7 tips for positive, stress-free and budget-friendly Christmas shopping

A part of me can’t actually believe that I’m writing this article just now.  It’s November first, but while, in general, I’m a big believer in keeping Christmas for December, I’m also a big believer in being organized and so I think the start of November is a reasonable time to start planning your Christmas shopping, particularly if you’re planning on buying online.  As a minimum, I think it’s a good time to start thinking about what you can afford and setting expectations for other people.  With that in mind, here are 7 tips to manage your Christmas shopping in a positive way, meaning you might even enjoy it and even if you don’t, you should be able to keep your sanity and your finances intact.

Start by deciding what you can afford

Your budget comes first and everything else after and, frankly, if you are in the situation where you can, literally, afford nothing for Christmas, then don’t buy anything especially for Christmas, you can still have a great day anyway and you’ll go into the new year without the stress of a financial hangover.

Divide your budget according to your priorities

Presents are the obvious Christmas expense, but Christmas generally involves some element of socializing, meaning going out, having guests in or both.  These will have associated expenses, so remember to budget for them.

NB: when setting your budget remember to account for all relevant costs, for example as well as the cost of the actual gift, there’s wrapping and often shipping to consider.

Write down a gift list and a card list and then see how far you can trim it

Look at each name and ask yourself why you are giving them a gift or a card and if the answer is simply because they give/send you one or because it’s expected for some other reason, then it’s time to put a stop to the matter.  When it comes to the people you have left, remember the difference between giving and buying.  You may be able to offer them something you have but would not miss as a gift (and I’m fine with this as long as it’s something they’d like) or to make a gift for them or offer a “service voucher” for later in the year.  Even if you are buying gifts, there are still plenty of budget-friendly options to suit all tastes, check out my list of suggestions here.

Recognize marketing hype for what it is

Each and every year, retail marketing machines pull out all the stops to convince us that their product or service is a “must” this Christmas.  It’s not.  I appreciate that this can be a (particularly) tricky time of year for parents and offer some tips on dealing with the “santa situation” in my post on handling Christmas positively.  If you’re feeling guilty about your children missing out on the toy “all their friend are getting” then remember that financial management skills will stand them in far better stead for later life and if you’re not working and working to pay for expensive toys, you’ll have more time to spend with your children to teach them important lessons.  For adults, if a person can’t grasp “it’s too expensive for our budget” and expects you to live outside your means just to impress them, then you may want to review your relationship with them anyway.

Decide whether or not it’s better for you to shop alone or with a friend

If you’re the type of person who can be tempted to splurge and you have a friend who can help you apply your financial breaks then by all means take them along.  If, however, you find that shopping with friends encourages you to spend more, then do your Christmas shopping alone.

Look for top-brand multi-packs you can divide

Top-brands are a mixed bag.  Some are a triumph of marketing over matter, while others are genuinely worth the extra money - if you have it.  Do your research and then, as, when and if you come across top brands which interest you, look for the likes of multi-packs and sample packs you can split up.  For example, in the photo above, that box of gin baubles retails for around £30.  That may well be outside your budget for one person, but split it up and you have a 6 high-quality presents for £5 each.

Hint - on a similar note you can split up multi-pack gifts you plan to give to the same person.  This is particularly useful for children.  For example, if your basic plan is to go with four gifts, a want, a need, a wear and a read, you could see if any of those gifts could be opened and packaged separately, thereby giving children more wrapping paper to play with.  This can also be fun for adults.

Dress up quality basics

To be perfectly blunt, when it comes to Christmas presents, a lot of the time you’re paying for the packaging, so get smart and buy high-quality budget brands (there are plenty out there, again do your research) and then spend a little extra on making them look good.  For example, rather ironically, buying an attractive tin and filling it with sweets can work out a whole lot cheaper than buying a tin of sweets in a shop around Christmas time.

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