Planning for Christmas

planning for christmas

I don’t like to be caught off guard, and the holidays are one of those things that sneak up on you every year if you’re not careful. One minute, it’s September and you see the decorations popping up in stores. You think “Christmas stuff already? We’ve got tons of time!” You blink, and it’s December 15th and you haven’t started shopping yet.

Well, maybe you don’t procrastinate that much, but most people do wait until later in the year before they start thinking about Christmas. This is a little rundown of how I go about preparing for the holiday.


  • Once the thank-yous are out, and the gifts put away, I take a few minutes and reflect on how things went that holiday. I pull out my budget and look at how I did and where I need to improve. I set an overall budget for the following Christmas.
  • Next, I write down all the people I got gifts for last year. I add to that anybody that I want to add to my list for next year. (Like maybe your Sister-in-law’s boyfriend got you a gift, but you didn’t think he would, so you didn’t get him anything, and you really really want to make sure you don’t leave him out again next year.) Next to each person’s name, I write a preliminary “budget”. This is an example of how my list looks this year:
  1. husband – $30
  2. me – $30
  3. Connor – $40
  4. Lia – $40
  5. Sophie – $40
  6. Finn – $40
  7. Dad – $15
  8. Dad’s gf – $15
  9. Mom – $15
  10. Stepdad – $15
  11. FIL – $15
  12. MIL – $15
  13. SIL – $15
  14. Little bro & his gf – $15

Total Christmas budget: $340

(scroll down to the bottom for budget-friendly gift ideas)

  • I used to have a lot more people on my list, but I’ve trimmed it down a lot over the years. Now, I only buy for people that I really want to, not the people that I feel like I should.
  • Once I have a general price range in mind for each person, I start to get an idea of what kind of gift they might like. I think back to the holiday that just passed (and this part is easy since I’m doing it in January, not so easy in October). I think about the gifts they got, what they were particularly excited about, and what they seemed less that pleased about. I jot down a few notes and ideas.


  • This is the timeframe when my list really starts to take shape. I get a definitive idea of what I’ll be getting people. My goal is to have my idea list narrowed down to two or three maybes for each person by the end of March.
  • If I have any winter-gear ideas on my list, I go get these in February, when winter things are on clearance. I also watch sale and clearance ads, eBay, and discount stores for other things on my list.


  • This is when the bulk of my shopping gets done. I generally just watch sales and keep an eye out for things on my list. I also go on eBay once a week and spend about 10 minutes doing a quick search for the things I’m looking for. Just about everything you could need will eventually go on sale in a 6-month time period, it’s just a matter of looking for it.
  • In June or July, we get our family photos taken for our Christmas cards. I like the bright green trees in the background, so I love to do it in summer. If you need to make it look more Christmas-y, pick up a few Santa hats and put them on for the card photo.
  • In September I get summer clothes / outdoor gear and toys when they go on end-of-season clearance.


  • If I have anything left to get that I haven’t picked up yet, this is when I do it. Usually I just have a few things left. (Like my playgroup exchange, I was able to convince them all to draw names last year in late October, but I doubt I could get them to do it any sooner.) I’d pick in January if they’d let me 🙂
  • I also order my Christmas cards in October, unless I found a great deal earlier in the year. I use several online photo stores (like Shutterfly, Snapfish, Kodak, Walgreens, and Walmart photo center). I just wait for the best deal on photo cards and I get them then. I’m working on something different for this year – a digital Christmas card – to save even more money.


  • All the gifts are purchased! The stressful part is done. I make sure that everything is logged into my gift organizer (just a spreadsheet that helps me keep track of what I’ve gotten people, so I don’t duplicate).
  • Next, I wrap everything and if it needs to be shipped, I put it in a box and get the address on it and ready to go.
  • In November, I also address and stamp all of my Christmas cards. I do the generic 4″x8″ photo cards, and I have printed Christmas labels for all of my recipients. I scan the list to make sure all addresses are current, then I print it out and just stick the labels and I’m done.


  • December 1st I mail out all of my wrapped, ready-to-go packages. This is also when I mail out my Christmas cards.
  • Enjoy the holiday! No rushing to the mall, getting stuck in traffic, or overspending on junk! Every person on the list has a well-thought-out, meaningful gift, that was purchased for a fraction of retail prices.
  • There are, however, some fantastic deals during the holidays, so if you really really can’t resist, go out and buy some presents for NEXT Christmas (don’t cave and give them out this year anyway, because then you’ll be over budget!)

For the members of my immediate family (my husband and I and our children), we each get 3 gifts every year, just like Jesus got 3 gifts. Each gift usually costs $10-15. I also get each of the kids an ornament that is special to their likes / personality that year. Eventually, when they leave the nest, they can take their box of ornaments with them and hopefully it will be sentimental to them. The $40 I spend does manage to cover all this. We don’t do “Santa”. I know it’s a really controversial topic, but we have our own traditions, and we try to keep the holiday a lot more Jesus-based, and not really about the presents so much. Also, I realize that my children are young and with age will come requests for ipods and laptops (no and no). I do expect to spend more each year. Right now my gift fund gets $50 a month.

If you’re wondering how I only spend $15 on most people on my list, I’ll give you a few pointers on budget-friendly gifts. If my budget says $15 for a person, that doesn’t mean that I get them a gift worth $15. Since I plan well ahead and look for the best deals, I spend $15, but the gift they get is often worth $25-$40 or more. Here’s how:

  • Clearance aisles: this is a great place for deals. In February, get team-appropriate football gear for the fan on your list. After Mother’s Day and Father’s Day there are lots of great deals on gifts geared toward Moms/Dads. In September, get a cute sundress for your Goddaughter to wear next summer (in the right size, of course). On the 5th of July, get something patriotic for your active duty brother. And of course, there is always an array of linens, picture frames, and office supplies. Get creative!
  • eBay: Most people don’t think to check eBay for gift shopping, because they think of eBay as used merchandise. But just add “NIB” (new in box) or “NIP” (new in package) or “NWT” (new with tags) to your search and you will find tons of brand new stuff. Just don’t forget to add the shipping cost when considering if an item is within your budget.
  • preorder guarantee: I like to buy a lot of DVDs for gifts, especially for the guys on my list, who I consider difficult to buy for. has a preorder guarantee, which means you lock in your price, months before an item is even released, and if the price goes down before the release date, you get the lower price, but it never goes up if the price goes up. Pretty cool, huh?
  • also has a daily deals email that you can sign up for, and a clearance section. There are tons of great deals online.
  • Regifting:I’m not ashamed to say that I’m a regifter. I keep meticulous records of the gifts I give and receive, and I never regift within the same circle of people (my family / his family / in-town friends / out-of-town friends). When I do this, my amount spent on the person is zero, so I can afford to spend a little more on somebody else if I just couldn’t, after months of searching, find a deal on what I wanted to get.
  • Save “prizes”: Along the same lines as regifting, save “prizes” or “free gifts” that you receive to give to others. Every time I get a free gift with a magazine subscription or a “buy this get this free” deal, I set the gift aside to give to someone else later. I also participate in an online focus group for a large toy company, and they occasionally reward us with free toys, which I also set aside to give as gifts.
  • Make homemade gifts: A lot of times, you won’t actually save any money on making homemade gifts. By the time you add in all the little supplies you need, they can actually get quite expensive. I do make some gifts homemade (it seems like I’m on an every-other-year rotation). When I do, I make them in bulk. Meaning, everybody gets the same homemade gift. This can save lots of money on supplies (because craft items are often sold in multipacks anyway) as well as save lots of time.

Merry Christmas, and I hope your holidays are stress-free! christmas-gift

2 thoughts on “Planning for Christmas

  1. Reblogged this on Our Cozy Den and commented:

    Today is July 9th, and I’m already halfway done with my Christmas shopping! See how I plan and shop for Christmas!

    The only thing I would add/change, is that we no longer do printed cards. Our list got so big, that my postage alone was more than my entire Christmas gift budget! Now I make a nice video Christmas card that I share with friends & family via social media!

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