Keeping Christmas (Spending) Under Control

With the start of Round 3 in the Cheap Sally competition, I have shopping on the brain. This is going to take hours a day of following rabbit trails through the forest of internet retailers and coupon sites, and with a $100K job at stake, I feel like whatever price I find is never enough… I know if I just keep searching I can save a few more dollars!

Even without the competition, we’re often in this mindset around Christmas already. We want to get as much as possible for the money we have because what would Christmas be without a towering pile of presents?

Hmmm… I could give you a few ideas about what Christmas would be without the presents, but that’s not the point of this post. The point of this post is how to stay in control of Christmas spending, particularly when it comes to our kids. Every family is different, with a different budget, different traditions, and different ideas about what is a “reasonable” amount to spend on Christmas. I love giving gifts – it’s fun – but like everything else, it can get out of control. Here’s our general approach to keeping our Christmas expenditure in line.

Set Your Limit.

I was shocked to discover that many people don’t do this, but if you don’t even have an idea of how much money you want (or don’t want) to spend, of course you’re going to go over it! Forget about what everyone else is spending. Don’t worry if the kids’ crazy uncle spends more on your kids than you do even though they’re your kids. Do not compete with other families. Allow yourself to set your own limit. It’s the right thing to do.

Curb TV Time!

We have young kids, and there are basically only two ways that they could even know they want something: their friends tell them they want it, or the TV tells them they want it. I’m starting to think that the amount of whining about wanting this or that is directly proportional to the amount of commercials viewed.

P1050291-1 Out of sight, out of mind. It really does work.

Control Yourself. Yup, You.


Especially with babies and little kids, it is so easy as the parent to browse the kids’ stores “oohing” and “aahing” at all the adorableness and specialness and brain-enhancing-ness that your little one absolutely must have. It’s easy to justify overspending because it’s Christmas, a time when you’re allowed to splurge. And their little faces, full of awe and wonder as they open each new gift, are simply priceless. But, unless you’re in the habit of taking your kids Christmas shopping with you, they don’t know what they’re missing if you put a couple things back. And if you pay attention, the little things wow them just as much as the big things.

IMG_0159-1 Hours of fun with… socks!

It’s another one of those fun times when you have to remember that you’re the parent, the responsible one, the one that says when enough is enough.

Know Your Kids.

I find it easiest to overspend when I don’t really know what the person I’m shopping for likes. I end up picking out an additional “something little” or spending more than I planned, because everyone likes expensive things so I can’t go wrong. But if you pay close attention to your kids it will be easier to figure out what they really want among the numerous exclamations of “I have to have that or my life is over”. This probably takes a little more work and planning than just sweeping everything off the shelf and into your cart, but it’s worth it.

Develop Holiday Traditions.

If the only thing your family looks forward to around Christmas is tearing through the gift pile then sure, the bigger the pile, the better. But if you have other traditions and events around Christmas that everyone loves, the size or success of the presents can become a little less important. Find something everyone in your family likes (or can learn to like). Twenty years from now when they’re coming over to your house for Christmas with their kids, they will not likely be reminiscing about the presents. I remember Cookie Decorating Extravaganzas, delivering Christmas bread wreaths to neighbors, campouts by the fireplace in our sleeping bags, making cookies for the garbage men and the mail man (is that still allowed?), reading the Christmas story from the Bible on Christmas Eve, sledding in the backyard, and making a special ornament that immortalized something significant from the year past. I remember all these things, but I have no idea what presents were under the tree the year I was seven, or any other year (and my mom gives good presents).

This stuff doesn’t have to be elaborate or extravagant. Pour everyone a travel mug of hot cocoa, pile in the car, and drive around taking in the lights. Take the kids to midnight mass in their pjs on Christmas Eve. Invite a couple families or the grandparents over for a carol singing party. Or throw together a kids’ Christmas pageant at your house (it’s not that hard – we’ve done it).


There are as many possibilities as there are calories in a dark chocolate yule log. You could even make a yule log (like this one, which took me ALL DAY).

Remember that the first thing you try might not be a raging success, an “instant tradition” that you come back to year after year, which is obviously fine. Just make the effort to gather your family together around more than the Christmas Loot, and you’ll all leave happier.


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