Christmas Shopping: Managing the Added Stress

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Christmas can be an especially stressful time of year, especially if you are strapped for cash and didn’t get a jumpstart on your holiday shopping. Trying to figure out how much to spend on each person (especially with how expensive toys are getting!) only exacerbates the situation.

So how do you manage that? Even if things are going well for you financially, it can still be stressful to think of the amount of money you are going to be spending. Let’s look at some ways to help manage the stress level.

Set a Cap

First and foremost, it’s important to set a limit or cap on each person you are buying for and not go over it. I always find this extremely difficult. There are concerns about being cheap if you choose too little, or making someone else feel cheap if you choose too much. This can add to an already stressful time.

Say you find the perfect gift for someone, but it is outside of your set budget. What do you do? Do you bite the bullet? Do you refuse and find something cheaper? Do you buy it and then raise the budget for everyone else?

What I like to do in these instances  is consider a few things. One is to consider your overall budget. If you are the type of person who is on top of things financially already, then it’s ok to spend a little bit more on people. If things are tight, then you definitely want to stick to your budget. If you find the perfect gift that is too expensive, unfortunately, you’ll have to put it back. There will be another perfect gift that is within the limit you’ve set.

Grab Bag

Another thing I recommend doing is instead of buying gifts for every single person, buy gifts for only one person each in your family. This is more popularly known as a grab bag. The idea, if you aren’t already aware, is to throw all of your names in a hat and then each pull out a name. That person is the only person you need to buy a gift for this year.

There are a number of ways you can implement a grab bag. The first is mentioned above and probably the most popular. Everyone is included in it so everyone only has one person to buy for. If there are kids in the family, I recommend a grab bag for the adults and then everyone can still buy for the kids.

Another option is to only include siblings in the grab bag and then everyone buys for the parents and/or grandparents as well as kids. My wife and I are using this version for our families. I have four siblings and my wife has three. Everyone is married except two people so there are a number of people in each families grab bag. So just by using that logic, my wife and I are buying for only four people (two from each side), rather than eleven. This also allows us the freedom to spend a little bit more on those four people and still come out with a savings.

Let’s do some quick math. We made the decision to spend $50 for the person we received from the grab bag. We generally try and spend about $25 per person on a typical Christmas year (but sometimes go over). Since we are doubling the amount we usually spend, we are essentially spending for the equivalent of 8 people (4 people times two) instead of 11. That’s a savings of $75 dollars. No bad!

Theoretically, depending on how big your family is and if you include everyone in the grab bag, you can save a ton of money this way. This would also eliminate some of stress if you are strapped for cash and allow you to really enjoy the most important part of the holidays, spending time together.

Sit Down and Talk

This is two-fold. First, if you have one, I recommend sitting down with your significant other to determine what is going to work best for you. Come to a decision and then present it to your family. My wife and I were the ones that presented the grab bag idea to my family. It was amended just a bit and now it is being used.

Secondly, what if you determine that there is really nothing you can do this year? What if you are so cash strapped that you cannot buy any gifts? Again, talk to your family. They are your family and they will be grateful just to spend time with you. That’s what’s important anyway, right?

This Christmas, try and leave the stress behind. And remember, the best gift is being able to spend time with your loved ones. The gifts are an added bonus and should not cause unneeded stress. Enjoy the holidays with your family, blood or otherwise!

Now where’s that figgy pudding!


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Hey! I’m Tim.
I am an expert budgeter and certified Dave Ramsey Solutions Master Financial Coach with a passion for teaching you how to manage your money the best way for you. I’ve been around the block with money and now I live to teach others like you and me what I’ve learned. Read more about me.
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