Maximizing Your Budget: Gifts

Maximizing Your Gifts

In 2015, we’re putting extra emphasis on budgeting since it’s a must for financial success. Each month, we tackle a different category, and by year’s end, we’ll have one big resource for maximizing your entire budget.

Ding dong, ding dong, ding dong, ding dong…. That could be the start of any number of Christmas songs. And while the Christmas season isn’t upon us yet (although every store I go to is screaming otherwise), we are entering the season of gift buying. That is, unless you’re planning to procrastinate buying gifts until after Thanksgiving, like me. (Is it really procrastination if you’re planning it, hmm?) Either way, this month is the perfect time to talk about maximizing your gift spending!

From birthdays to baby showers to Christmas, gift-buying can be a huge expense in your budget. And if you don’t plan for it in advance, it can very easily break your budget. There’s nothing Johnny and I love more than buying gifts, but if we aren’t planning for it, it goes from being a source of joy to a source of stress. And we don’t feel like we can give someone what we’d like because we’re strapped for either time or money.

So we’ll share some of the gifting habits we started introducing into our budget a few years ago, as well as some we’d like to introduce or are still working on. And maybe this Christmas and in the coming year, we’ll be able to maximize our gift spending just a little bit better because of a few of these.

Plan Your Gift Budget

At the beginning of each year, as we’re planning our yearly budget, Johnny and I talk through all the upcoming gifts for the upcoming year. From family members’ birthdays to Mother’s Day to Christmas to our anniversary, we write it all down. In order to talk through and budget for these gifts, we have to decide what we can spend for different occasions. For instance, we plan what our budget is for birthday gifts for siblings and parents. We plan how much we can spend on our anniversary gift. We also talk through and guesstimate what we’ll spend on unscheduled gifts for baby showers, birthday parties, weddings, etc. By knowing our spending limits beforehand, our spending becomes automatic, and we stretch those amounts as far as we can.

On top of planning it all at the beginning of the year, at the beginning of each month, we do a quick rundown of our planned gift expenses. We talk about any upcoming birthdays, baby showers, or other events that would require purchasing a gift. That way, we don’t forget anyone’s birthday, and we’re not caught unawares when a big purchase coincides with buying gifts for four different people in a given month.

Plan Out Your Gift Giving

I’m still working on this one, but a huge key to maximizing our gift budget has been to think in advance about what we’d like to give people. This may mean stalking their Pinterest page, trying to remember past conversations, or just asking them point blank what they’d like. Then we’re able to spend the time to find that item at a price we can afford. It may mean waiting for a sale or even making it ourselves. We also feel better about staying within our budget when we know the gift is thoughtful. When I’m rushed (or late!) in buying a gift, I sometimes feel the need to overcompensate by spending more money.

Don’t Shy Away from Handmade

One of the easiest ways to save money on gifts is to give handmade items. But in order for the gift to be meaningful, this often takes extra planning and preparation. If you’re able to plan in advance and make a handmade item for someone, it means more than any store-bought gift could. The handmade gifts I received for Sally and Wynn’s births meant more and have been remembered more than any other gifts I received. If I can get my act together, I hope to give a few handmade gifts this Christmas. And that’s a big “if.”

Use Money-Saving Tools

Johnny and I have a few favorite money-saving tools that we try to use when we buy gifts. These especially come in handy during the holiday season, but we use them year-round, too.


If you, like us, find yourself purchasing gifts on Amazon all the time (all hail Amazon Prime), let me introduce you to CamelCamelCamel. Before we buy any items (gifts or not), we ensure that it’s priced well by checking its price history on CamelCamelCamel. It tracks the different price changes of a given item over time, and you can even set up alerts to let you know if a certain item drops in price.


If you’re into deals, you’re probably already a regular of Slickdeals. Slickdeals is a user-generated community of deal hunters that lists the best deals they find on the Internet. Johnny subscribes to their Popular Deals RSS feed. He also sets up deal alerts so that he gets an email as soon as the wanted product has a deal added. Johnny is the main user of this site, but I’ve found myself wandering to it from time to time, too. It’s an especially great site for seeing the very best deals offered on Black Friday and Cyber Monday.


Johnny and I use Ebates for every possible online purchase. Why? Well, Ebates gives you cash back when you shop through their site at most online stores. The best part is that there’s no catch, no strings attached, and joining the site is totally free. If I forget to purchase an item through Ebates when I could have, I get so annoyed with myself because it’s free money that I’m just throwing away. For instance, I buy quite a few of Sally’s clothes from Old Navy, and right now Ebates is offering 6% cash back on Old Navy purchases. Every few months, Ebates deposits money in our Paypal account, and voila! I even keep an Ebates extension in my Google Chrome toolbar that alerts me anytime I can get cash back through a site I’m perusing. It doesn’t get easier than that!

Store Email Newsletters

I know it’s the worst to have your inbox bombarded with various emails from online retailers, but it’s a must during the holidays, especially if you do most of your shopping online. It keeps you up to date on when the best deals are happening at your favorite stores, and when Christmas is over, you can happily unsubscribe from all of them!

Give a Joint Gift

Sometimes the gift budget we’ve given ourselves can feel limiting, especially when we know someone really wants something that we simply can’t afford to get them. And that’s where joint gifting comes in! Time and again, we’ve gone in with a sibling or friend on a gift, and we’re able to afford much more and get people items that they’ve been wanting or something nice that they’d never buy for themselves.

Stock up on a deal

Johnny and I have just recently started being mindful of this one, but if you find a good deal on a great item, buy multiples of it. This especially rings true for gifts for weddings and baby showers. People are always getting married and always having babies, so it never hurts to have a few extra items waiting in the wings for those occasions. You’re gifting a high-quality item that you got for a really great price, so it’s a win-win for both of you. Sometimes this even means being able to gift something nicer than you usually could or being able to add more items to the gift.

So that’s how we maximize our gift spending. I’m looking forward to putting all these tips into practice in the coming months. But now we want to hear from you! Before we go hog wild on our holiday gift buying in the coming months, we’d love to know any other gift budgeting techniques you have!

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  • Reply Mrs SSC October 12, 2015 at 9:24 am

    We just had a ‘gift’ talk this weekend about Christmas… we decided to drastically cut back spending because there is not much we want or need. You should learn to crochet — I like to make cute animal or character hats as gifts for kids birthday parties!

  • Reply Jen C. October 12, 2015 at 11:00 am

    I don’t have much to add to this list, but my husband and I do one thing differently that works well for us. Since he gets paid every two weeks, he gets an extra pay check in October. Whatever that paycheck is, we designate it as the gift giving budget for Christmas. Then we list all the people we plan to buy for, and set a spending cap for each person.

  • Reply Cat@BudgetBlonde October 12, 2015 at 11:55 am

    Great tips! We always try to keep our holiday spending down by having a minimalist Christmas. We keep gifts to a minimum and try to focus on the reason for the season and spending time together with friends and family.

  • Reply Mike October 12, 2015 at 5:28 pm

    hmmm im usually a procrastinator (like you) but im looking to switch things up this year. I want to give my mother and my sisters a very special gift so i started saving 2 months ago. You’ve given me some new ideas on how to save though! thanks!

  • Reply Melanie December 22, 2015 at 2:33 pm

    I find it so impressive that you guys plan your gift budget for the whole year! That sounds impossible to me. But seems like such a great plan. My goal each year is to try to anticipate each year’s spending better than the year before. I just made a 2016 plan for vacations, car repair, car insurance, Christmas, and all my 5Ks and races I do. Perhaps I need to think about adding gifts to that list. Enjoyed the post 🙂

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