Christmas and Hanukkah are coming! The stores in my area have their holiday displays up and are playing Christmas music. And Hallmark has started their holiday movies so we can find out if the small town boy and big city girl fall in love in the quaint little town over the holidays (spoiler alert – they ALWAYS do). I love the holidays, I remember it feeling so magical as a child and I love being able to spend time with my family. Now that I have my own child, I like seeing the magic through her eyes, she is currently referring to Christmas as “Ho Ho” and it’s so cute I can’t correct her. I also can’t wait to take her to get her picture with Santa, which I am sure she will hate…

I want to make the holidays magical for her but want to make sure we stay within budget so we are not in debt from overspending for the rest of the year. I want to be able to show her that the holidays are for experiences, memories and showing love other ways than spending money. Although she doesn’t understand it now, her family’s financial stability is much more important than all this year’s must-have toys. One of the items that is predicted to be sold out, is a giant egg with a surprise in it for $34.99! I can’t guarantee my daughter will not be getting that. If you have been using Banktivity, you have been saving all year for gifts and know exactly how much you have to spend.

Use our cost-saving holiday gift guide below to keep from over-spending!

Draw names (aka Secret Santa)

This is something the adults have done in my family and it has worked out great! It’s super fun and saves money! There are now 10 adults in my immediate family and to buy for every single person would be way out of my family’s holiday budget. What we do is put everyone’s name in a bowl and each person draws one person in the family to buy for. There are also free websites that does it for you. We chose the website, because we don’t all live close by one another and it is incredibly easy. You put everyone’s email in the app and can set up exclusions of who can’t be chosen. For example, my family excludes spouses from being able to draw each other. Then you set a spending limit and each person is emailed the name of who they have drawn. You can also add a wish list for the person who has drawn your name to get some inspiration.

On Christmas morning, my family takes turns opening presents. After one person is finished unwrapping all of their presents, they give their unwrapped ‘Secret Santa’ gift to their person and then they begin unwrapping all of their presents. This continues down the line. We all watch each other open presents while drinking mimosas, eating See’s candy and making the appropriate (or inappropriate) comments and jokes about the gifts. It takes a while because we do it one at a time while enjoying each other’s company.

Something they want, need, wear, read

I totally understand wanting to see your child’s face light up when they see all the presents under the tree addressed to them. I also would like to be the hero parent that gets their child every single thing on their wish list, but I also understand the reality of not wanting to go broke to buy the presents they will get bored of almost immediately. I read about the “4 gift rule” a while back and loved the concept. You buy something they want, need, wear and read.

To me, the “want” gift is the big one, this is the one thing on their list, usually a toy, that they are really hoping for! You can really put some thought into this and invest in something that will make them happy for a long time to come. Maybe their “want” gift is a skateboard or a new dollhouse. The next gift is something they “need.” This could be anything that you think the child needs but make it fun as well as practical, maybe they need a new backpack for school or the next size baseball glove for practice. The “wear’ gift can be such fun! Kids grow like crazy and they can always use clothes or shoes in the next size. If you are like me, you tend to buy used clothing for your kiddos, but this would be the time you may want to get them a brand new item with their favorite character or the adorable pair of boots your daughter is coveting. The last gift is the “read” gift. You can get really creative with this. Does your son want the next book in the series they are reading or maybe you find a really interesting book on fashion design that your daughter might like? Either way, instilling the love of books and encouraging literacy in your child is a great gift! I love the idea of this and using it as a tradition, it scales Christmas back quite a bit and sets up expectations, but also allows the parents to give their children thoughtful gifts that they will enjoy.

Focus on experiences

Focusing on experience and events as gifts as opposed to things is something my husband and I like to do. We tend to do this for each other and are starting to do this for our daughter. Maybe you would normally gift your spouse a watch or a sweater but what if this year you got them tickets for a concert or their favorite sports team. I remember a few years ago, getting my husband tickets to see Garth Brooks for his birthday. Although maybe it was a little out of the budget, he still talks about it as the best concert he has ever seen. And I have to tell you, that feels pretty good!

You can also scale this back for the kids. Last year, instead of a Christmas present, I took my niece to get her first pedicure. She loved sitting in the chair and picking out her own paint color and showing her toes off to everyone. Getting her the pedicure was less than I would have spent on a toy she wanted and we got to spend time together and is something she still remembers. We are also asking for experience gifts this year for our daughter from our families. She loves taking swim lessons so we have encouraged our families to contribute to that or a membership to the local kid’s museum.

The sky is really the limit with this. What about giving your sister and brother in law a couple of nights out while you babysit? That is free and all it costs is time, and trust me, everyone wants free babysitting time. Experience gifts can range so much in the cost, so remember to be mindful of your budget when you are purchasing.

Homemade or secondhand gifts?

How many people do you have on your Christmas list? Are you overwhelmed with what it is going to cost? What about making something handmade or buying something second hand? There is so much you can make and save money! What kind of talents do you have? What do you already have at home? You can knit scarves, make holiday cookies or candies or make salt scrubs. I once had a friend give me some seasoning salt using dried herbs from her garden in a cute jar, I loved it! Recruit your kids to take part in making something too. People are suckers for anything made by kids! Put anything in a cute holiday bag with a handwritten card from the kids and you have gifts that people will love. This is a great way to let people know how much you care about them but also save some money.

What about buying something second hand? I buy a lot of stuff second hand. I will usually check the Facebook marketplace or Craigslist before I buy anything new. There are so many deals out there to be found. We are planning on getting my daughter a playhouse for Christmas and are looking for a used one first. Check out the local thrift store, antique shops, and pawn shops. You can find some really unique items that can be a personalized gift you wouldn’t be able to find elsewhere. Can you find a cute kissing cat salt and pepper shaker for your cat-loving cousin? Or a few interesting flower pots for your gardening Grandma? Most people will not be offended by the perfect second-hand item that you have spent time searching for! You can also score brand new things at a great price in these stores, I won’t tell them where you bought it! Pro tip – many thrift stores have discount days where you can save even more money on the already discounted prices. Ask your local store if they have sale days. The Goodwill by my family has 50% off days, they are my favorite!

We love to hear from you! Tell us below how you plan on staying within your budget this holiday season. Happy holidays!

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