Ok, before you write me off as mental for broaching the topic of Christmas in April, give me a paragraph or two to explain!
You see, if I want to have a truly debt free Christmas then I have to plan ahead. Like waaaay ahead. If I wait until November to start thinking about Christmas then I either break the bank, or get so overwhelmed that I shut down and just don’t want to buy anything. Neither is a great option.
You might be thinking that planning ahead for Christmas means tucking a little money back each week so that I don’t have to use credit cards or take out a loan for Christmas. While that is a great plan, and one that I highly encourage, that’s not the kind of planning I want to talk about.
Besides, there are 954 bazillion fabulous articles and charts about saving money for Christmas out there. I certainly don’t need to write another one.
My idea of planning ahead for Christmas involves shopping and preparing gifts all year rather than waiting until the last minute.
Think for a moment about all of the great sales that happen throughout the year. Not to mention the hundreds of clearance racks and bins we pass, the yard sales we frequent throughout the summer, the thrift stores we browse through, and the online sales that get dropped in our email all the time. There are so many amazing deals to be found throughout the year.
It’s true that taking advantage of those deals requires a bit of forethought and organization, but it is completely worth all of the effort when you’re able to relax and enjoy the weeks leading up to Christmas with your friends and family.
Here are a few tips and tricks that I’ve picked up over the years to help keep the cost of Christmas down without sacrificing the thrill of giving the perfect gift.
Set a budget - and stick to it!
It might be tempting to set your budget based on who you have to buy for and what you want to buy for them. If you have a big enough budget then by all means go for it! If you have a limited budget (like I do!) then it’s important to determine what you can spend before you decide who to spend it on.
Once you have that number in mind, divide it by the number of weeks you have to save for Christmas. Obviously, the sooner you start saving the less you’ll need to save each week. If you’re starting this week, divide your total budget by 29 weeks….that’s how many weeks you have before Thanksgiving.
After two or three weeks you’ll have some cash on hand to start looking for gifts. Look for great deals while you’re out running errands, visiting a thrift store, or even shopping around online! There are some GREAT deals to be had online, most with free shipping.
Keep a Gift List With You
Begin by giving some thought to who you’d like to spend your budget on. Will you only be buying for family, or friends as well? Do you want to give something small to your kid’s teachers, your hairdresser, the mailman, etc.?
Write down everyone that you’d like to buy for and then determine whether or not the budget you set will cover all of those people. If not, you may need to trim your list down a little or figure out a way to stretch your budget by making some creative gifts, like these adorable candy tags for teachers.
Once you have your list, keep it in your purse or in your phone, and keep it updated! As soon as you buy someone a gift, mark them off your list.
Pick a Place to Keep Your Gifts
You’ll need a specific place to keep the gifts that you’ve bought. That place needs to be easily accessible otherwise you’ll be tempted to just stuff that perfect gift somewhere and promptly forget where you stuffed it!
You can use a tote, or a closet, or an entire room if you have the space for it! They key is to make it the ONLY place that you stash gifts. Don’t spread them out in several different areas.
So how do you remember what you bought for who?
You can label stuff with a post-it note or a piece of tape if you’d like. I use a printed form (you can download here for free) which I keep in a sheet protector. I write down a description of the gift, who I bought it for, where I bought it and how much I paid for it. I tuck the receipts down into the sheet protector so that it all stays together. Keep the page somewhere safe so that you don’t lose it.
I have a tote that I keep gifts in all year. I also keep wrapping paper, tape, bows and gift tags in there. When it’s time to start wrapping gifts I just grab the entire tote.
Sometimes there’s a gift that won’t fit into the tote, in which case, I will find a place to stash the gift and write down the location on my form. That way I have a reminder of where I put it (cause I will totally forget).
Don’t Forget About Homemade Gifts
You aren’t limited to just things that you buy throughout the year. You can also opt to make gifts for your friends and family.
Whatever the gift, if it’s homemade it’s going to require a bit of thought, effort and at least a little bit of time, so you’ll need to prepare in advance to make sure you get to them.
Start collecting ideas now and thinking about materials that you’ll need and the time required to finish the project. You can make things like:
- homemade jams and jellies
- knitted items such as washcloths, hats, gloves, blankets
- sewn items such as tote bags, blankets, curtains, pillow cases or if you’re really good at sewing you can tackle more advanced projects such as clothing and décor.
- Upcycle projects - there are so sooooo many out there
- baked goods
Once you have a gift made, stash it in your gift spot and make a note about who you made it for.
Do you have any tried and true tips for planning ahead for Christmas? Please comment and let us know!