I buy lots of Christmas presents strictly for the first reason. Christmas is my favorite, and I love giving gifts.
The problem is, how do you do that on a strict budget? Because Mr. Scrimp and I are on a strict budget, which runs contrary to both of our sensibilities, but what can you do? If we only shop for our respective immediate families and each other, we've got at least twelve Christmas presents to buy, and if you aren't careful that kind of shopping leads to suddenly realizing that after you paid your December rent and went wild with your remaining money, you won't make rent in January, or pay for your heat, or be able to buy groceries.
The holidays are a dangerous time for people with generous tendencies and little money. If it were only up to me with no consideration for anything else, I could spend hundreds on gifts for Mr. Scrimp without a second thought, to say nothing of siblings, nieces, and nephews. And if we shop on a strict budget, how will we find things that are nice instead of low-quality, less meaningful gifts that we're buying simply because we had to buy something and can't afford more? If we give people junk that will break or be useless almost immediately, what was the point of spending the money at all?
Here are some of the things that we are trying to do in order to allow us to give meaningful, non-junky gifts to our loved ones this year.
- Shop early. If you have more time to look for deals, you are more likely to find them. If you shop in a panicked rush four days before Christmas, you're going to spend more money, or you're going to end up buying far less than the perfect present for someone because you can't find anything really perfect in your price range.
- Make a list. Sure, spend some time browsing at the mall, but don't take your wallet with you. Browse for ideas, make a plan, and try to find a way to fit it into your budget. Which leads me to...
- Make a budget. We are doing this by deciding how much money overall we're able to afford on Christmas gifts. We could divide that money up perfectly evenly between each person, which is what seems like the fair thing to do. But perhaps I might spend twice as much on one as on the other if I can find gifts that will be equally meaningful and pleasing to each at different prices.
- Buy secondhand. This may be the hardest bit on this list. I'm not saying you should buy things that are broken or damaged or otherwise in less than "like new" condition. I'm just saying that you should expand your horizons to consider "like new" rather than dismissing it out of hand. If I find a beautiful piece of clothing at a thrift store that has clearly only been worn once (if that), is in Mr. Scrimp's size, is worth $75 new, and only costs $2.50, why I should I feel guilty about giving it to him?
- Shop online. You are much more likely to find good deals at sites like half.com, eBay, bidz.com, or (although this is less likely) Amazon.com. Amazon actually runs an online Black Friday sale for online shoppers. Doorbuster sales in your pajamas!
- Shop sales. Yes... do it. But only do it once you've already made your list. If you run headlong into a sale, you will almost assuredly end up buying something because it's a great deal even though it's out of your budget, because surely someone on your list will like it. That's a terrible idea.
- Make things. Everyone says this. I will also say it. Homemade gifts have the benefit of carrying a message that you care about someone enough to spend time making something for them that you know they will enjoy. Don't, however, fall into the easy trap of giving junk just because it's homemade junk. Come up with an idea, or search on google for inspiration, but don't let making something for someone stand in for being thoughtful about what would make them happy. A mason jar full of powdered hot cocoa mix that you made yourself is a great gift for the right person, but other people will look at it and feel like you didn't really try.