Christmas Shopping: Stop the $tress in 5 Steps

Remember when you were a kid and all you had to do was tell your mom what you wanted for Christmas and it would magically show up wrapped in bows and colorful paper? You never knew where they were coming from or who was going to give them to you, but there was something magical about how it all came together for this festive holiday celebration known to most kids as the time they get a lot of gifts.

For me this was multiplied. My parents are divorced and remarried, and, yes, there were some challenges in growing up in that setting, but the positively best thing about the whole situation was that I had twice as many parents and twice as many grandparents giving me gifts at Christmastime. Shallow, I know, but I am a glass-is-half-full kind of a guy...

Anyway, what was the magic that made everything work out perfectly during the holidays? Oh yeah, the parents! Somewhere between the time we were teenagers and now, we took on that responsibility to make Christmas happen for those loved ones in our lives. Kelsey wrote a post on how we spend our time during the holidays, but this post is about how to spend the cash, and how to not pull your hair out doing it.

I know I sound like a broken record, but again, Dave Ramsey supplied the financial wisdom here: Did you know that Christmas comes at the same time every year? In general, we act like it sneaks up on us. Crazy, but true. This makes it pretty easy to plan for, but you must have a plan! As my high school guidance counselor always said, "Failure to plan is planning to fail."

How to Plan for Christmas Shopping

  1. Make a list. It's essential to write out a list of all the people you are going to need gifts for so you don't forget anyone or run out of money. We have an Excel spreadsheet that we can access anytime that lists the people we will be buying for. We also record the gift description and the cost so we can look back at previous years. Don't forget to add or remove people from year to year. For example, this year we added Mylie to our family, so we also needed to add her to the Christmas list. Walk through all of your Christmas traditions and don't forget about parties with friends where grab bag gifts are required.
  2. Set a budget. Once our list is made, we set a budget for all of the people we are buying gifts for. We set this amount according to if they have been naughty or nice this year evenly for everyone: $30. You may choose to spend more or less, but this is our number. For some family parties we draw names and only get one person a gift and that gift limit happens to be $50. We also have a few grab bag celebrations that are set amounts and we factor those accordingly.
  3. Spread out the savings. Once you have your budget goal set, simply divide the total cost of Christmas by 12 and then save that much each month of the year. We have been saving $45/month for this Christmas since the last one and believe it is the key to keeping the shopping stress-free. (We also save for birthday gifts like this.)
  4. Gather ideas. Throughout the year you may happen across something that would make a perfect gift for someone. If you have the cash saved via step 3, go ahead and buy the gift at that time. Also, as you have ideas for someone, write it down in the spreadsheet or notepad where you are storing your list. This makes it easier as the Christmas clock ticks down. Send out feelers to the people you are buying for to get a sense of what they might like. This is the most stressful part for me. Luckily Kels is an online shopping whiz. We typically start our shopping in November and try to finish our Christmas cards and gifts by Dec. 1.
  5. Remember the reason for the season. While this list and gifts are great, never forget the true meaning of Christmas. Keeping Jesus' birth at the center of the holiday will always help bring things into perspective.

I can only imagine how crazy this will all be next year with our baby girl in the mix. It makes me appreciative of the planning and effort my parents went to so that us kids would enjoy Christmas. Parents everywhere, I salute you.

What other tips do you have for holiday shopping?