Giving generously while balancing your budget: 3 steps to shopping happiness

‘Tis that time of year again! Bells from cash registers fill the air as we flock to stores to show our love and appreciation to those who are most important in our lives. We work tirelessly to find something that they have always wanted — or something that thoughtfully speaks to who they are — with the ultimate reward being absolute joy on their faces. You also risk tears or funny expressions, it could go either way.

But for some, buying a meaningful, generous gift while staying within a budget is an impossible task. Nobody wants to be labeled the “Scrooge” of their family Christmas by nickel and diming everything.

You might measure each gift by how little it cost you and not how meaningful it is to the recipient. On the other side, you might be approaching Christmas as a gluttonous fool, filling your tree with unneeded items. While ignoring your financial state, you’d rather create a holiday spectacle for your jealous friends on Instagram. (Best Tree Ever!) This, however, is probably not the better position. To both I say, “Bah Humbug.”

There is a better way! Here are 3 quick steps to Christmas shopping that can balance both generosity and your budget:

#1 – Create your own custom holiday shopping budget, and stick to it.

Make a budget for the Christmas season that will not set next year’s budget ablaze like a Yule log. I know you’ve planned all year for this annual ritual…and it does happen every year. If you haven’t, start this December 26th. Set a small amount aside each paycheck that would match your usual holiday expenses accounting for gifts, food, and hospitality. You’ll be surprised at how this planned savings really adds up over the year.

For those of you who already have money set aside, do not let this yearly event deplete your emergency savings. That money is for a very bad tomorrow — and using those funds will only put unnecessary stress on this joyful time of year. Having a shopping budget in place will help you preserve your emergency funds.

#2 – Make a Christmas shopping list, like Santa.

Make a list of all the people you want (or have nochoice in the matter!) to buy gifts for this year. Beside each of their names, write what you would ideally like to give that person. Most likely there are several people that have been on your mind all year long, and you already know the perfect gift — see if you can act on that. Keeping a list will help you control what you buy (or make, or create, etc.) for each person in your life this year.

Also consider: is there really a need to have each present be even in terms of cost? If it really is the thought that counts, shouldn’t we, as a community, be okay with others receiving more than us? Can we be delighted and filled with the enjoyment of others? Can we teach this to our kids?

#3 – Remember the risk of overspending, and what overspending really means

Saying “yes” to something today is saying “no” to another thing tomorrow, and works both ways.

In other words: If you overspend today and go into debt, it could force you to say no to starting a future savings plan throughout next year. Your money is a very defined and finite thing. Once a dollar has been committed to an expense, that same dollar cannot be spoken for again. The same goes for borrowed money – except even worse, that dollar has not been earned yet.

The risk of Christmas shopping feels two fold, “if I don’t do enough they will feel unloved” and “if I do too much I will strain myself financially”. I believe this is self-imposed.

The reward of Christmas shopping is celebrating the blessing that life is, and sharing our abundance with others by giving out of the fullness of our hearts and pockets. Don’t let Christmas feel like a risk. You don’t have to decide between “If I don’t do enough, they will feel unloved” and “If I do too much, I will strain myself financially.”

You can do both through solid planning and financial awareness.

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to you and yours.