“I think I overdid it.” Is as familiar of a phrase to me as “I’m not going to go overboard this year.” I hear the latter phrase in November and the former phrase in late December. My mom, bless her heart, is a big offender in this area – NOT that her children mind! I never minded getting a lot of loot on Christmas morning, but my mother wanted to temper the gifts each year and each year couldn’t seem to do it. Now that I’m a mom, I completely understand. I love to give gifts, especially to my child and my nieces and nephews. It is so much fun to buy children toys, movies, and books you know they’ll love. But if your goal is to keep Christmas “simple” or stick to a budget, and you find that you spent more than you wanted too, don’t lose hope. I have 3 tips to get you back on track if you have busted your holiday budget.
1. Divide and Conquer.
This is something we do on Christmas Eve, after our son has gone to bed. We array all the gifts we have accumulated for him and divide them into Christmas gifts and birthday gifts. His birthday is in early March, so it sneaks up on us quickly after the holidays because February is so short and I like to put together a simple birthday party for him. It helps to group the gifts into sets that go well together or separate the ones that are somewhat duplicative. So, if we have two sets of train tracks for our son, we will give him one for Christmas and one for his birthday. Now all I have to do is remember that his birthday gifts are already bought and what I bought him.
If setting aside gifts for your child’s birthday isn’t going to work for you, consider whether his or her friends would like some of the less important gifts. For this strategy, sort the gifts into dependent groups — if one gift depends on another, place them together. (for example, a video game requires a gaming system). Then order those gifts from least to most important or meaningful. If your child wants a Doc McStuffin’s doll more than anything, that goes to the top of the list. When everything is in order, separate out the gifts that are above your budget, or your comfort zone for giving to your child for one occasion, and set aside the extras for other children — future birthday parties or other children you will buy gifts for in the next year, like nieces and nephews.
This “divide and conquer” strategy can be difficult, because you might be disappointed that you can’t give your child everything you got him or her right away. It serves as a sort of Plan B when our Plan A (“spend less” or “cut back”) failed at the cash register or online shopping cart. So, it’s not surprising that it’s difficult to make some cuts. To help you stay strong, keep in mind why you have a budget in the first place. Maybe you have a budget because finances are tight. Maybe you have a budget because you don’t want to “spoil” your child. Maybe you have a budget because you are getting the kids a big gift and promised yourself that you wouldn’t spend any more. Whatever your reason, keep it in mind as you sort through your gift closet and good intentions.
Little Stapler’s preschool has a Giving Tree, where you can select a mitten from the tree and it will tell you the wishes of a child in need. My son and I selected a three-year-old boy from his school’s Giving Tree. The little boy wished for small cars/trucks, LEGOs, car tracks, gloves/scarf/mittens, and warm clothes.
Bingo! Those are items I tend to buy for the Gift Closet because I know three-year-old boys love them, and Little Stapler has a lot of friends who are three-year-old boys. I knew that we had Hot Wheels cars and tracks in the stockpile from Black Friday and the Target Toy Clearance last summer ($0.50 each for the cars, $3.50 for the tracks). Looking through the Gift Closet, I thought the little boy might like a small Play Doh set, like-new books from the library book sale, and markers and crayons I had gotten for free a while back. They were sitting in my stockpile, bringing no one any joy, and we have plenty to share.
Because I shop for my son’s clothes a year ahead, I have a tendency to go overboard once clothes hit my price point ($5 is my price point, but $3 is my “go overboard” price point). Last year, I bought him a lot of new clothes at the end of the winter season, and when I got him enough in the 3T size, I got some 4T sizes. They were hard to resist, at $2.50 for pants, $3 for shirts, and $6 for fleeces. I also snagged two sets of hats and gloves for $2 each, with the intention that they would make a great Giving Tree donation. Although I knew that there were some 4T clothes in my son’s stockpile, I didn’t realize that I’d bought two fleece jackets — so I grabbed one for this little boy. I also had three pairs of fuzzy fleece pants, so one of those went into the gift bag along with one of the cute hats and matching mittens.
All told, I controlled my gift closet, spread the love around to a child in need, and taught my son a little bit about giving (although he had a hard time letting go of that car! Good thing I got two of them, one of which he’ll see in his stocking in about a week). It didn’t cost me more than $15 to put together a set of warm clothes and 4 activities that I hope the little boy will enjoy.
If you find that you went overboard in one category, choose the best and return the rest. As long as you tackle the task of sorting through the overload within 30 days of buying them, you shouldn’t have a problem returning them.
I buy a lot of my son’s clothes at consignment sales and get a good deal of hand-me-downs from my cousin. I will even buy him new clothes if they hit my price point in the clearance rack, although that usually means that I buy them a year in advance. This year was a perfect storm of my son having a growth spurt and not having pajamas in the hand-me-down bag or at consignment sales, combined with the winter clearance season causing the bottom to fall out of the pajama retail market. I bought 5 pairs at $7 one week, then another set at $6 the next week (from a different store), and the week after that they were $5 at another store. The end result is that my little Stapler now has 14 pairs of pajamas that fit him. That’s enough for two weeks without laundry.
As tempting as it is to go two weeks without washing any laundry, the 14 pairs of pajamas was overkill. I think 7 pairs is enough, and little Stapler already has 2 pairs in the right size. Thankfully, I kept the receipts. So, I chose the best 5 pairs, and returned the rest. Well, I will return the rest … as soon as I become insane enough to go to a store five days before Christmas.
Have you busted your budget, or stayed on track? Will you “divide and conquer” on Christmas Eve?