The holidays are a time where excess seems to be the norm, or at least we are constantly bombarded with the illusion that this is the norm. People, especially parents, are enticed by advertising and external pressure to go outside their means to create the picture perfect holiday for their children, even to the point of going into debt.

As parents we want to give our children everything! It’s only natural.

When we strive for this illusive picture of hundreds of gifts surrounding a beautifully decorated tree, however, the message that our children receive (even if it is unintentional) is: “I need a lot of stuff to make me happy. I need more to bring me joy.” Is that what the holidays have become? A time to acquire more possessions?

I want to teach my children to value what they have and the special memories we make as a family. I don’t want them to remember an overstressed mom who is trying to do too much. I don’t want them to learn that more is more and the more they have the happier they’ll be. I don’t think I’m alone in that desire either.

Like you, I strive to stick to a budget for the holidays and still make it the most wonderful time of the year. I think long and hard about the items I choose to buy and bring into our home. My hope is to only buy items that add value to our lives and to those of my children. In the end, I want to teach my kids to not depend on “stuff” for happiness and be grateful for everything they have.

How do you do that?

It is easier said than done. Read on to find out how to stick to your budget this holiday season!

Create A Sink Fund

My number one tip to creating and sticking to a budget at the holidays is to create a “Sink Fund.” If you read this post in November, it is too late to follow this bit of advice. But, take my word for it, you will want to remember this one for next year!

Open up a separate savings account and deposit a set amount in it from each paycheck so that by the time the holidays arrive, you have a little pot of money to draw from. Whatever money is in this savings account is how much money you have to spend on gifts.

This helps you to not blow your regular budget come the holidays because you’ve been planning all year for this, saving little by little!

My husband and I chose this approach this year and it was a great feeling knowing we didn’t need to “find money” in our budget or use credit cards to pay for the holidays. The planning really paid off!

Keep a List

Write out every person that you need or want to buy gifts for and brainstorm a few ideas for each one. Try to list an approximate idea of how much each gift should cost to insure you’re staying on track..

When you write out your gift list, it changes the way you shop. You are focused on finding those few key items when you go to shop as opposed to going down the rabbit hole browsing through tempting sites which offer everything under the sun. You’re sure to find add-ons and spend more money if you’re shopping without a list.

Shorten Your List

I have a document on my computer with a list of everyone I buy gifts for, I simply change the year on the top following Christmas. I also like the app ‘Notes” on my phone. I keep a “wish list” there where I add ideas throughout the year so that when a gift-giving time arises, I’m ready with a few ideas.

Suggest drawing names within your family so that everyone is in charge of only one other family member. An added benefit of only being in charge of one gift is that you’ll be able to spend a bit more on your one gift as opposed to spreading your funds between 6 – 10 people.

You should also be thinking hard on whether or not someone really needs to be on your list. I know this sounds harsh to take people off your list, but, if someone loves you, they don’t want you going into debt so that you can buy them a gift. A kind smile and words of appreciation are enough. Time spent together beats anything that can be wrapped in a box.

Shop Around

Don’t settle for the first price you see, make sure to do your due diligence and shop around a little. Don’t forget to check Facebook Market Place and consignment shops for kids’ toys. “New to you” toys are just as good as brand-new toys! Your kids will not know, or care. Use your resources to their fullest!

Give Experience Gifts

Take a friend out for coffee, or a movie night. Treat them to lunch at a local spot you both enjoy. Not all gifts need to come with a bow! Think outside of the box.

Last year, my husband and I took my siblings and their spouses out to do an escape room together. We had a ton of fun and I didn’t have to rack my brain figuring out physical items that would hopefully add more than just clutter to their lives.

Personally, I love receiving experience gifts and value the memories that come with them!

DIY Gifts

I know not everyone is comfortable creating DIY gifts, but DIY gifts are really a great way to give a gift from the heart and save money. The gift of time is a nonrenewable resource more precious than money.

A few DIY gift ideas for the holidays: bake cookies, crochet or knit something like a scarf, share favorite family recipes, print and frame photographs you’ve taken.

Pinterest is full of a million ideas for DIY holiday gifts to create. They’re only a click away!

If you are interested in holiday gifts your kids can make to check off grandparents, aunts and uncles off your list, check out my post:

DIY Christmas Gifts for Kids to Make and Give

Not only will making gifts give you activities to do with your children during this increased time spent at home, it will give your children a sense of pride when they give their gifts.

Write Letters of Appreciation

If your budget is gone, but you still want to spread some holiday cheer, write a personalized letter sharing why you appreciate the person you’re gifting the letter to. This gift is virtually free, but the time you take to write it is precious and the recipient is sure to love hearing your kind words.

Remember “Less is more”

I’ve experienced my own children become gift opening zombies, simply looking for the next gift, unable to focus and take in the gift they’ve just unwrapped. The process simply gets too overwhelming.

Last year, my daughter didn’t even realize what she had received at our family holiday party, even though she unwrapped all of her own gifts. When we got home, she discovered new items in the bag of gifts and was genuinely surprised when we told her they were for her. I think it took several days for her to even figure out that she had gotten a Raddish Club subscription.

The moral of the story – stick to just a couple quality items for your child. Choose items that will be loved and used for a long time rather than used for fleeting fun. Don’t overwhelm your home and your child with “stuff.” Everyone will be happier in the long run, I promise!

One helpful tip I’ve seen is to stick to buying “something they want, something they need, something to wear, and something to read.” Four items are more than enough, especially if you have more than one child. I understand if you go outside of this little rhyme, I certainly do. But it’s a great place to begin.

I like to cover several areas of development when I’m putting my list together of potential gifts for my kids: large motor toys, art materials, books to promote literacy, block sets to promote problem solving, dramatic play toys to practice social skills as well as science related toys. I don’t buy from each and every one of these categories every time but they certainly help me brainstorm gift ideas. I want a well-rounded child to go with my well-rounded stack of gifts.

Don’t forget, other people will more than likely be buying your child gifts as well. Your child will be more than ok with fewer gifts. The magic of waking up to gifts and the twinkling of holiday lights will not be dimmed if there are a few less presents under your tree.

How many gifts from your childhood do you vividly remember? Probably a handful, right? It’s not the physical gifts that are the most important in the long run. It’s the memory of times shared together that truly matters.

I remember sitting around the living room with holiday music playing, sipping homemade peppermint hot chocolate, as we took turns opening gifts. I remember the anticipation. I remember the glow of tree lights in the morning. I remember and cherish time spent with family. That’s what I want to recreate for my children, not specific gifts.


Once your list is complete stop looking. Did you read that? STOP LOOKING.

Stop pursuing the sales, scrolling Zulily, and clicking on the emails to your favorite stores promising you a big sale. Better yet, unsubscribe from the emails and go ahead and take Zulily off your phone.

If you reach the end of your list, don’t tempt yourself to buy more. Just stop looking and be confident that you are done. Avoid the “just one more thing” and stick to your budget.

Remember, the people who you love don’t want you going into debt buying them gifts. Spending time together is more than enough. I would say spending time together is much more important than physical gifts. I love people more than things I bet you do too!

Don’t Shy Away from Potluck Style Events

If you’re hosting a meal for a large group, don’t shy away from making it a potluck and getting everyone in on sharing the expense of your get together. When everyone works together you not only share the burden of cost and time, but you end up with a great variety of new things to try and a unique experience to share together. What better joy is there than sharing our favorite dishes with the people we love?!

Create Inexpensive Christmas Traditions

Not all the memories of the holidays need to be centered upon gift giving. Driving around looking at the holiday lights is entirely free! We like making gingerbread houses and baking cookies as well in my family. All these experiences are part of the magic of the holidays, but don’t cost a ton of money. Not all magic costs money!

If you’re looking to stick to a budget this holiday season, I invite you to reframe the meaning of the holidays. Take away the focus on simply consuming to consume and consume with a new level of intention. Erase the lesson that more stuff will make you happier from your holiday this year. Let your kids enjoy and appreciate what they already have and make memories as a family together. You’ll never regret time spent together.

Above all else, don’t go into debt to make the holidays match what advertisers tell you is the perfect holiday. Stick to your budget. If you have to use credit cards, then don’t buy it. The people who love you don’t want you going into debt in order to buy them gifts. The magic of the holidays can be found WITHOUT a plethora of gifts beneath the tree.

Children are happy with the simplest of things. All a child truly needs is your time, focus, and attention being showered on them. Quality time together is what children truly require and that time spent together will bring with it all the holiday magic in the world.

I hope you have a merry debt-free, stress-free holiday! Happy holidays from my family to yours!

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