I love this time of year. It’s a season of joy, cozy nights by the fire, Hallmark movies, and time with family and friends. The whole world seems to take a moment to breathe and focus on things that really matter, like the spirit of giving. Most of us make all kinds of lists to stay organized during the holiday season. A list of gifts perhaps you’d like to have, a list of gifts you’re going to give… and “checking it twice,” right?
Buying gifts can be a wonderful holiday experience but stressful at the same time. If you’re like me, you care a lot about getting something the other person will really love. But as a young married couple trying our best to stick to a budget and pay off student loans, we can’t always afford the kinds of gifts we’d like to get for everyone. When you consider siblings, parents, in-laws, nieces and nephews…there are a lot of people to buy for! Add in shipping costs, wrapping and travel expenses and all of a sudden you can be looking at your bank account wondering what elf crawled in and drained your savings.
I don’t think we’re alone. Holiday spending is at an all time high as reported by the National Research Federation in an October, 2016, survey stating American consumers plan to spend an average of $936 this holiday season. You can see it on the local news as we watch people lining up and camping outside big box stores on Thanksgiving night. There’s a sense of urgency, temptation, pressure. Get the biggest deals! The best presents! The MOST!
What can you do when you’re working with a budget? A lot, actually! With a little planning, gift giving doesn’t have to be stressful. For one thing, the holidays come every year… it isn’t a surprise. Early on we decided to save up a little each month throughout the year so we have a gift fund already set aside. Even just $10-$20 a month is helpful.
My best tip for young couples like us is to avoid waiting until the last minute. Plan ahead and shop smart by watching for free shipping and utilize coupons or discounts on store apps to make a little go a long way.
Our family has also experimented with many different approaches to gift giving. We have done a gift exchange where each person picks a name to buy gifts for. Some years we ask for lists, some years we have a theme, like decorations, clothes, books, or experiences. We’ve even tried shopping only at thrift stores for gifts and getting as creative as possible! Last year I sewed homemade gifts. I’m not an expert seamstress by any means but a few hours with YouTube tutorials and my sewing machine made for a cozy night and some awesome, useful gifts.
It’s important to make a master gift plan and stick to it. If you’re anything like me by the time you walk inside the store it’s too late. I don’t know if it is the music, the gorgeous displays, or all the sparkly things. Before I know it I’ve got my arms loaded with shoes, perfume, jewelry, and gifts for everybody I know. Oops. That is a sure way to go over budget. I always have to remind myself not to buy things out of obligation. Just because someone else purchases extravagant gifts doesn’t mean you need to match it. That isn’t what gift giving is about! Last year I actually asked my husband, “Did we get them all enough gifts?” What kind of a question is that? Did we get ENOUGH? My husband had to help bring me back to reality as he reminded me that the volume of gifts we were buying wasn’t what really mattered.
Embrace the holiday season, and all that it means to you. Put heart and thought into your gifts instead of worrying about the monetary value. If you have a budget, let that inspire you to get creative! Celebrate the season, and remember that what most people really want doesn’t come in a box or a bag. Your time, your words, and your thoughts are more valuable than any item. Gift giving should come from the heart and not the wallet. Keep that perspective, and your holiday season will be much merrier!