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December 16, 2013
by LuAnn Pierce, LCSW

Christmas on a Shoestring Budget

December 16, 2013 02:55 by LuAnn Pierce, LCSW

It seems the holidays always come when money is tight. Many have learned the hard way that using credit to shop for holiday gifts can lead to debt that only continues to grow due to high interest rates and minimum balances that seem to never shrink. There is hope for the money conscious and those who are committed to moderation during the holidays based on their principles.

Change the Culture of Christmas and Gift-giving for Your Family

Even the most extravagant spenders can be trained to spend less on holiday gifts. Often the doting grandparents and aunts are the ones who need the most re-training. This is especially true in families where there are fewer children.

If you are the parent of a child or children who are the recipients of dozens of gifts under the tree, beware! You run the risk of setting expectations that may not be realistic for the future and could create problems for your children.

Many kids who receive too many gifts become spoiled; frequently these young people don’t understand the value of things, expect (or demand) to receive things they want without learning the valuable lesson of being responsible (not that one has to earn gifts, but the over-indulgence spills over into other areas) and they often don’t appreciate the gift or the giver. As adults, that attitude and behavior looks like a person with entitlement issues – this is not what most people hope and dream their children will be like as adults.

As the parent, you can make the rules for what is acceptable and appropriate gift-giving for your children. My youngest sister had a child at 38 and laid down the law for the childless aunts (including me) and grandparents who had a history of splurging on the two other children in the family at Christmas. I helped her craft her statement to the family so that she could both set boundaries and keep the peace in the family. The statement was something like this:

“I know you all love to give – especially when it comes to the kids in the family. I am making every effort not to spoil my daughter. I would like for you to limit her gifts at Christmas and other special occasions to one per household.”

This worked – we all honored her request (for the most part) and the little sweetie is not spoiled yet – she is now 5-years-old. Her mom and dad make sure she sends a personalized thank you for any gift she receives (and that she calls to wish people happy birthday – even those of us she only sees once a year at Christmas).

They are determined to teach her to value what she has and appreciate the people who care about her. My role is to make sure she has a diverse (interesting and cool) collection of books so that she is well read and loves the written word. She calls me her librarian, which I find adorable!

Many parents of children in large, generous families don’t realize how much power they have – because they control the child and interactions with the child. My sister-in-law had a much harder time with us spoiling my older nieces until she (and we) realized that as the mom, she had the power. We were not happy about it when she told us to back off the first time, but we did it. Setting boundaries is harder in some families than others, but it can be done. Just present a united front, or in the case of my brother, go along with whatever the mom of the kids says.

Ideas for Saving Money at Christmas

·         Set a dollar amount for gifts and challenge family members to find the most rewarding and meaningful gift available for that amount.

·         Ask for a list of the top two-three most desirable gifts from each person within a certain dollar amount. Give that information to relatives who want to buy gifts and decide who will get each item.

·         Pool your resources for children’s gifts – ask all family members to contribute a certain amount and then designate someone to purchase only the top three gifts for the kids.

·         To remove the stigma of not spending as much, label all gifts from ‘Santa’ instead of the person who bought it.

·         Draw names and put a limit on the spending.

·         Supplement gifts with stocking stuffers – you can find some really cool things to put in stockings that create a sense of receiving much more than your gifts under the tree. (Maybe the aunts and grandparents can be in charge of the stocking gifts within reasonable boundaries.)

·         Look for bargains on sites like overstock, ebay and others that have auctions or special deals on items in surplus.

·         Suggest spending an afternoon together in lieu of gifts for friends.

·         Frame a photo, poem or drawing to give as a gift that has more meaning than anything you could buy.

·         For people who have everything, ask them what they want or use gift cards to restaurants, bookstores and other places where they can get what they want.

·         Check out the vintage, used and thrift shops for cool gifts that are gently used.

·         Shop local markets – find unusual things at the farmer’s market or local art and craft shows.

·         Set a budget and stick to it – use cash only when shopping.

·         Make a list – a very short one – and decide where you will buy each item. When you go to the store, buy only what is on the list. Do not shop for things that are not on the list. Don’t shop for yourself. Don’t wait until the week before Christmas to do your shopping.

·         Never shop when you are hungry, sad, lonely or tired. Save shopping for better days when you are thinking clearly and more likely to follow your plan.

·         Baked, canned or cooked goodies make great gifts (be careful of food allergies – people who can’t eat gluten generally can’t eat most baked goods and many avoid sugar).

·         Do your research before you go shopping – prices often vary a lot during holiday shopping.

·         Re-gift if appropriate – I get Starbucks gift cards a lot but don’t drink coffee or eat sugar – they make great stocking stuffers or small gifts for co-workers, etc.

·         Opt-out of work and other gatherings if you are not interested in or able to afford pricey meals and gag gifts.

·         If your partner is willing, wait until after Christmas to buy gifts for each other – you can usually save a lot of money by shopping after the holidays. If you want, you can wrap a photo of the item and put it under the tree so that you also get to participate in opening gifts.

Whatever you decide to do for holiday gifts, keep in mind that gifts are about giving and receiving care and concern. If you want to change or determine the culture of gift giving in your family, it is your right to do so. Seek agreement from your spouse or partner if you have children, and make sure s/he and others understand why this is important to you – including financial concerns. More importantly help them understand that you want your children to appreciate what they have, don’t want them to be over-indulged and would like them to recognize the value of all things, great and small.


"10 Ways to Prevent Overspending." Simple Mom. Web. 13 Oct. 2013.

Beroset, Deborah. "How to Give Christmas Gifts Without Overspending." Better Homes and Gardens. Web. 13 Oct. 2013.

"Do You Overspend on Gifts? Six Things to Think About Before Striking Again." The Simple Dollar. Web. 13 Oct. 2013.

About the Author

LuAnn Pierce, LCSW LuAnn Pierce, LCSW

I offer solution-focused counseling to people in Colorado and Wyoming from the comfort of your own home via teleconference or telephone.

LuAnn Pierce, LCSW can be found at
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