This is Part 5 of the “Do Christmas  Different” Here are links to Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4, if you’d like to catch first.

Back before Christmas, I suggested to set a cap on the amount you spend for each person. If you’re anything like me, this is hard. Every year it seems more difficult to stick with a cap, especially as toys and such get more expensive. We always go into the Christmas season with a budget set, but somehow, we always seem to go over on budget.

This past year we did a couple of things differently. We didn’t pay as much attention to how much we spent on each person. That may sound a little backwards, but I wanted to experiment a little bit. This doesn’t mean that we just through budgeting to the wind. What we decided to do was also pay attention to the overall budget as well.

This seemed to work out a lot better! Now it wasn’t perfect the first time around, but we were closer to budget than we were before. And then it hit me.

We should be budgeting for Christmas like we set a normal budget!

So what does that mean exactly? It means to be intentional about what I said above. Pay attention to the individual cap you place on each person but also pay attention to the total amount budgeted for Christmas.

Think about it. When you create a normal budget, you have to add it all up. Otherwise, you wouldn’t have any clue on if you are budgeting too much or even too little. So why do we just pay attention to what we spend on each individual person? Here’s what you should try for next year. I am also going to do it and then write about the outcome.

Just like every year, set a cap for each person. Decide how much you want to spend and then put it down on paper (or an app, since this is the 21st century). An excel spreadsheet would work for this as well. Then when you are done, instead of just leaving it as is and paying attention to the individual budget, add your entire budget up. Now, as you are going through the previous four steps of this series, you will be able to tell exactly how much money you will need to have before next Christmas. With me so far? Not much different than normal.

Now here’s the fun part. Because you have an overall budget as well, you are free to spend more or less on each person. As long as you stay under your overall budget, then you’re fine.

Let me give you an example. Say you find the perfect gift for mom at the store. You take it to the register and discover it’s $5 cheaper than you thought it was. That’s a nice surprise! So what do you do with the extra $5? You keep it in your budget and use it if need be on someone else. Alternately, if you discover it’s $5 more and you are now over budget on mom’s gift, that’s $5 you get to spend on someone else. Or you could spend $1 on 5 different people.

This is just like regular budgeting because you are free to move around your money as long as you come in under or at your overall budget. If you go over budget on your grocery bill, you may take extra money from your eating out budget. What this does for Christmas is take even more stress away because it gives you a lot more freedom to move your money around the best way you can.

Now something that would help with this is to set a maximum on the amount of actual items you want to get each person. Now this wouldn’t be a hard and fast rule, especially if you’re shopping for kids. It would help for adults though. Take our situation above. If you are only buying one thing for mom and you’ve found the perfect thing for cheaper than you needed, then there is no harm in using that extra money for someone’s else.

Besides, as I’ve said before, the most important thing is family, and they are going to be grateful for whatever you give them as long as you are with them.

Thanks for sticking with me through this entire series. I will post a recap on all of these toward July when it’s usually the best time to start thinking about planning and budgeting for the season.

Let’s make Christmas 2016, and with it January 2017, different. No stress, no strain, and great memories.