2012 Holiday Gift Giving Guide: Budgeting and planning

Today begins our annual Holiday Gift Giving Guide. Between now and November 21, we will share numerous articles on uncluttered giving that can be used this season. Most of these ideas also will apply to gift giving throughout the year, irrespective of the occasion.

Do the holidays creep up on you and give an unwelcome jolt? Unless you like unpleasant surprises (like forgetting someone on your list), treat the holidays like any other project — one deserving of a well laid out plan with a timelines and a reasonable budget. That way, you’ll know what to expect and have a guide to ensure that you don’t overspend or overlook important people or events. That means that you can …

Start planning early

The benefit of planning early will be less stress and more time to enjoy the gift giving season. Though your first thought may be about the list of people you intend to give gifts to, there are other things to consider as well, like how much money you will spend, whether or not you will be hosting a party or attending one (or more) holiday events, along with the type of gifts you’ll give.

As you start thinking about all the things you need (or want) to do, get them out of your head and record them on a spreadsheet, in your paper journal, or in an online notebook. Put your plans in buckets or categories (who you’ll buy gifts for, gifts to purchase/make, specialty stores to visit, sales to take advantage of) and also consider what worked last year to see what you’d like to repeat and things you prefer to do differently. Include gifting traditions that you want to keep and and new ones that you’d like to try out. Will you need help so that your plans can go off without a hitch? Will you share the expense of certain gifts?

With so much to think about and do, it can get overwhelming, so the next step would be to:

Set your monetary budget

Figuring out how much you can afford to spend will likely drive the types of activities you engage in, as well as how much you spend on presents. The website LearnVest.com suggests that you use the 50/20/30 rule to determine how much of your take home pay will be put toward three categories of expenses:

  • 50 percent for essential expenses (rent/mortgage, utilities, groceries)
  • 20 percent for financial priorities (debt payments, savings contributions)
  • 30 percent for lifestyle choices (hobbies, pets, cable/internet)

Though this rule pertains to your general budget, it can also help you determine how much you will put toward holiday spending, which seems to fall in the “lifestyle choices” category. Since that is an area you tend to have more control over, you can make some adjustments (reduce the number of times you eat out per month, cut back on expenses related to hobbies) so that you can put money toward your holiday fund.

As you crunch the numbers, think about whether you’ll have a per person budget ($50 for significant others, $25 for friends or children’s teachers, $15 dollars for neighbors, $10 for co-workers) or a flat amount for everyone. Will you forgo gifts for some people and send them cards instead? How will you handle charitable giving? You’ll also need to think about the number of holiday parties you’ll attend as you may be expected to give each host a gift.

Budget your time

Not only is budgeting your money important, but so is budgeting your time. Whether you purchase gifts or make them, you’ll need to figure out how much time you can realistically devote to shopping, crafting, or baking (and wrapping, too). Will you schedule time after work, on weekends, or both? Will you purchase generic presents (like gift cards) or select items that match the recipients wants/needs/personality? Will you send holiday cards to some people in lieu of a gift? Are the stores with special sales in close proximity to your home or office? Whatever you decide to do, plan how you’ll use your time so you don’t end up feeling stressed by rushing around at the last minute.

One way to save some time is to stop guessing which things to buy. Ask your friends and family members what they want. You can do that easily by using websites like Amazon, WishListr.com, or SeeWhatTheyWant.com to find out exactly what your loved ones are hoping to receive. With each of these sites, you’ll be able to see what has already been bought and reduce the risk of duplicate purchases. Alternatively, you can use the Gift Planning Checklist from Lifehacker.com to keep track of the gifts you’ve already bought. As you think about how you’ll budget your time, look for opportunities to divide and conquer — share your holiday chores with others who can help you with the shopping or crafting duties.

Now that Christmas is six weeks away, this is a great time to pull your thoughts together to create a budget and plan so that you can have a stress free and festive holiday season. Over the next nine days, we’ll supply you with numerous uncluttered gift ideas to inspire your planning list to help reduce even more of your stress — so stay tuned.

The full 2012 Holiday Gift Giving Guide.

8 Comments for “2012 Holiday Gift Giving Guide: Budgeting and planning”

  1. posted by Damian on

    My family (especially my wife and mother-in-law) are very early holiday planners. In fact, my mother-in-law has been busy all week wrapping gifts and getting the holiday “have to’s” out of the way early.

  2. posted by EngineerMom on

    Kristen at The Frugal Girl (thefrugalgirl.com) just finished a great series on “Making Christmas Merry (while keeping your sanity and sticking to your budget)” that I’ve found very helpful.


    The holidays can be a very busy time, and while it’s great to get a head start on all the work associated with the celebrations, I also really liked her reminders that it’s OK to opt out of some of those celebrations and tone down the ones you do participate in.

  3. posted by Garage Organizing on

    This is great! While I’m really good with organizing my home (usually!) planning for holidays and events tends to get me flustered!

    I agree that’s it’s definitely better to start sooner than later and I’ve been making a conscious effort to do that this year… It seems to be paying off because I’ve already picked up half my christmas gift list! 🙂

  4. posted by Provenance on

    Starting your holiday shopping earlier will not only save your a lot of money but also time. Whenever you go on last minute shopping, you tend to go overboard with your budget. You will buy expensive toys just to make sure that you have a gift sitting under the tree come Christmas morning. You are already shopping on impulse because you don’t have the luxury of time.

  5. posted by Dustbunny on

    I like the LearnVest 50/20/30 rule in theory, but I’d love to see something that has a bit more detail at each level. For example, health insurance and medical/Rx costs aren’t something my family can consider as “lifestyle choices” yet aren’t allowed as “essential” under this plan. Does anyone know of other sites that take this sort of rule and spell it out a bit more? My budget could never adhere to the 50% rule if I added in medical and education expenses, for example.

    Also, I’m curious to know how the family of four in their example can feed themselves on $400 a month! Sign me up for that hint, please! 🙂

  6. posted by squibby on

    I like the idea of choosing 2 colours for decorations, wrapping, table settings etc. And make one a colour you have lots of already, eg white.

    Say you make your celebrations ‘red and white’ . Then you could use any white plates etc for table settings, with a dash of red as decorations, fruit, candles, etc. Wrapping paper could be from a dollar shop as no pattern is needed. You could even follow the theme with gifts kike red wine and white chocolate

  7. posted by EngineerMom on

    Dustbunny – A family of 4 on $400/month for grocery money is not out of reach if you cook a lot from scratch and use meat as a condiment in most meals instead of a main course.

    However, how much each individual member eats and where the family lives makes a huge difference. My immediate family (2 adults and 3 kids) could easily go through over a pound of pasta, two jars of sauce, a pound of sausage, a loaf of bread, and a bag of salad in one meal. On the flip side, I have a friend for whom that “meal” would be two dinners and a lunch for her family of 4. If you have easy access to competing large grocery stores, you can find a lot things, even produce and meat, on sale. If you live in the middle of a “food desert” (either super-rural where you have to drive an hour or more to reach a grocery store, or in an urban area where the only grocery options are minimarts), $400 isn’t going to go very far.

    If you want some good tips on living on a $100/week food budget for a family of 6, see thefrugalgirl.com She mostly shops at Aldi, cooks from scratch, and has a family of relatively small appetites.

  8. posted by Sad Sally on

    I enjoy gift giving. I love being very thoughtful about the gifts I choose for others.
    This year my In Laws instated “no gifts for adults” this Christmas season. We are to focus on the children in terms of gift giving. My husband and I do not have any children, therefore we will not receive any gifts from his family. His siblings have children and they will receive gifts. I feel very badly for my husbad, as he will not receive a gift from his Mom and Dad. We are not materialistic people but we are very thoughtful and thrifty about gift giving.
    We think it is very thoughtless to not make some sort of kind gesture to our childless portion of the family this season. I have picked up small, inexpensive gifts throughout the year to put in a gift basket for my
    in laws. I will still give them their gifts, as it’s too late to return the items even though I know they do not want them.

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