Holiday Budgeting: 7 Tips to Control Holiday Spending [2021]

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It’s the holiday season.

Although the holidays are a time for cheer, happiness and family – it also often means a time for spending (a lot) on holiday gifts and presents you give to people ranging from your partner to the local barista downtown. 

"The holidays may cause you to forget about your diet, but you cannot forget about your budget."

It’s not just you or me who have trouble staying on budget with holiday spending.

Check out this graph below, detailing the recent holiday spending behavior of this consumer-driven society:

the millennial money woman blog post "Total Holiday Spending Plans statistics 2009-2019"

Yikes. 

This holiday, my husband and I decided to cap our gifts to each other at $25. 

Although we want to give each other the world, we know we have to be cognizant of our spending to accomplish our future financial goals

American holiday spending statistic

Source: USA TODAY

On a median household income of just over $63,000 – that’s about 1.66% of annual income just spent on the holidays. 

Don’t be a statistic.

Budgeting is the easiest way to avoid overspending.

7 Best Holiday Budgeting Tips

set spending limits

Holiday Budgeting Tip #1: Set Spending Limits


No, you’re not Scrooge when you think about holiday budgeting. 

In fact, you’re the smart holiday shopper when you think about holiday budgeting.

Instead of running into the stores without a shopping list, with holiday budgeting you are:

  • Considerate
  • Financially aware
  • One step closer to financial freedom

If you have not yet started budgeting, please do yourself a favor and start today.

Holiday budgeting is likely the best holiday present you can give yourself.

"Remember that budgeting means control."

You will have complete control over your finances if you follow your budget. 

In other words, the chances of overspending on holiday gifts will drop significantly all because of holiday budgeting.

How much should you spend on your holiday gifts?

This is a tricky situation because what it comes down to is your disposable income (how much money you have left after investing, paying your bills, etc.). 

Below are some general guidelines for holiday budgeting and holiday gift spending:

Relationship Max Spending
Spouses
$100
Parents
$75 - $100
Siblings
$50
Kids
$75
Good Friends
$15

Before you go head-over-heels on a spending spree, make sure to either start and stick to your budget.

If you’re looking for an app to track your budget, then consider checking out You Need A Budget.

You can download YNAB and have a free 34-day trial to see if you like the app.

YNAB claims that its app is so effective that first-time YNABers save about $600 in the first 2 months and over $6,000 in the first year of using the app.

who is on the naughty list

Holiday Budgeting Tip #2: Who is on the Naughty List?


I love this step of the holiday budgeting process!

It’s where you actually get to weed-out those who aren’t necessarily close to you. 

Here’s a trick I learned from my best friend:

holiday budgeting yes no chart

You still show the people that are close to you that you love them and care for them.

But instead of purchasing them material items, bake them cookies for example!

coupon collector

Holiday Budgeting Tip #3: Become a Coupon Collector


It’s so funny, because as I was writing this section I was thinking about the money saving app called “
Honey,” and I said the name “honey” out loud. 

My husband, who was sitting next to me and working on his laptop, looked up from his work and said “yes, honey?”

I was startled because I wasn’t expecting him to answer, but figured out why he did, since both of us called each other honey. 

Ok, ok, moving on to the real reason I’m writing about couponing: The application called Honey.

Honey is one of the easiest and most effective online couponing tools there is:

  • Honey searches the internet for the top prices
  • It’s installed directly through your Google Chrome browser
  • While you shop online, Honey finds the best deals, promo codes and savings

The reason why I decided to write about honey instead of actual coupon clipping is because who has time for clipping coupons in today’s world?

I sure don’t.

And I hate coupon clipping.

So Honey is my next best option.

last years electronics

Holiday Budgeting Tip #4: Buy Last Year’s Hot Electronics


One of the best tips I’ve ever received was purchasing last year’s hot electronics as this year’s gifts. 

You’re doing yourself a favor:

  • You’re sticking to your holiday budgeting plans

But at the same time, you’re doing your family or friends a favor:

  • You’re giving them a cool semi-new electronic gadget

"It doesn’t always have to come down to how much you spend, but rather the thought that you put into the gift."

Let me give you an example of what I gave my husband last year:

He was raving about the latest headphones from Samsung (apparently noise canceling) and he just really, really had to have these. 

Although I didn’t get him the latest headphones, I did buy him the ones from the previous year (and he didn’t even notice!). Win for Fiona!

There was 1 mobile app that helped me save a bit of money during my holiday spending – and helped me with my holiday budgeting: Slide.

Slide helps you save 4% cash back instantly; every day that you go shopping.

Slide:

  • Offers unlimited 4% cashback 
  • You can withdraw your cash anytime 
  • No restrictions on how much you can earn
  • No need to scan receipts or any extra steps to earn the cash back
  • Slide partners with over 150 companies including Panera, Ebay, Chiptole

You connect your credit card (or apple pay card) with Slide and at the check-out, simply present the Slide barcode or serial number. 

That’s how you start earning your 4% cash back.

gift of time

Holiday Budgeting Tip #5: Consider Giving the Gift of Time 


Have you ever volunteered before? 

If you have, then you might be familiar with the phrase that charities often pitch:

You can give the gift of:

  • Time 
  • Talent
  • Treasure

Let’s take a look at what they mean by giving the gift of your time.

"Especially during the holidays, giving your time to charities – through volunteering – could mean so much more than buying something."

Here is what I’ve done over the past 2 years: 

If I’m struggling with my holiday budgeting, I’m sure my friends are too. 

That’s when I suggested for our closest friends to go out into the community and serve as a volunteer group for the local Soup Kitchen.

Volunteering at the Soup Kitchen was a total hit!

Not only did we save money – but we actually made a positive impact in our local community. 

Talk about a great way to give the gift of time during the holidays.

"Sometimes giving your time to charitable causes could mean so much more than buying a gift."

Below are some examples of charities that may need your gift of time this holiday season:

Charity Charitable Case
The Holiday Project
Organizes visits to nursing homes with people who may not have families to visit them during the holidays
Project Linus
You either sponsor or make a blanket yourself for a less fortunate child this winter season
ASPCA
Volunteer to help the animals in need or make your home a permanent home for one of these animals
Ronald McDonald House
Volunteer to cook meals at a local Ronald McDonald house for the benefit of children in nearby hospitals
Foodpantry.org
Pair up with your local soup kitchen to help cook and prepare meals for those in need

There are so many ways to give during the holiday season. 

You just have to open your eyes and look.

stash cash for big purchases

Holiday Budgeting Tip #6: Stash your Cash for Big-Ticket Holiday Purchases 


Here’s a step that has helped a lot of my young professional friends who were planning on big-ticket holiday purchases: stash your cash.

"If you know that you’ll be spending a few $1,000s on holiday expenses, save up months before spending money on that big-ticket item."

In fact, I had a good friend of mine who was saving up for a trip to Costa Rica for her family, back in 2018.

She was going to buy the tickets for the holidays and leave for Costa Rica in April of 2019.

Let’s see how she approached this big ticket purchase:

Event Description
First Thought about 2018 Holiday Present
March 2018
Cost of 2018 Holiday Present
$1,500 for a family of 2
Type of 2018 Holiday Present
8-day cruise to Costa Rica
When Saving for 2018 Holiday Present Began
March 2018
Amount Saved
$170 per month
Number of Months Saved for
9 (March through November)
Total Amount Saved
$1,530
Total Amount of Interest Earned
$89
Interest Rate
1.5%

Instead of making 1 large payment using her credit card in December, my friend saved up the cash throughout the 2018 year to make that payment in December.

Moreover, she used a high-yield savings account so she could earn a little more interest on her stashed cash (back then, she could get a savings account with a 1.5% interest rate). 

So, if you’re looking to find a high yield savings account with a competitive interest rate for today’s economic environment I suggest considering CIT Bank.

CIT Bank has no monthly fees and it’s super easy to use.

gift yourself the saved costs

Holiday Budgeting Tip #7: Give Yourself the Gift of Cutting Costs


We often forget to give ourselves something during the crazy holiday time. 

And since we’re on the topic of holiday budgeting, I figured that we should explore some apps that could help you cut down on some of your draining costs.

"It’s not the major expenses that make a dent in your budget. It’s the little expenses that add up over time that can really break your budget."

To keep your budget and monthly expenses in line, consider checking out Truebill.

If Truebill sees an opportunity for you to cut your monthly, recurring bills, then it’s ready to slash those expenses for you. You don’t have to move a finger.

Holiday Budgeting: The Bottom Line


Going into the holidays can certainly be a rough time – if you have not done your holiday budgeting.

However, by:

  • Following a budget
  • Buying last year’s hot electronics
  • Considering giving the gift of time 
  • Giving yourself the gift of cutting costs
  • Saving in advance for big-ticket purchases

You’re much more likely to:

  • Bring joy to your friends and family
  • Still stay on track to pursuing financial freedom

Stop worrying about what everyone else thinks.

"If you’re worried your friends won’t like you because you didn’t splurge on hotshot presents, they’re probably not your friends in the first place."

In the years before this 2020 holiday, my husband and I have always been generous with our gift-giving.

However, since we started working on making our millionaire dream a reality, we have decided to cut back on holiday spending.

Sure, it was uncomfortable at first, but we realized one thing:

"No one is going to take care of your own finances for you."

In other words, whether we stick to our budget and pursue our millionaire dream – that was all up to us. 

Our friends won’t help us.

Achieving financial freedom was solely in our hands. 

And that’s when we realized that although we felt a little guilty about setting spending limits, in the long run, our bank accounts would thank us a million times over for sticking to our spending goals. 

Which holiday budgeting tips are you going to use?

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Fiona Smith
Fiona Smith
The Millennial Money Woman was founded by Fiona Smith. She holds her Master of Science Degree in Personal Financial Planning and has co-founded a local non-profit community teaching financial literacy to young professionals.

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