For about a month news outlets have been sharing messages of supply shortages, delivery issues, and more, for reasons to shop ahead this holiday season. Last week, major retailers started running “holiday sales.” While I don’t doubt that this year is a good year to shop ahead, it also makes me concerned that we could all go a little overboard this year, as there is a tendency to just continue to add additional gifts. That’s why I wanted to put together this holiday gift guide to being financially aware this holiday season. 

This past weekend I started organizing my list of people I am giving gifts to this year and began the process of thinking about what I would like to give to those individuals most. I take gift giving very seriously, as I love giving gifts but also don’t want to give people stuff that will just be a burden. It’s probably one of my love languages to show people that they mean a lot to me by giving them thoughtful gifts. Don’t exchange thoughtful with expensive. I really try to stick to a gift giving framework of spending similar amounts for like individuals and/or for certain events. What’s more important to me is to think about something a person might like, but that they would spend money on for whatever reason. 

Because I’m diving into this process myself, I want to share a few things that I always keep in the back of my mind when it comes to gift giving, especially gift giving for the holidays. My hope for putting together this holiday gift guide is that it will be in the back of your head and keep you focused this holiday season, so that you don’t head into next year playing catch up. 

So without further ado, here is tip 1 for MPower Co’s holiday gift guide! 

  1. Research Says it’s Low Cost Items that We Overspend on

It’s easy to think that it’s big ticket items that we over spend on and that’s what puts us over the top. But think about it, we likely only purchase a couple of big items – one for each person in our household each year. If someone is asking for two things, we make them prioritize what it is they want most. We conduct due diligence by shopping around. We review like products, compare quality, price, and then we look for the best discounts on the item we settle on.  So, the reality is, unless we cave and buy multiple big ticket items for each person, it makes sense we likely aren’t overspending here. 

Most of us are overspending on the lower ticket items – the $20 gifts, the stocking stuffers, etc. It’s very easy to be unfocused and throw an extra item or two in your cart when you go to a store, or add on additional items online. These are items that we don’t shop around for and are likely not well thought out. 

I will be the first to raise my hand on this one! When we moved to Kansas City, I had a list of a few things I wanted to get for our oldest for Christmas. Anytime we did something in December, though, we seemed to pick something small up. I held it back to be a Christmas gift. Think of a book, a t-shirt, and a stuffed animal. While all were great items individually, as a collective we overspent, and it was simply overwhelming for our daughter to open (she wasn’t even two at the time) on Christmas. 

When stocking stuffers go from four roughly $5 items to seven $5 items, that’s an additional $15 per person. If you multiply that cost by the number of people in your house, it can add up quickly! That scenario would be $60 in our house! The number can very quickly go up from there, too! 

So, this holiday season when you are shopping, be really mindful of the small items you throw into your cart (electronically or in store). Encourage yourself to pay more attention to the smaller ticket items, than the larger, limit the number of small ticket items you buy to whatever is reasonable for you. 

  1. Use Gifting Frameworks

Set Up a Spending Guide and Spending Plan

Another tool that I think is so important I wanted to include it in this holiday gift guide, is the idea that you can put a framework to gift giving.

The first step is to list out all of the individuals you want to give gifts to – family, friends, coworkers, mail carrier, christmas card list recipients, etc. Really take time to think of everyone. Once you make a list of everyone, put a copy of this list in a safe place so you don’t have to recreate it every year! All you’ll have to do is simply update it! 

Then group people into categories and give each category a spending limit. For instance, I’m willing to spend $100 on Christmas cards each year. I will shop around and minimize features, etc., until I can get under that threshold each year. By taking time to do this at the beginning it’s setting yourself up for success. It will show you where you may need to cut back if the bottom line is too much and also give you focus.

Push yourself to stick to the framework you set as a whole, and include shipping costs and tax within your plan. So, if you say you’ll spend $20 on a person, don’t buy a $20 item that you have to pay tax and shipping for – you’re likely getting closer to $30. If you do that for each individual it can add up to more catching up in January! 

Gift Frameworks for Specific Individuals

For some groups of individuals your gift idea may be pretty straight forward (some chocolates, a fruit basket, etc). However, to minimize situations like what happened with our daughter, it has been a mission of mine to set a framework for how we give gifts within our household. So, we’ve created a framework and we use it for birthdays and for the holidays. 

We each receive four gifts. We receive three gifts given by one of the other three people and then the fourth gift is a collective gift (the bigger ticket item wanted most). The gifts we give each other are lower ticket items (think $20 or less), and oftentimes the gifts given by the girls are homemade. For instance, a handprint ornament or homemade suet cakes are things we’ve done the past couple of years. It has always been important to me that my girls learn how to give thoughtful gifts as well as receive them graciously, so that’s why we do it this way. 

For our Santa gifts, I use the phrase “something they want, something they need, something to wear, something to read.” Mark always adds a thing or two of candy to this (it’s his thing!). Once I acquire one item to fit each category of the saying, Santa gifts are done. I don’t add things on, etc. Once I buy something to fit a category, I make sure to make note of it. As the holiday comes closer I only buy items for categories that aren’t used. 

I’ve also come across something new to me this year – the Snowman technique. You put a toy in the bottom, clothes in the middle, candy or gift cards in the top. It’s super cute, and as long as you don’t feel like you have to jam pack every segment of the snowman could serve the same purpose of reigning things in!

This one has an extra box, so maybe they added another category, but you get the idea of what the finished snowman would look like!

I like having a framework, because it makes it very easy to keep track of where you are in the shopping process and gives a clear ending point. It is also nice that the day we open gifts the kids know what to expect and it’s not overwhelming.

  1. Set Gift Limits within Groups and Stick to Them

There are a number of reasons to set spending limits with groups. First, because the focus of the holidays doesn’t need to be on gifts. Second, because we all have to have limits and boundaries and spending $50 or $100 on everyone isn’t a reality. Encourage groups who want to get together to set spending limits. Make the playing field even! 

We’ve all been part of a group that says they’re going to set a $20 spending limit, but there is always a person or two who goes out and clearly spends more than the limit. Don’t be that person, and don’t feel guilty if someone is that person and you didn’t overspend. There are fantastic gifts to give kids and adults that are $20 or less! 

  1. Make Gifts

I love homemade gifts! In a world where we have so much access to things, I think making something can make the gift feel even more special. There is a lot of thought and effort that can go into making a gift – it can also be easy! 

I love this one because of personal experience! Mark’s family realized we were all buying people a shirt in their favorite sports team each year. So, it was trading one shirt for another. It was fine, but not special. Perhaps your family does a similar thing but it’s gift cards? So, we wanted a reset. We already drew names for adults, so we all gave one gift. We implemented a new rule that instead of buying items, the gifts had to be homemade. We’ve had the BEST time with this! 

We received a coat hook hanger with pictures and art done by a niece and nephew. Nora uses it as her coat hook in our coat closet – I love it! We’ve received homemade sauces (think a mustard sauce and BBQ sauces). We’ve made lawn games – like a giant connect four and ladder toss – holiday wreaths, and much more. It’s so much fun to see what others come up with and people are always excited to open gifts. It gave a whole new energy into gift giving in his family. 

  1. Pick and Choose Gatherings to Attend

The holiday spirit is a fantastic thing, and leaning into catching up with people is a perfect way to spend the holidays! Relationships are protective!  

There are (well used to be pre-pandemic) work holiday parties, friend get togethers, extended family gatherings and more. It’s easy to want to say yes to getting together with everyone. However, if you feel like you are going to have to buy new clothes, buy a hostess gift, take a gift for an exchange game, take a dish to share, etc., gatherings can add up quickly! Pick and choose what get-togethers are most important during the holiday season. Don’t feel like you have to attend every party. It’s ok to get together with people in the new year!  

If you want to attend a party, take a nice bottle of wine you already have on hand, reuse outfits, etc. Don’t feel like you have to do it all at once! Remember the point is to spend time with people. I hope this is something we have all learned from the pandemic. 

  1. Watch for Sales

I know I talk a lot about not buying things unless you’re willing to pay full price. It’s a way of making sure you are only really spending on things you need. Once you have decided on the items you want to give most, throw that saying out the window for the purposes of this holiday gift guide! 

A key to wise holiday shopping is to shop around! Take careful advantage of Black Friday or Cyber Monday deals. If you know there is a specific item you want to gift, not paying full price is a great thing! Follow the retailers on social media (I have a ghost account for this purpose!) to see what sales they have directly besides just on major sites.  

Last week I was thinking about the book items that I really want to add to our home library for the girls as part of their Santa gifts. I settled on two specific books and I’ve already acquired them. The first one I found at Costco for almost half what it’s retailing elsewhere. The other I found at a local wholesale store for $5. That same book is being sold at stores in my area for about $20. So, instead of spending like $40 on the two books, I spent about $15. That makes me feel pretty good when I can find what I want for a lot less! 

  1. People Time is the Most Important; Be Content with the Things You Have

Sure we all have a wish list of items we would like to receive this year and things we would like to give. It’s easy to get caught up in gift giving, but spend just as much time thinking about how you can make time for those that you love. Being present in the important moments can be the biggest gift you can give to others this holiday season. Try not to lose sight of that chasing down deals!  

I loved watching my brother decorate cookies with our oldest last year. They laughed and ate too many sprinkles.

Take time to replace screen time with people time throughout the holidays. Find contentment with the things you already have. The gifts you receive are simply an added bonus. When you focus your efforts on the most important parts of the holidays, it makes the gift giving part feel less critical and less stressful! 

Free Resource – Becoming a Millionaire Next Door 

If you found this holiday gift guide on being financially savvy helpful, MPower co also has a free resource that you’ll love!  It’s all about how to become a millionaire next door. Becoming a Millionaire Next Door takes focus and time and using money wisely, like you are now set up to do with the tips above on being a savvy consumer!  Click on this link to get your free download to be more financially savvy.