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The Three Core Strategies for Handling Holiday Shopping on a Budget

If there's one thing we love to do as the holiday season gets into full swing, it's shop. For some people, a big part of holiday cheer is hitting the mall and super-stores to see what the holiday aisles hold. Some of us go all-out on outdoor decorations or interior decor. Some can't help but overspend in the grocery section on every possible fixin' and baking supply to make the holiday spread complete. For many of us, it's impossible not to overspend on gifts for beloved friends and family. Of course, if you have a realistic budget, unrealistic holiday spending can really cramp your New Years' style. This year, a little forward planning can really help you handle holiday shopping on a budget.

All you need to do is frame the spending you plan to do. You can build a complete holiday on a reasonable budget by sticking to your plan. Not sure where to start? The best place to begin is with the three major categories of holiday spending where we love to go overboard.

Set Three Budgets When Holiday Shopping on a Budget

For most of us, holiday spending falls into three categories: decorations, cooking, and gifting. You might go all-out on all three, or only overspend on one. A great holiday budget can help you frame your planned spending for all three categories so you can see where you want to overspend and give yourself a framework to meet all your holiday needs without going (too far) over budget this year.

Without further ado,  we'll start with category 1: Decking the halls without knocking out your bank account.

1) Decking the Halls on a Reasonable Holiday Shopping Budget

It's easy to go overboard on holiday decorations. Whether you're someone who loves to be the brightest house on the block or you just can't stop collecting nativity scenes, it's time to put a stopper on spending and challenge your creativity instead. How can you make your home beautiful and festive for the holidays with only a few smart purchases?

Replace Bulbs, Not Strings

Christmas light strings have been LED for more than a few years now, which means it's time to stop replacing them (LEDs last a long time) and start just replacing the few bulbs that get damaged every year. Instead of spending an hour at the store picking out new lights and outdoor decorations, spend that hour untangling your old string lights instead.

Make a family evening of it, unpacking all the old spools and laying out the strings in preparation to line the house in glorious twinkling lights. If you have a lot of old strings, this is your opportunity to get creative. What else can you wrap in lights, like trees and wire reindeer, to spice up your outdoor design without going shopping for new decorations?

Dive Into Family Keepsake and Heirloom Decorations

Many families have a box (or three) of old decorations that are part of family history. Handmade ornaments can come from generations of children who deserve some space on your tree. Pull out the old glass balls and metal icicles from decades past to deck out your tree instead of stocking up on new ornaments every year. Not to mention, all the ornaments you've stocked up over the last few years.

Go Crazy With Low-Cost Decors Like Ribbons and Throws

You can also make your home a festive escape with very inexpensive decoration pieces like strands of wide red ribbon and a few plush microfiber throw blankets. Simple garlands, wreaths, and even smart use of color-changing smart lights that you already own might be all it takes to transform your interior into a place of fantastic holiday cheer.

Hand-Make Decorations From Art Supplies

Let's not forget how inexpensive it can be to hand-make your own decorations. Especially if your house already has a closet full of unused art supplies from school years past. Cut paper snowflakes. Use paint-pens on simple glass balls. Twist the wire into shimmering ornaments. The possibilities are endless and delightfully low-budget.

2) Managing the Grocery Holiday Shopping on a Budget

Now let's talk about the holiday feast. If you're the type to go all-out on meal planning, sides, and desserts, this can ring up several hundred dollars in food for just a few days of celebration. Holiday hosts tend to invest more in feast groceries, but even bringing a few dishes to the gathering can cut into your budget without forward planning. So plan ahead!

Take Turns Hosting Holiday Dinners

Don't be the only person hosting holiday dinners, take turns with the other chefs in your family. Even if your home is the favorite (or only local) gathering spot, encourage others to sign up for providing certain meals to provide groceries and show off their cooking skills. Once this starts, other family members who want to contribute, but don't cook, may pitch in just for groceries to feel like they're part of the shared new tradition.

Ask Relatives to Bring Their Largest Cooking Pans

One of the biggest costs, especially for new holiday hosts, is the cooking pans and serving platters. A good turkey roasting dish and lifting tray can cost upwards of $50 all on its own. But you probably have more than one relative who already has large dishes in the far reaches of their pantries. So ask everyone to bring their biggest pans and best-serving dishes even if they aren't cooking. This can really save you a bundle, and make the holidays more communal.

Have Everyone Cook a Separate Dish

Go Pot-Luck! If you're all gathering for one special dinner, invite family members to each bring – or cook on-site – their favorite dish or specialty.  Grandma may still be the turkey cooking champion, while Aunt Sue makes the best casserole sides and Uncle Joe's pecan pie is a family legend. So don't try to do (and pay for) it all yourself. Bring everyone together for the best of every dish.

Stick With Only Your Favorite Desserts

Another serious budget-breaker is the dessert table – and there are always leftovers. There's no need for every kind of pie and cookie. Choose your favorites and perfect the recipe instead. Count servings, multiply by two or three and stop there. If you have too many goodies, there's no way that expense will be efficient to the amount of eating humanly possible – even over the holidays.

Set A Limited Menu for Holiday Cocktails

Finally, stocking up ingredients for holiday cocktails can get pricy. So limit the menu to a few tasty mixes and meaningful toasts. Consider cocktails that can share hard and soft ingredients so you can make a variety without multiple bottles of pricey supplies.

3) Separate Your Holiday Shopping Budget by Family and Relative

Holiday Shopping on a Budget
Girl using calculator for a budget for a holiday shopping spree.

Last but perhaps the most important of all: Gift budgeting. Of course, you want to show your friends and family how much you care about gifts. If you have a nuclear family of your own, you want to give everyone a budget to gift their relatives, too. But that budget can quickly get out of hand. It's important to carefully build and chart your spending so that you A) spend a fair amount on each relative and B) don't blow your budget by shopping from the heart alone.

Your Total Holiday Shopping Budget

First, set your total gifting budget. How much can you afford to spend on gifts this year?  This is your absolute limit. It's OK to give yourself a margin and can be a good idea if you know you'll want to overspend, but use this as your guide to help yourself stay within reasonable spending limits this year.

What You Will Spend on Each Family and Person

Next, divide that overall budget by the number of family members you need to shop for. It's OK to make tiers for spending, like your nuclear family (spouse and children) your origin family (parents and siblings), and your extended family (aunts, uncles, and cousins). By dividing up your budget, you get a realistic look at how much each gift or set of gifts should cost per recipient.

What Each Family Member Can Spend on Gifts

Next, if you are part of a nuclear family with a spouse and children, you'll need to further divide the budget by how much each person can spend on each other and family. How much can your kids spend on gifts for siblings, grandparents, and cousins? What about you and your spouse? As head-of-household, don't forget to calculate for gifts to you from your kids – that will need to be in the budget as well.

Decide when it's appropriate to give gifts from the entire family or to give a gift to an entire distant-relative family group. The right group gift can really save your budget while still showing you remember and care for each person.

Handmade Gifts

Many people gifting on a budget go the handmade crafting route. Done correctly, you can give a unique and meaningful gift to each relative without breaking the bank. Have your kids paint ornaments or make custom t-shirts.  The best way to do this is to avoid impersonal cliches (aka: candles and bath bombs) and instead do something artistic where the art is more meaningful than the medium.

Don't forget that art supplies can also get pricy unless you keep it simple. Twisted wire jewelry, painted glass or fabric, and embroidery or yarn work are low-priced, while both scrapbooking and handcrafted furniture can easily take you over budget instead.

Learn More About Holiday Shopping on a Budget

Are you handling holiday shopping on a budget this year? Using these planning techniques, you can create a warm and loving holiday inside your budget without giving up an ounce of joy or a moment of special family time. Check out ProductIQ's inventory to find what you need.

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