Ken Palmer
How To Stop Blowing Your Gift Giving Budget Ken Palmer

You’re a savvy shopper. You’ve figured out that Black Friday and Cyber Monday are just punctuations in a shopping season that starts before Halloween and ends after New Years Day.

You research ads and coupon codes, planning your door-busting strategy like a boss. When you order online, you give retailers your email address so they send you a “new customer” discount code.

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You’re smart. You download an avalanche of price checking apps and bookmark the best price comparison websites. You strategically abandon online shopping carts, then wait for the inevitable email that contains a discount code or coupon.

You even set a gift-giving budget.

But you overspend. Every January you discover you spent more in December than you planned. “This year will be different,” you lie. You do this every December. But when retailers decorate in October, you forget.

How do I know this? Because it’s my problem too. Christmas only comes once a year. Yes, it comes once a year — but it comes every year!

Let’s shine a light on forgotten money-snatchers that kill your budget. No, money-snatchers aren’t your kids or the charity caller that nags you at supper. Money-snatchers are the hidden costs of December. Here are three that you need to watch.

1. Restaurants

That’s right, you eat out too much. If you don’t, good for you! But I’ll bet you do, and you are not taking your restaurant spending into account.

In December, it’s easy to spend more money on restaurants.

Many of us are time-starved, especially working mothers. If you have kids, you’re shuttling them to practice, and you’re attending school plays, concerts, and other events that magically coalesce in December.

You’re trading money for time.

If you’re single, your friends offer more invites, more time-sucking episodes that require your appearance.

Hurried and tired, rather than cook you grab sandwiches at Chick-Fil-A. Maybe you “splurge” and take your family to Applebee’s or Olive Garden.

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Or after work, you go shopping. And guess what, it’s dinner time and parking at Target was a nightmare. You’re not driving home, not right now. So you pop into Starbucks for candy coffee and a Chocolate Chunk Muffin.

Now, I’m not judging your diet. But you just spent $4 on that Caramel Macchiato, $3 on the muffin, and tipped the barista a buck. That’s $8 you didn’t budget for, and that’s if you’re by yourself.

I get it. Eating out reduces short-term stress. You’re trading money for time. That can be worthwhile, especially in December when your time is limited.

All I’m recommending is that you increase your restaurant budget. Whatever you normally spend at restaurants, double that in December.

2. Parties and events

At my house, from Thanksgiving to New Years, we can expect at least six parties or family events. For us, November and December are birthday months, and we are committed to annual parties.

In December we have an annual party with friends, an annual party with family, and we host a New Year’s Eve party. Then there are the work parties with “Dirty Santa” or “White Elephant” gifts. Or we participate in “Secret Santa” gift exchanges. We love seeing friends and family!

Nothing wrong with any of that. But those gifts and parties add up.

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We budget for them (mostly) but miss the mark some years. If you’re correctly budgeting for all of that, please share your crystal ball! My guess is that some years those expenses sneak up on you and blow your budget.

Just remember to budget for holiday events and non-holiday gifts.

3. Stop shopping

You found the perfect gift for your brother, and it’s on sale! It’s within your budget and you buy it. But you keep looking because you have more money to spend on him. He won’t know you got a deal. But you feel a twinge of guilt. So you find something else you’re sure he will like, and you spend more on him than you originally intended.

Now you find exactly what your sister wanted, and hallelujah it’s not sold out! But it’s not on sale. You pay full price, within your budget. Your thoughts return to how much you spent on your brother, and you think, “I need to get her something else too.”

I know you’ve done this. I’ve done it too.

Reframe your good fortune. Some years you will find a gift on sale. That extra money will give you room for another gift that’s not on sale. That’s okay.

If you know nothing about the person you are giving a gift to, give them a gift card.

If you firmly believe gift-giving is all about equality, just give everyone cash or gift cards. My family had one Christmas, several years ago, where many of us gave and received gift cards. That felt so impersonal that we abandoned gift cards altogether. If you know nothing about the person you are giving a gift to, give them a gift card. Don’t give one to someone in your family.

Once you find that perfect gift, stop shopping for that person. Stop looking and move on. Your budget will thank you in January.

4. Self-gifting

This kills your gift-giving budget the most. Self-gifting is a self-perpetuating holiday tradition. Americans in 2017, in 2018, and in 2019 bought gifts for themselves when shopping.

And why not? Who knows better than you what you really want? Most people lack your sense of style and taste.

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That Air Frying Instant Pot you coveted for months, you never saw that go on sale — until today — at the big box store next to the flat-screens that stampedes brawled for five years ago.

Include yourself in the holiday gift budget this year.

Now, I’m not telling you to stop buying gifts for yourself. Just be honest about it. Remember to include yourself in the holiday gift budget this year. If your spouse objects, remind them they too can self-gift this year — without guilt.

That Amazon package that just arrived, wrap it up for me.

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