Making the Most of the Holidays on a Tight Budget

Making the Most of the Holidays on a Tight Budget

Bio: Jason is a financial advisor and Dave Ramsey-trained counselor. He is the owner of, a financial site dedicated to educating people about money, managing debt, and building wealth.

For many, Christmas and the Holidays is a time filled with great joy and fulfillment as people have the opportunity to spend precious time with their family and loved ones. However, along with this wonderful time of year comes the pressure of buying gifts, stretching budgets, and figuring out how to survive until next year.

While every family, budget, and situation is different, I wanted to spend some time today to discuss some frugal gift ideas. Presents that you may be able to give regardless of how little you can allocate towards buying gifts.

Ideas for Younger Children

The reality with young children is that they don’t fully understand the concept of money and how much things cost. The joy for them simply comes with ripping open presents; therefore, the more presents, the more fun and fulfillment they have!
In addition to this, children these days have TONS of toys and the likelihood of them playing with anything more than a few months is near to none; sure, they have a “favorite” toy, but why spend a large portion of your budget on an expensive gift when the odds are that it will be buried beneath other toys in a matter of weeks?

So, as you’re shopping for your kids, nieces, and nephews (1-5 years old), focus on quantity and forego the luxurious gifts. Sites such as have a great tool that displays popular toys and allows you to select the price range.

Recently, I spent some time with friends of mine who have a 4-year old boy and he fell in love with my friend’s remote control helicopter ($20). Other ideas could be board games, drinking glasses ($4) , a tattoo box ($6), and any other little toys.

If your budget is tight, don’t be embarrassed to visit Goodwill, garage sales, or auctions on Ebay or Craigslist.

Ideas for a Spouse or Significant Other

Buying gifts for a spouse or that special person in your life is increasingly difficult. Ultimately it depends on that person and how you show and receive love as a couple. By that I mean, Christmas has become extremely commercialized in that we don’t celebrate it for its true intent, however we’ve made it a time of year where we show our love and affection through the giving and receiving of material possessions.
Years ago, my wife and I decided to get our financial lives in order and that commitment meant reducing our budget so that we could pay off our debt and save for other things we’d like to do in our lives. For years we decided not to buy each other gifts (literally NONE) and these days we limit it to $10. Sure, we could spend more money, but why?

The greatest gift you could possibly give your spouse is that of your true love and sincere affection. With that in mind, consider making your spouse a special dinner and turn off the TV, computer, and phone for the night, or carve out a date night in the schedule and get a babysitter for the kids. For the husbands out there: give the gift of cleaning the house, washing the dishes, or taking care of the kids for a few nights so your wife can get some much-needed time to herself.

If you’d prefer the more traditional route though, consider reading through my fellow blogger’s fantastic list of 100 Frugal Christmas Gift ideas.

Friends and Family

At the WSL household, we’ve gotten into the tradition of giving baked goods to family members. In some years we’ve also foregone gifts for ourselves and, as a family, decided to give to charity or adopt a family in need.
More traditional, frugal gift ideas could simply be a collage of pictures, a spice rack, a scrapbook, buying somebody a Netflix or magazine subscription, or you can do as I’ve done for my Grandma the past few years: buy some movie passes.

Unfortunately, there is rarely a perfect gift for your family member. In the world that we live in today, most people have everything they could one.

With that in mind, I’d encourage you to focus on a few things as the Holidays approach:

  1. Start stashing away money now! This may be late for some of you, but my wife and I save $40/month, starting in January, so that we have ALL of the money set aside for when December rolls around.
  2. Establish a budget and limit for each person, and don’t go over it. If you have to go into debt to buy gifts, then instead get creative and make homemade gifts or forego buying gifts at all.
  3. Focus more on the quality time you have with your friends and family.
  4. If your budget is tight, avoid buying Christmas cards and make your own.
  5. Ask for practical gifts in return. When our budget was tight…ummm…and even to this day, my wife and I are guilty of only asking for things that we need. It may be gift cards to a particular store (as is the case this year) as we’re trying to buy a new washer and dryer. In previous years we asked for gift cards to gas stations and the grocery store we shop at. There’s nothing like having a few free months of groceries to start the year.

Editor’s Note: Jason also has a wonderful blog giveaway contest on his website at the moment. He is giving away at the new iPad Mini, 16GB. Drawing ends November 25, 2012.

Steven Zussino

Steven Zussino is the co-founder of Grocery Alerts Canada. He loves to help Canadians save money on groceries. He also runs the blog,