Simple Ways to Stick with a Holiday Budget

dollar bills and coins next to green and red Christmas ornaments

You may be dreading the idea of having a Holiday Budget in the first place. But here is a trick I learned to stick with a Holiday Budget: Instead of seeing it as a task master, or dreaded necessity, view it as a challenge! You can almost make a game of keeping your holiday shopping within a budget. It is also a great way to stretch your creative wings. Instead of purchasing something, see if you already have it, or can find a suitable, affordable replacement.

Now that your Holiday Budget is set up, and you are viewing it as a challenge, your next goal is to find ways to stay within that budget. These helpful tips will not only help you stick with your Holiday Budget but also help you find ways to both supplement the Starting Balance and cut out some of the expenses.

Get Organized with Lists

a woman's hand writing a Christmas shopping list in a notebook

As soon as you have finished designing your budget, your next goal is to stick with your Holiday Budget. The first step is to look at some of the main categories. One of the top spending areas for most of us is gifts. To help you maintain your Holiday Budget, create a list of everyone to whom you want to give a gift and what you would like to give.

For this list, it helps to have four columns:

  • Recipient
  • Potential Gift
  • Cost
  • Where to Find It

Once you have your list completed, add up the Cost column. Is it within the amount you allocated for gifts? If it is, then you are good to go. If not, take a look at some of the items you want to give. Then ask yourself:

  • Can I find it less expensive somewhere else?
  • Is there something else I can give?
  • Is it something I can make myself for less?
  • Is this a family member who would rather have a family heirloom I currently have?

By asking yourself these few simple questions, you may be able to cut your gift spending down considerably.

Don’t be surprised to see the last suggestion. In many cases, one of the best gifts you can receive is a coveted family heirloom. Grandma’s quilt or Aunt Janie’s recipe box may be priceless to someone who has been wanting it for a while. (Hint: this is also a great way to stick with a Holiday Budget and start clearing out some of the clutter in your home!)

Stick with a Holiday Budget within the Food Category

basket filled with Christmas cookies

With Food being another high-expense category, there are several lists you can make. First, it helps to create meal plans for both the holiday season and everyday meals leading up to the holidays. Once you have created meal plans, you will have a better idea of what you will need.

A second food list is for any food you plan on giving as gifts or taking to a function. Knowing what you plan on baking (outside of the normal and holiday meals) will help you with your next list…

…which is a grocery list. The best way to stick with a Holiday Budget in the food category is to first, check your pantry, refrigerator, and freezer to see what you have on hand. This is primarily a check for basic ingredients, but also for any pre-made meals, desserts, and other items.

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Then start watching for sales and print and/or digital coupons. One great thing about making a grocery list for the holidays is you can plan well in advance. If your local grocery store is running a sale on Maraschino Cherries in June, and you know you will be needing it to make a special dessert for Christmas, go ahead and buy a jar. Just keep in mind expiration dates. Fresh dairy won’t last that long. Fresh vegetables and meats will have to be frozen.

One way to prevent you from having to do all that shopping just a few weeks before the holidays is to plan ahead. I love to make Strawberry Nut Bread to give as gifts. Around here, fresh strawberries start coming in the middle of June. I watch the farmers’ markets and pick your own places for mine, then bring them home and freeze at least part of them for holiday baking.

In order to stick with a Holiday Budget, learn to think ahead of the game. As you do your regular grocery shopping, keep an eye out for bargains that will help you to reduce your expenses in your Holiday Budget Food category. When you get home, find the price of that item on the receipt, and add it under the appropriate month and category in order to keep track of your holiday spending.

Use Cash as much as Possible

man's hand paying cash for a Christmas gift

If part of your Holiday Budget starting balance includes the cash-based ‘Dollar a Day Savings Plan’, then take your envelope with you when you shop.

With cash, you can actually see how much you are spending, and it may help you to think twice about purchasing something more expensive, rather than searching for it on sale or opting for a less expensive option.

Focus on Frugality

garage sale sign in front on a table with books

You may not think much about shopping at garage sales or flea markets for Christmas gifts, but you may just be surprised how well it will help you to stick with a Holiday Budget. Many people sell new or gently used items at a fraction of the cost. And you can often find items that are either no longer available at a store or cost prohibitive to buy retail.

On one Estate Sale excursion, the Country Boy and I found a pressure canner still in the box. The cost was 75% less than what we could buy in the store.

One year, money was extremely tight. We did some of our shopping at garage sales. In the process, we found a wicker vanity set that was in great shape, and only needed some paint. ‘Santa’ bought it for $2.00 and spent an additional $3.00 on paint. When finished, it looked brand new, and 25 years later, my daughter handed it down to her own daughter.

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Shop thrift stores and garage sales for craft supply items, such as yarn, equipment, and more. If you plan on creating mosaics, you can pick up pieces of China, glass, and more for almost pennies. If you plan on creating anything with fabric, such as quilts and toys, shop the thrift stores for clothing that is used, but still in great shape.

If you are like most crafters, you have a ‘stash’. And this stash is one of the best ways to stick with a Holiday Budget. It may be of yarn, fabric, or other supplies, but you definitely have one. Search through your stash first to see if you have what you need.

If not, go through your cabinets, closets, and dressers. You may find decorative jars to make candles or fill with handmade bath salts. One of grandma’s doilies may be sitting in a drawer and would be perfect to frame or use as a decorative addition to a quilt square or a handmade tote bag.

Keep Your Holiday Spending in Check

a miniature shopping cart filled with small shopping bags

One way to stay on track is to beware of Impulse Purchases. These are some of those ‘hidden’ expenses and can wreak havoc on your budget. Some hidden expenses could be:

  • The ornament that ‘would be perfect for the tree’
  • A bag of chips and a soda for a snack
  • Another roll of wrapping paper, ‘just in case’
  • The ‘Waffle’ Dance (the one where you suddenly become self-conscious about a gift, and think you need to ‘upgrade’ to a more expensive one)

 If you aren’t sure if it is an Impulse Purchase, take the time to stop and think about it more. Walk away to do the rest of your shopping. If you still feel compelled to get it, and it’s within your budget, then go back. But more than likely, if it really is an Impulse Purchase, you will have forgotten about it and leave the store before you buy it.

Stick with a Holiday Budget by Making Your Own

woman's hands knitting

Creativity isn’t just for gifts during the holiday season. There are other ways you can make things you need and still stick with a Holiday Budget.

A roll of butcher paper is cheaper in the long run than wrapping paper. Create your own design with stamps, stickers, or having the kids create fun Christmas scenes. The best part? You’ll have plenty of butcher paper left over for the next holiday season or to have on hand for fun craft projects for the kids.

To go along with your handmade wrapping paper, consider making your own ribbon. With embroidery thread or thin yarn, you can make fun cording to use as the ribbon with a Friendship Bracelet Loom.

cow cookie cutter used as a placecard

If you need place cards, these are easy to make. They can be custom designed by using a website such as Canva. Or just use holiday shaped cookie cutters, put the names on pieces of paper, and tie them on the cookie cutter with a piece of ribbon or scrap yarn.

Instead of ordering flowers for the table centerpiece, take a nature walk and find all the supplies you need. Branches of berries, pieces of pine bough, and a collection of pinecones are often readily available and free.

Online vs In Store Pros & Cons

using a computer for online shopping

To stick with a Holiday Budget, it has become more and more convenient to shop online, rather than at a retail outlet. There are some great thoughts on the pro side. But there is also a downside, so think carefully and shop wisely when you sit down at your computer.


  • may save money on gasoline
  • may save money on taxes
  • it is often easier finding specialty items not available locally


  • may not have time to return damaged, miss-sized, or incorrect items
  • may have to pay shipping
  • shipping delays
  • can’t support local businesses

Keep an Eye on your Budget

man's hand holding a pencil using a calculator

When you keep a close eye on your spending, you have a better handle on where and when you need to adjust. However, one thing you do NOT want to adjust is the initial amount you plan to spend. If at all possible, try to stay within that figure.

Find ways you can stick with a Holiday Budget. If you see where you are about to spend too much, look at the lists you have made. What changes can you make? Instead of preparing the entire Christmas dinner, consider asking each guest to contribute a dish. This alone can cut your grocery bill tremendously.

purple circles with sales in white to help you stick to a holiday budget

Do your shopping research. Watch for sales. Plan ahead for a Black Friday excursion. On shopping trips, pack a lunch and an ice chest filled with water and snacks. This alone can help you stick with a Holiday Budget and save money which can be better spent in a different category.

When you have your lists completed ahead of time, you have more leeway in shopping sales, or finding other locations that have it cheaper. You can also look to see if any of those gifts can be handmade. And by all means, if you can make it yourself, do it! This is a great way to get friends, family, and the kids involved in the pre-holiday spirit!

Stick with a Holiday Budget for a Merry, Simple Christmas

blue piggy bank wearing a red Santa hat

Having a Merry, Simple Christmas is a great way to enjoy all aspects of your holiday season. There is more time to spend with family, and less time trying to hurry from one place to the other or being stuck in the kitchen instead of enjoying the fun and conversation in another room.

One of the first ways you can have the holidays you have always wanted is to create and stick with a Holiday Budget. And don’t think it will have to wait until next year. You can always start today and use what you learn to create one in January for the next holiday season. From there, it will be easier to stick with a Holiday Budget and get even more enjoyment out of your holidays!

Julie Murphree is a blogger, newspaper columnist, and speaker on all things ‘Living a Simple Life on the Farm’. She is the author of \\\'The Farm Wife – Living a Simple Life on the Farm. She and her husband have 60 acres in NW Louisiana where they actively work on living as sustainable as possible.

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