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“Twas The Week Before Christmas”

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AKA (Holy Cow! I have to buy what?)

Even the Grinch learned that Christmas doesn’t come from a store.

I know, it seems that Christmas always ‘sneaks up on people’.  The funny thing is, Christmas is the same time every year.  So what winds up happening is that thing called ‘Life’.  Other priorities, other “Gotta Do’s” gotta get done and like the old saying goes “If it wasn’t for the last minute, nothing would get done”.  But before you go out doing that last minute Christmas Shopping, stop and think not just about what needs to be done this week, but let’s take a second and plan for next year and add some thoughts about what to do for this year.

Odds are, if you’re reading this, (Thank you Kim, BTW) you have at least a passing interest in keeping an ‘Eye on the Dollar’.  In the hopes of keeping you from spending much more than you need at the last minute, let’s do two things in the few minutes we have together.

1.  Take stock of our ‘needs’ and ‘wants’.

Of course it’s easy for me to say that, because we did what I’ll write about in a minute, but what everyone should be aware of is the cost of getting gifts at the last minute.  Just like the milk costs more at the convenience stores (7-11 , Am/Pm, KwikTrip, CVS, etc) those last minute gifts may wind up costing you more for the convenience.  I use Amazon quite a bit (full disclosure I’m also an Amazon Affiliate) and find the convenience and cost savings pretty hard to beat.  For example, we were able to save money on buying a new bathtub and get it delivered sooner than either Home Depot or Lowe’s. (No, that’s not a Christmas gift, and I guess I digress)

However, if you wait truly until the last minute, you’re going to wind up paying a lot more for an item when you add in the 2-day shipping.  I’ve seen some examples where the cost of the shipping is higher than the item itself. (Not Keeping an Eye on the Dollar).

Step back and determine what you want to get someone and what you ‘need’ to get someone.

“Wait a minute, Mr. Grinch!”

I know it sounds a little harsh, and not in keeping with the holiday spirit, but sometimes you have to scale back on the giving, especially if you are trying to reduce your debt.

I know, it’s not a popular or easy choice, but for many of us taking the easy choice is what got you into debt to begin with.

Yes, I know it’s great to give gift to those you love and see their expressions when they open up the gift.   But at the same time, the idea of giving this Holiday Season, means more than just giving items, toys and games. It means giving of yourself, your time and your talents.  Donate time or money in a loved one’s name to a cause they believe in.  Most charitable organizations will let the person in whose name you’re donating know of the gift.  Most places of worship have some type of ‘Giving Tree’ or Food Pantry around the holidays. Take the time to give things that will be appreciated by those who truly NEED something, like food or clothing. You may not see their expressions when they get the presents, but they will indeed be grateful.

2. Get a spending plan in place for NEXT Year.

If you can set it up from your employer, start deducting a set amount from each paycheck to a separate savings account. Back in the ‘Old Days’, Banks had special ‘Christmas Club’ accounts. A big marketing deal especially back in my youth. It was essentially a separate account with some extra rules in place to help people build up a decent amount of money for Christmas. Of course, one of those rules was you can’t withdraw the money before November 1st or 15th. These days, we see the Christmas decorations up in September or October.

As I mentioned earlier, we chose to take a set amount out of my paycheck and put it directly into a separate account that we have at INGDirect (no affiliate Marketing). What’s nice about their system is that once you establish an account, you can create new accounts immediately on-line. There is no cost involved, so we are able to make sure that the money we put into our Christmas Account does not get eaten up by fees. This year we are putting nothing on our credit card for Christmas gifts. All paid by a Spending plan we put in place last year.

It’s a little late this year to benefit from a Spending Plan, but you can use what you’re spending this year as a basis for next year. Like any Spending Plan (aka ‘Budget’) it’s OK to adjust as time goes on.

We’ve stayed in our budget, but we did learn the hard way. Take the time to plan out a Spending Plan for the Holidays (those ones that occur the same time every year) and then get a Spending Plan together for the rest of your life as well. I talk about these in my ebook which hit #1 on Amazon on 12/11/2012.

How have you handled your Holiday Spending Plan?  Do you HAVE one?

Author Bio: Joe is a works full-time for a Professional Services firm that specializes in Cloud-based solutions.  He’s also a runner, blogger and author of a We Got Outta Debt: A Debt Free Journey, recently ranked #1 on Amazon.com.  He and his family Got Outta Debt by paying of $68,000 over car loans and credit card debt in 3 years.  He lives with his wonderful wife and two of his great three children and started his blog I Got Outta Debt to help others who may be in trouble learn from their mistakes.

Kim’s Comments: I like to use rewards points for Christmas gifts, and I am trying very hard to keep my Eyes on the Dollar. Thanks, Joe. And don’t forget to enter the $100 giveaway!


About Kim Parr

Kim Parr is a private practice optometrist, freelance writer, and personal financial blogger. You can follow her journey to 20/20 financial vision at Eyes on the Dollar.


  1. We limit the amount we spend over the holidays to what is in our budget. I know it’s a little boring, but it keeps our finances stable.

    Also, most of my bank accounts allow me to create new accounts online once the primary account has been established (it’s not just ING).

  2. Good post! We have a separate budget for our Christmas/Birthday spending. We learned early on that if we did not then we would be way overspending and not being wise. It makes shopping so much easier as we know what we’re working with.

    • @John,
      It’s funny you mention the overspending. It reminds me of the *piles* of gifts our oldest daughter got when she was an only child and 3rd Grand child. Quite a different story when more kids/grandkids came along 🙂

      Have a great Holiday!

  3. Not only is it a good idea to get started early on saving for the holidays, but it’s an especially good idea to buy gifts well in advance of the target day. Think about how many stores have huge sales events during the year for whatever reason (post-holiday clearance, inventory reduction, other holiday sales). It’s safe to say that the Christmas season isn’t the only time to find good deals on the gifts you need. That way, you don’t have to drive yourself nuts with crowds or coming up with gift ideas in a compressed time frame.

    • Eric,
      A great point. We’ve done the purchase throughout the year idea a few times, and wound up forgetting we bought something or where we put it! Then we started a google spreadsheet called ‘Where stuff is’… that helped us out..

      Thanks for replying

  4. Great advice, I definitely would like to set aside money throughout the year for Christmas. I hate the feeling of having a big expense in December for gifts, so having a dedicated account would make it a lot less painful.

  5. Unfortunately I started being smart with my money halfway through this year so I didn’t keep track of a proper budget for Christmas (but still had plenty of extra money to put towards it). Next year I plan on putting aside a certain amount each month for it.

    • Gillian, it’s never too late to start!

      I’m one of those people who don’t care for New Year’s Resolutions. If it’s a good idea, why not start today?

      Just think how much ahead of the game you’ll be next year!

      Merry Christmas

  6. Mandy @ MoneyMasterMom

    My mom asked for donations to her favorite charity this year. I happily obliged, it was super fast and easy online. Then I went and got her a fair trade necklace from I am One. It’s a gift that she can enjoy and benefits the woman In Uganda who made it.

    • Mandy,
      That’s excellent! My father-in-law recently celebrated his 85th Birthday, and my niece and nephew bought a flock of ducks for a family in Africa. I thought that was a little odd, until they explained that the family can either raise ducklings, sell off some ducks, eat the eggs, etc. Then I realized what a truly great gift that could be… the benefit last a long time.

  7. We started planning early and it helped a lot. We went slightly over budget but we worked it out fine. Planning ahead still helped!

    • Holly,
      We laid out our plans early in the year too. Then my oldest daughter became engaged, so we had to adjust a little bit.

      There’s an old Military saying “Battle plans are good, until boots hit the ground”.. That’s a ‘Life saying’ now 🙂

  8. We’ve had a plan in place for years now. Without it, we just get too carried away and have even been guilty of double-buying presents!!

  9. Hey Joe, I just reviewed your book today! We spent under $200 for about 20 people by making sure that the gifts we purchased showed thoughtfulness instead of just throwing money at them.

  10. I absolutely agree that a holiday budget is a must, otherwise it’s way too easy to go overboard. I believe gift-giving is a choice, not an obligation. It might be human nature to automatically buy someone a gift who gave you one. But I don’t want anyone to go into debt for me. I heartfelt thank you is enough of a gift for me. Great article, thank you.

  11. We rely on budgets to gives us the discipline to reach our goals. When I go shopping for food, I have a list. Shopping for presents need a budget and a list. It is the structure to keep from over spending.

  12. I do have plan – it’s called, buy for as few people as possible. 🙂 Nieces and nephew, my parents, and..that’s about it!

  13. We organically limited gift amounts to about $20 or less, and got a couple of gifts as we found them for each person on our list. We did manage to find things that people on our list would like.

  14. We have a savings account we call “projected expenses” and in this account we deposit money that we save for every month to pay for something at a point in time in the year. Christmas is something we save for each year so we don’t have to scramble for the cash. We stick to out plan and we draw names in January and buy for one person. It’s that easy for us but the money is waiting for us, no stress. Great post! Mr.CBB

    • Thanks Mr. CBB (I have visited your site.. good stuff!).
      I like the idea of a “projected expenses” account… I may add that to our arsenal, keeping the holiday focus but adding a “Just In Case” account.

      Thanks for the idea!

  15. I used to get very stressed as Christmas approached and generally buy something too expensive for the lack of planning. Now I write down during the year gift ideas for my loved ones and it is much easier and cheaper.

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