It’s the most wonderful time of the year…to spread holiday cheer, drink peppermint mochas, look at beautiful lights, & pretend you’re living in a Hallmark holiday movie.
Or is it? If you’re like me, the holidays can be bittersweet. On the one hand, you want to spend all of your money to buy all the things for all the loved ones in your life. On the other hand, you’re poor, and not only that, but also you’re spending 1/3 of your budget on debt repayment each month. So how do wannabe-Cindy-Lou-Whos spread holiday cheer without breaking the bank? Read on to find out.
The Sinking Fund
The most important reason why I can stick to my holiday cheer budget each year is the sinking fund.
With a sinking fund, you save a small amount each month for a certain amount of time before you make your purchase. You determine how much you save by taking the total amount to be spent and dividing it by the number of months you have left until you must pay.
For example, if you want to spend $1,000 on Christmas and it’s April, that leaves you about eight months to save. Just put a line item into your budget that you want to stash away $125 per month until December. I use a sinking fund for a ton of things: bar dues, car repairs, car insurance, hair highlights, etc., but my holiday gift sinking fund is one of the biggest.
With a sinking fund, you can squirrel away money all year (when it’s in a far easier to digest amount), and then use it when you need it (November for me – I’m an early shopper). This way, you can buy the gifts you actually want to give with zero stress and zero money on your credit cards.
There’s an abundance of homemade pickles, hand-knit hats, and handcrafted stationary these days, thanks to a growing obsession with all things crafty, artisanal, and homespun (just look at all the unique things for sale on Etsy). If you’re creatively inclined, avoid mall madness altogether and bake a batch of cookies, sew personalized tote bags, or make beautiful earrings for friends and family. If you need to learn a new skill, look into classes in your neighborhood or invest in a how-to book (from the library) – there’s one for just about every craft out there.
I, for one, am terrible at being crafty, but I am extremely good at reading, so many of my loved ones have been getting a variety of fun and unique-ish baked goods for years. Peppermint bark, spiced nuts, and caramel popcorn are always big hits – as is the beloved chocolate chip cookie. Just bake, pop in those cute holiday-themed plastic bags, tie with a ribbon, and voila! You look like a thoughtful, gift-giving adult. Bonus points for creating something that’s also desired – like the handmade tree skirt I received.
Don’t forget – offering free babysitting, lawn maintenance, or car detailing is always appreciated & costs nothing but your own time (& some cute card-making skills).
Around this time every year, multiple people always joke that I am “single-handedly keeping the post office in business!” With Christmas cards…the things that only need 1 Forever stamp each. Whatever.
My point is that if there are people you want to send a gift to but don’t have the money, send them a Christmas card. In an ideal world, I’d buy gifts for literally every person I encounter during the day because I love gift-giving, and I enjoy being festive. But I’m 2 years into debt repayment and trying to save money, so instead, I send out ~60 holiday cards a year.
I like to think the people receiving them enjoy knowing I’m thinking of them, and the personalization of each card helps relieve my need to give gifts. All for a pretty small price if you buy after the holidays each year.
Sales, Coupons, & Rebates
Last but not least on ways to stretch your tiny elf budget into a Will-Farrell-sized-elf-budget: sales, coupons, & rebates.
Sure, you probably already know to always search for a promo code before buying something online, but stretch your dollar further by hitting up those now-weeks-long Black Friday & Cyber Monday sales plus the promo code. I also like to use Ebates to get a little cash back on my purchases, which I double by using a rewards credit card (paid off in full at the end of the month with my sinking fund) – it’s basically free money for zero hassle.
Promo codes are especially good at saving on shipping, oh and another idea? Skip the present-wrapping & re-shipping. Most places will do gift wrap anyways, but if your place isn’t the gift’s final destination – just send it straight to the recipient. Trust me, your sister in LA won’t care that you didn’t personally wrap it & send it to her via USPS when she got it 3 weeks sooner for less from Amazon.
Spreading holiday cheer doesn’t have to break the bank, in fact, it most definitely shouldn’t. You’re loved ones don’t want you to go into debt, they just want to enjoy the holidays with you. If you can’t afford gifts, then just tell everyone you’d love to but can’t. They will understand. However, if you have a small budge and big dreams, the above tips should help you get the most out of your elf-sized holiday budget.
Happy holidays & I hope you all have the very best new year!
What is the best (or most unexpectedly loved) gift you have ever received?