With the holiday season upon us, it is really easy to slip into (old) habits and set ourselves up for financial stress in the new year. In the new year I will share some of my best year-round budgeting strategies, but for now, I wanted to focus on a few holiday budgeting ideas.
Forgo the Stuffers
That’s right, those little stocking stuffers that they line up for us at the check-out line seem essential and harmless, but all of these cute but unsubstantial gifts can add up drastically. For one child alone, stocking stuffers could easily cost between $25-200. You could make a rule about only homemade gifts in stockings, or fill them with a child’s favourite snacks (nothing too extravagant), or even stuff the stockings with a special Christmas outfit or pyjamas. Having a specific idea or theme for the stuffers stops all of the little extras from growing out of control.
A Gift System
Before Ella was born, I heard the wonderful idea of “One You Want, One You Need, One You Wear, One You Read” and that has been a great guide for me. This year, the “one you want” will be additions to her block collection, “one you need” is a homemade Learning Tower for kitchen helping, “one you wear” will be some Wiggles-inspired hair bows, and “one you read” will be covered in our book advent calendar.
This might not be the right fit for your family, maybe a specific dollar amount or other system would work better, but for me this helps limit spending and stops the endless (mindless) buying that can easily come on during the holidays. It also sets a precedence for expectations with Ella that I am comfortable with maintaining as she gets older, and helps me think diversely and creatively.
Come to an Understanding
For my friends with children, we exchange small things like cookies or preserves as well as sweet cards. I usually drop a hint that this is what we’re doing, perhaps by asking if there are allergies to common cookie ingredients (etc), and I try to gift early in the month, especially with newer friends.
With extended family, we only buy gifts for the kids, and with immediate family, we get small, thoughtful gifts and often make a donation to the Canadian Cancer Society in my grandmother’s name.
Whenever appropriate, I prioritize buying used. Ella is not yet at a stage where store-bought or new has an intrinsic value, and I hope to raise her with an appreciation for the environmental and monetary savings associated with buying used. Frankly put, I can afford to get her better-quality materials when I purchase used than if I was committed to buying everything new, and there are many things that are not available used, so buying used when it is possible and practical enables us to spread our money out efficiently.
I’d like to say that this “saves” me money, but in reality, it actually helps me buy more and spread my money further. In one recent weekend alone, I purchased approximately $600 of used books for $19 (many of which were on my Amazon wishlist). I would say that this practice helps me save an average of 50-75% on the price of new materials.
DIY before you Buy
Brainstorming (or Googling) to see if you can find a homemade option for a learning material (or anything really) before you buy new or used, can be a really ingenious solution. I am really interested in purchasing a Learning Tower, but they cost upward of $200 new, and the cheapest used one that I could find was $120 and a $40 car ride away. By finding this $20 solution from Ikea Hackers, I’ve at least given myself some options. My DIY light table saved me $164 compared to the cheapest store-bought option.
Borrow Before You Buy
I’m always willing to let a (responsible) friend borrow a toy that they are curious about and we also belong to a great Toy Lending Library (check your local Resource Centre) which has saved me from purchasing a few toys that Ella has shown absolutely no interest in when it was actually in our home.
Comparison Shop with a Twist
And, finally, when you have to buy new, you can use sites like Ebates to get cash back on your purchases. (I’ve used this site and have received cash back already, so I can vouch that it is secure and legitimate.)
How are you planning on saving money this holiday season?