Spend Wisely

How to save during the holidays...without being a Grinch

Nov 29, 2018 Read: 5 minutes

No parent wants to be a Scrooge, but sometimes your bottom line can get in the way of your holiday dreams. If a tight budget is forcing you to cut down on gift giving, here are some ways to set realistic expectations with your children — and develop a holiday plan that everyone can live with.

1. Assess your situation

Before you discuss spending limitations with your kids, you need a clear picture of what you're working with. Start by establishing a firm budget for holiday shopping. And don't let guilt or stress distract you from the big picture. "In the long run, not adding extra credit card debt is a better gift to your kids than that expensive toy would be," says Crystal Paine, founder of MoneySavingMom.com.

2. Focus on what you can buy

Give your kids a personal stake in your holiday plans by asking them to design their own wish lists, selecting gifts within a mutually agreed-upon price range. If your kids need inspiration, many retailers produce seasonal gift guides that you can share with them. To maintain the element of surprise, have your children list five to ten items that they want, then select two to three items from the list.

You can also extend the effort beyond your immediate family: to meet more of your children's gift expectations, share their lists with grandparents and other family members. 

3. Spread out the shopping

There's no rule that says holiday shopping only has to happen during the holidays. No matter the month, if you see something that sticks out or that's on sale, consider stocking up. It will help avoid rushing during the holidays, when many items are at full price, and you might be forced to sacrifice budget for convenience.

4. Gift presence, not presents

Who says gifts have to be dressed in wrapping paper? Kids value your time, too, so give them a "save the date" certificate good for a bike trip, concert or other event. “We get a family membership to a children's museum, or the grandparents will give a weekend trip to a local attraction. There is excitement in the anticipation of the event happening, the actual event and then reliving the memories," says Sarah Mock, a lifestyle blogger who offers savings tips.

"In the long run, not adding extra credit card debt is a better gift to your kids than that expensive toy would be"  

says Crystal Paine, founder of MoneySavingMom.com.

5. Embrace money lessons throughout the year

It'll be far easier for your kids to understand holiday cut-backs if they've been introduced to the concept of budgeting earlier on. That's something most parents fail to do. According to the 2018 Chase Slate Credit Outlook survey, only 56 percent of Americans have talked about money with their kids. Meanwhile, almost two thirds of respondents said that their savings and spending habits were influenced by their parents. So model key lessons of saving and spending every day, not just during peak consumption season. And add activities such as organizing a family volunteer activity, or cooking a meal together, in your holiday plans. It's a good way to connect to the holiday themes of gratitude and thanksgiving—regardless of what presents you're putting under the tree.

Gina LaGuardia is a freelance journalist whose work has appeared in BELLA Magazine, ReadersDigest.com, iVillage, Huffington Post, and other publications.