback sites. In addition to shopping during sales, use a cashback rebates site to stack savings such as You can shop at popular merchants such as Walmart, Toys R Us, Target, Groupon, Macy’s and more to receive cash back on all your purchases. Cashback sites have holiday sales too, including double cashback days, so keep your eyes peeled for additional shopping incentives to sweeten the savings!”
  • Use your credit card reward points. Don’t forget about your credit card rewards! If you aren’t going to redeem your rewards for travel options, tap into your accrued points to score gift cards to stores you plan on shopping at or for gifts.”
  • Hit the dollar store. Don’t splurge on expensive wrapping paper, cards or holiday decorations. Visit your local discount dollar stores to purchase decorative holiday items. You will save more money in the long run and your wallet will thank you!”

You can also take advantage of Raise (@RaiseMarket), an online gift card marketplace.

“One-way consumers can save big this holiday season is using the Raise Mobile App to purchase discount gift cards and use at their store of choice to buy gifts for everyone on their list,” Raise’s Chief of Staff Meghan Fox told us.

You could also think outside the gift box.

Dashing through the snow, with unique gift ideas.

There are all kinds of alternative ways to get your shopping list handled without expensive purchases. It’s a bit cliched, but it’s the thought that counts.

Amy Maglia, a personal finance consultant with Take Charge America (@TCAsolutions), gave us a list of alternate ideas for gifts:

  • Make handmade gifts. There’s something meaningful about a gift with a personal touch. Try decorating a picture frame and printing a photo of you and a family member or baking a sweet treat. Pinterest has great ideas for DIY gifts. You’ll save a few bucks and may discover your hidden crafty side!”
  • Give the gift of time. Gifts don’t always have to be material things. Volunteer your time to cook dinner, babysit, or take a loved one on a hike.”
  • Secret Santa. If your family or friends are also on a budget this holiday season, suggest a Secret Santa gift exchange. Each person draws a name and purchases a gift for that person within a set amount of money. This way you’ll all save—and the secrecy adds to the fun!” You can read more about being the office hero in our blog How to Win at Office Secret Santa.
  • Check out thrift stores. Gifts don’t have to be brand new to be well received. Thrift stores and antique shops often have unique goods for a fraction of the new cost, and can be a great place to locate hard-to-find items.”

Perez also suggests DIY gifts:

“Review your gift list and identify candidates for homemade gifts, whether it’s a platter of baked goods or a Pinterest-inspired craft like ‘brownie in a jar.’ These gifts are inexpensive and thoughtful while getting you into the holiday spirit.”

I’m dreaming of a disciplined spending habit.

Once you have a plan, the most important part is sticking to it.

“Prepare yourself for temptation,” Gerstley warned. “With Black Friday, Cyber Monday, and other holiday sales, it is easy to get caught up in the madness. Make a plan and stick with it to avoid impulse purchases and things you don’t need.”

With proper budgeting, saving and deal-finding, you can steer clear of predatory bad credit loans and no credit check loans that will leave you singing the “holiday shopping debt” blues.

At the end of the day, though, the holiday season isn’t about the gifts. As Potter eloquently states:

“In a snow-globe’s whirlwind of cars with giant red bows on top of them, diamonds expressing Santa’s love for Ms. Clause, and otherwise constant holiday ads, it’s easy to lose sight of the most important part of the holidays. Time spent with loved ones is what the holidays are really about – not diamonds, or phones, or whatever else the TV tells you to buy.”

Get your holiday shopping done as soon as you can, and enjoy the extra time with your family.

From all of us here to you: an early happy holidays!

Do you have any great tips affordable holiday shopping? We want to hear them! You can email usor you can find us on Twitter at @OppLoans.

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J_BisestoAshley Feinstein Gerstley (@TheFiscalFemme) is a money coach and founder of the Fiscal Femme where she demystifies the world of personal finance and money in a fun and accessible way so her clients achieve their financial goals.
R_FaidaAs a stay-home-mom, Karen Hoxmeier took up couponing and bargain hunting to keep her family’s finances in order. She turned her love of frugal living into a blog in 1999. Over the last 18 years, she has helped her readers save millions of dollars with her tips.
S_HorowitzJustin Lavelle is a Scams Prevention Expert and the Chief Communications Officer of BeenVerified (@BeenVerified). BeenVerified is a leading source of online background checks and contact information. It helps people discover, understand and use public data in their everyday lives and can provide peace of mind by offering a fast, easy and affordable way to do background checks on potential dates. BeenVerified allows individuals to find more information about people, phone numbers, email addresses and property records.
A_MaligaAmy Maliga is a personal finance consultant with Take Charge America (@TCAsolutions), a national non-profit credit counseling and debt management agency. She specializes in educating consumers about a wide variety of financial lifestyle topics. More at
I_MeitisKendal Perez is the Savings Expert for, a popular source for online, in-store and grocery coupons. Her money-saving tips are often featured on Bankrate, GOBankingRates, US News & World Report, Wisebread and more. Kendal can be found on Twitter @HassleFreeSaver.
Money_WizardSean Potter is the 20-something writer behind (@moneywizardblog), a website where he shares his plans for reaching complete financial independence by his late 30s. His approach to saving over half of his income has been featured in several publications, including Forbes, Business Insider, and Yahoo Finance. When he’s not writing, Sean can be found cycling, skiing or traveling the country.
Natasha Rachel Smith (@topcashbackusa) is a personal finance expert at Natasha’s background is in retail, banking, personal finance and consumer empowerment; ranging from sales to journalism, marketing, public relations and spokesperson work during a 17-year career period. She’s originally from London, UK, but moved to Montclair, New Jersey, USA, several years ago to launch and run the American arm of the British-owned TopCashback brand; a global consumer empowerment and money-saving portal company.
RaiseRaise (@RaiseMarket) is an online gift card marketplace where consumers can buy discount gift cards or sell their unwanted cards for cash.