7 Simple Tips To Control Your Holiday Spending

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They hype. The hysteria.

The holidays.

Yes. We’re right in the thick of it. ‘Tis the season to hook a drain tube up to your wallet and watch your cash flow disappear faster than a Kardashian marriage.

But, it’s ok, because it’s all in the name of “SAVING MONEY.”


Spending more than we can afford is very American, is it not? From borrowing to buy a new car, to putting Christmas on the credit cards, the word “no” is not in our financial vocabulary.

But every commercial we see, or advertisement we read tries to give us the feeling that by SPENDING we are really SAVING money (hint: we’re not). They also use words like “stress-free” and “you deserve this” as a way to help you part with your money on impulse.

Interestingly enough, NPR.org had an interview with a retail analyst from Forrester Research, and they confirmed this exact sentiment. Here are a few quotes from that interview:

“Overall, the best holiday deals don’t happen on Black Friday. They usually happen right before Christmas and after. Analysts have been saying that to shoppers for years, and it’s something we should all know, but we still go out.”

“Kuhnen says our financial decisions are governed essentially by two centers in our brain. One is the fear anxiety center — the part of our brains that reacts to panic or makes us run away from danger. The other is the reward center — the part that’s a trigger when we’re happy, Kuhnen says.”

“That go-for-it impulse is what makes the holiday season run. Every single part of the holidays — the music, the food, for some of us the family — goes to get us excited and to activate that primitive part of our brain…..

So they tend to take on more financial risk, they tend to prefer, much more strongly, immediate rewards rather than delayed rewards….”

So as we can see, the deck is completely stacked against us, with millions and millions of dollars in research planned out to suck consumers dry, and make them feel good about going further into debt at the same time.


What if we could stack the deck in our favor and approach our holiday spending with a plan that truly allows us to save money? Not in the “I saved $19 on a knock-off version of monopoly” kind of way.


Let’s approach this holiday season with our eyes wide open. Let’s approach it with an actual MONEY plan.


Armed with the knowledge that someone is trying to sell you something YOU DON’T REALLY NEED at every turn, follow the below bullet-proof tips to ensure you buy all the gifts you WANT, and nothing you don’t.

1. Make A List Of Names (and Check It Twice!)

First thing’s first, make your shopping list of names. For us, we have a list of about 20-25 people (a LOT, I know) that we write down. Making this list also helps decide who you are NOT going to be shopping for.

This may be a difficult decision, but better to make it now than when you are in the throes of despair between the LEGO aisle and the board game aisle in Walmart. This is the foundation of your holiday shopping plan.

2. Come Up With A Gift Budget

How much do you love the people on your list? Pick a number between 1 and 50 and assign it to each person.


What you need to do next is come up with a budget for each person on the list. This requires that you pick a TOTAL budget number for gifts, for ALL people on your list.

Then you need to split that total between the people on your list, making sure you DO NOT plan to spend more than your budgeted amount. Not everyone will get the same budget, but your TOTAL needs to stay on target.

So if you have $500 to spend on gifts, the total amount you plan to spend on each person in the list CANNOT be more than $500.

3. Come Up With Gift Ideas

You (hopefully) know each person on your list. They are family or friends that you plan on buying a gift for, and you should be able to think of a few things each person would like.

Come up with ideas for each person, keeping in mind how much you can spend on them. This will help inform your shopping plan to make sure you don’t wander around stores for too long trying to think of what to buy.

4. Research Before You Go Out!

Now that you have your shopping list and budget, you can be on the lookout for deals on things that you can buy for the people on your list. THIS POINT IS KEY!

Check online for stores like Walmart and Target to see what the latest deals are, and find a few things you’d like to buy for people on your list BEFORE ever stepping foot in the store.

This will help keep you from getting pulled into DEAL MANIA and help you ignore all the ads about things you don’t really need, and the people on your list don’t actually want.


5. Eat Before You Go Out

Never go shopping hungry! Holiday shopping is like a marathon of retail madness, and if you go unprepared, you will crash and burn!

Eat a good, light meal before you brave the crowds, avoid greasy food, and keep your wallet fat by NOT wasting money on sub-par mall food (trust me, I’ve spent a LOT of money on mall food….)

And make sure to pack a few healthy snacks for the day, to keep your energy up and your patience in check!

6. Give Yourself An Allowance

The holidays are a magical time, so don’t forget to make a plan to “treat yo’ self” when you’re finding gifts for those you love. Give yourself an allowance to grab a holiday treat, or even a simple gift to yourself.

I recommend pulling this out in CASH, so you don’t even have to think about it. Then go ahead and enjoy your guilt-free holiday spending!

7. Look for BOGO Sales!

If you have a decent-sized lost of people to buy gifts for, I recommend finding Buy-One-Get-One (BOGO) sales to knock out a few people on the list at the same time.

Maybe Aunt Karen and your grandma both love chocolate, and there’s a BOGO sale on Ghirardelli squares! DONE AND DONE!

Or maybe your kids are LEGO fanatics and the LEGO store is doing a BOGO deal on their LEGO Creator sets. BOOM! Check it off the list!

So take a look at your list and see who might have similar gift ideas. Then look for a sale and see if you can kill two birds….wait…..sack two gifts with one….sale.

^ No birds were harmed in the making of this metaphor


I’ve got a crazy idea.

What if you DIDN’T go shopping in the stores?

With the crazy amount of online deals and free shipping, why risk getting trampled by the masses? It’s so much easier to sit back with a warm cup of coffee and your Holiday Gift Planner, and get the best deals online.

For us, shopping online makes life much easier, plus our family and friends are all around the country, so we plan on shopping and shipping some of our gifts online! (plus we love our Rakuten Cash Back)

You can avoid the hype and hysteria, the crowds and the crazies, and simply take care of your list in the comfort of your own home.

Grab Our Holiday Gift Planner!

We have always used a Holiday Gift Planner, and it has kept us on budget, and un-stressed! We finally created a printable version, and included it in our Budget Binder!

But we have gotten such great feedback about this gift planner, that we wanted to offer it outside the Binder as a $1 Deal for this holiday season. And as a bonus, we’re including the Party Expenses Planner, the perfect way to plan and organize your holiday party!

It comes with 2 planning templates to help make sure you don’t miss a thing during the holidays!

Gift Planner

This simple-to-use checklist will help you plan a gift for EVERYONE special on your list, and stay on budget at the same time!

Party Expenses Planner

Throw an epic party without breaking the bank. Set a budget, plan out ALL the details, and check off your list as you put together the best party in the neighborhood!

(This bundle is already included in the Full Budget Binder)

Enjoy The Holidays

No matter what the size of your budget, it shouldn’t stop you from enjoying the holidays. Remembering the reason for the season, and focusing on quality time is going to be MUCH more important than how much you got or spent this season.

As with everything, making and plan and sticking with it will make your holidays 100% more enjoyable.

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays from Team iHeartBudgets (Jacob and Michelle!)

Jacob Wade

Jacob Wade

Jacob Wade has been a nationally-recognized personal finance expert for the past decade. He has written professionally for The Balance, The Spruce, LendingTree, Investing Answers, and other widely-followed sites. 
He’s also been a featured expert on CBS News, MSN Money, Forbes, Nasdaq, Yahoo! Finance, Go Banking Rates, and AOL Finance.

In 2018, Jacob quit his job and his family decided to sell everything (including their home) to take off on an adventure. They traveled the country in an RV for nearly 3 years, visiting over 38 states, 20+ national parks and eventually settling in the sunshine state!

12 thoughts on “7 Simple Tips To Control Your Holiday Spending”

  1. A great guide to holiday shopping. The best way to shop efficiently and not spend an outrageous amount of money is to thoroughly plan ahead. It kind of sounds like you are going to war or something, but it kind of feels like it when you are battling the holiday shoppers. So many consumers drive up their credit card balances and dip into accounts they shouldn’t. This is a great way to create a game plan and get the most bang for your buck.

    • I like the WAR analogy. It truly is a battle. Retailers want to weaken your defenses to gain access to your wallet, and you need to take up your weapons (budget and shopping plan checklist) to battle for financial freedom!

  2. I heart checklists and your approach is a great one, I actually extend it to the whole year. From time to time you’ll see that thing in May that would be perfect for your brother in law or something. Having that list makes it easier to remember that “oh yeah, I got him an X already.”

  3. Our holiday shopping is done already! Whew! I bought some holiday gifts for people while we were in Italy (religious gifts at the Vatican, scarves, olive oil, etc.) and did the rest online. I hate shopping when it’s not busy. I’m avoiding stores until after the holidays are over.

  4. I use gift cards but even those seem pointless. If all we do is exchange gift cards what’s the point in that? How about celebrating Christmas buy sharing time with friends and family and being thankful for what we have. Instead of going out and blowing huge sums of money buying stuff for people that they may not like?

  5. Instead of getting each person in a family individual gifts, consider getting a family gift: a game/puzzle/etc for the smaller budget or an “experience” membership like the zoo/aquarium/childrens’ museum/etc for a larger budget (or see if others in your extended family want to combine funds). Don’t forget to account for work or church group gift exchanges, mailing packages, postage for cards, printing costs for cards, wrapping supplies, stocking stuffers, etc. In the past, those things surprised us and threw off our budget, now we remember to include those costs because I’ve added them to our Christmas spending spreadsheet. Also, we typically draw names for gifting to adults in our family so our list isn’t so long and we can afford to spend a little more per person.

    • Cecily (hey, I know you!), great call. It’s always the small things that throw the budget out of whack, right?! And yes, family experience gifts and games/puzzles are always a hit, and don’t have to break the bank. And I like the idea of a “gift exchange” and “Christmas Misc” budget to catch all those pesky costs that sneak up on you. 🙂

      Thanks for sharing, great tips!


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