A Review of My Holiday Spending

I had a question from a reader, Jordan, about how I handle my holiday spending. By an odd twist of fate I had several of my old Christmas budget files still on my hard drive, so I in the position of being able to analyze how much I’ve spent in the last four years.

First let me explain how I handle my Christmas shopping. I plan really far in advance. We normally set our total budget amount a year in advance. That way I start saving in January for the following Christmas. Then in October I sit down with my wife and we check out our list of people we bought for last year and updated as required. We also set limits for each person at this time. Typically limits are $50 for an adult, $40 for older kids and $20 for babies.

So over the last few years our total budget has been between $1150 to $1500 for 22 to 24 people. After we buy a present we enter it into a budget spreadsheet. This allows us to track each year how under budget we are doing, since we have yet to ever break our total budget. Our actual spending has ranged from $900 to $1350 total or $40 to $56 per person including shipping.

If we go over budget on a individual present, we then reduce our spending on someone else. This way the overall budget stays below its limit regardless of what we spent on a single person.

This entire system works well for us partly because we have set limits on our spending that we don’t go over as a whole. To help you reduce your holiday bill I suggest the following:

  1. Don’t buy gifts for people you barely have a relationship with. In my mind presents for teachers, mail carriers, babysitters and office co-works is insane.
  2. If you insist on doing something for your office bring in something that everyone will like such as a sample tray of your Christmas baking.
  3. Setup a gift exchange to reduce costs. A few years back my siblings got together and setup a gift exchange between our spouses and us. The idea was to let everyone focus more on the kids. It’s worked great so far.
  4. Homemade is fine as a present. Actually when we first got married, my wife and I made gift baskets, which featured mostly homemade items such as candles, hot chocolate mix, cookies and then some assorted dollar store items like mugs. They went over very well because everyone realized the effort we put into them (not to mention our hot chocolate mix is better than any store bought one I’ve ever had).
  5. Start shopping early. This allows you a stress free week before Christmas and also allows you time to find most of your presents on a good sale. Just because a present looks like it cost $50, doesn’t mean you have to actually spend anywhere near that amount.

So that’s my method and ideas around Christmas shopping. If you have an idea that has worked for you please share.

This post is part of the Canadian Tour of Personal Finance, check out the other blog posts here.

9 thoughts on “A Review of My Holiday Spending”

  1. Wow….you have got your sh*t together!

    We seem to fly by the seat of our pants and buy everything the week before Christmas. 🙁 Maybe this year I’ll try your approach.

  2. Thanks for the post CD!

    I’m curious, what do people think about buying used items as presents for their kid’s? We buy all the children’s book from Amazon marketplace, which is usually less then half and in pretty good condition. But what about actual used toys from like eBay, Craigslist or the Salvation Army? Our kid’s old toys are never really worn out before they out grow them, there must be similar stuff for sale?

    Hey maybe you could do a recipe post, I also want to hear more about the homemade granola bars.

    Thanks again!

  3. Hey CD, one thing missing is how much do you spend on your own kids, just $20? What about for you wife and her for you, only $50?

    I know my kid’s are going to get spoiled by their grandparents at Christmas but it still makes me feel cheap if I don’t spoil them to. Do other people feel this way too? What do you do?

  4. Hey Canadian Dream,
    Thanks for this post and for participating in the Canadian Tour of Personal Finance blogs!!

    I like your approach here where you’re allocating your money well in advance of the holiday season. That has to add to your peace of mind as you go shopping, knowing exactly what you’re going to spend.!

    Good post and … Thanks again!!

  5. Jenn,

    Sure I can do that. I’ll do a recipe post this weekend with the hot chocolate mix and granola bars.


    I’m fine with used items myself. Let’s face it five seconds after my kid gets a toy it looks used anyway.

    As for spending on my own family I should explain a bit. In my family, the main gift usually isn’t all that big. I end up spending way more on the stocking. So our stockings usually have one DVD, a book, some sweets and boat load of little things we need/want. I usually get socks because I never seem to get around to buying myself any. So the limits are much higher. My wife usually spends around $150 on me, and I do the same for her. The kid gets around $100, but that always includes a fair amount of clothes. So about a quarter of our total budget is spent on us.

    As to your worry about the grandparents spoiling the kids. I don’t worry about it myself at all. After all that’s what grandparents do. I never feel a second of guilt over it. After all I’m not in a competition with them over spoiling the kids. Good thing too otherwise I would lose every year in a heart beat. You should see some of the gifts my kid has gotten.


    Thanks for putting the tour together again.


  6. That is almost exactly what my wife and I do. A portion of our previous 12 months savings are used forthe Christmas gifts. Each Jan. we will sit down and add any new people, or remove some of the older ones, and adjust the dollar value for each. We usually find we need about $1400 for the year, and it sure is nice to not have to worry about were the money is coming from at Christmas time.

    Oh by the way, my wife has already finished the Christmas shopping!!!! I know it is sick!!!


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