Enjoy a simple Christmas with a well-planned budget

christmas tree
Photo by Alenxandre Duret-Lutz

I‘ll be quite honest – if you haven’t started saving yet for Christmas, it might be a bit challenging.  BUT – it can be done.  You truly don’t need to rely on credit to have a good season.

However, if you’re late jumping on the “Christmas planning ahead bandwagon,” let it serve as a great fire to get you going for the next holiday season.  When you save a little every month all year, the Christmas season truly becomes something worth anticipating.  As Dave Ramsey says, Christmas is not an emergency – it falls on December 25 every year, so you know it’s coming.

It can sneak up on you when you’re not looking, however, so join me in looking a few months down the road, so that you don’t panic when it’s time to spend money.

I’m not going to harp on how much money you should be spending on what – every family is different.  But this is Simple Mom, after all, so I’m obviously going to advocate keeping the holidays simple.  And since I’m a follower of Jesus Christ, my Christmas season revolves around celebrating his birth – and I want to do whatever I can to keep my family’s perspective on him.

This week, if you haven’t yet, sit down with a cup of coffee and jot down what you think your holiday season will cost.  It can be done a number of ways, but here’s a number of the most common line items:


  • tree
  • lights
  • misc. decor (ornaments, candles, wreath, etc.)
  • craft supplies
  • music
  • movies

FOOD (not including regular groceries):

  • cookie ingredients
  • misc. dessert ingredients
  • Christmas day dishes


  • stamps
  • cards and/or envelopes
  • paper for family newsletter
  • photography


  • spouse
  • kids
  • parents
  • siblings
  • nieces
  • nephews
  • grandparents
  • other relatives
  • neighbors
  • coworkers
  • friends


  • tickets
  • clothing
  • dining out
  • contributions


  • charities
  • volunteering
  • misc.

wreathPlease note – I am NOT saying you should be budgeting money for each of these categories.  Not by a long shot – I’d say that we’ve personally budgeted for about half of this.  But I did want you to be aware of all the little things that can really add up, and if you don’t plan ahead for them, they might knock on your wreath-adorned door when you least expect it.

Once you come up with a number for your line items, add up the total, and divide by the number of months left until Christmas.  If you’re doing this now for the first time, that would be three – October, November, and December.  That is the amount you need to budget starting this month to meet your Christmas budget.

What To Do If Your Numbers Aren’t Pretty

If seeing this on paper scares you, there are two options – you can decrease your expenses, or you can increase your income.

Decrease Your Expenses

As I mentioned, you really don’t need to spend money on all this stuff.  Every family is different, but I think we can all agree that extravagant spending doesn’t make the holidays any more special.  How much you’ll spend has nothing to do with how much fun your season will be, and the amount you spend on gifts certainly has nothing to do with how much you love the gifts’ recipient.

More than anything, consider curbing your gift giving.  Many extended families draw names, where everyone is only responsible for giving one gift.  I think that’s a fabulous idea.  Many also don’t give to each other at all, or only give to the children – also a smart move.  I mean really – how many random knickknacks do your parents need?  Embrace simple living, and express this in your gift giving.  (We’ll discuss some simple gift ideas closer to Christmas.)

Also, I recommend setting a price limit on gifts, then searching for the right gift within that budget.  Instead of being pre-sold on that $75 sweater for your sister, then stretching your budget to make it work, decide the maximum amount you’ll spend on siblings.  If that sweater is just too much, then let it go.  If you know ahead of time that your max is $20, you’ll need to find something in your price range.

Make most of your decorations, when you’re able.  Instead of spending a pretty penny on more ornaments, look for ways to beautifully create some at home, and get your kids involved as well.  Also look outside for nature to provide some gorgeous, free decor you can use indoors.  (Later in the season, I’ll post some ideas and some great links around the internet for beautiful, homemade ideas.)

Increase Your Income

The other way you can make your budget work is to bring in more money.  There are a myriad of ways you can do this, of course, but a simple option is to get a holiday job.

I’ve done this for about seven years now, working as a gift-wrapper at Williams-Sonoma.  I love this job.  I’m not able to do it this year, but when I can, I truly enjoy working there, and not just for the added income.  It’s a great company, and the working environment is positive, so it actually lifts my Christmas spirits.  And I love wrapping presents, so it fuels my creative drive.   One of the best perks is a really great employee discount, which is helpful for the gift-giving season.

Most stores hire holiday help, and all of them have different expectations, pay rates, job roles, and employee discounts.  But almost all of them start their holiday hiring now. If you want to do this, I suggest asking around sometime this month – don’t wait until Thanksgiving.  The jobs will be filled then, mostly by college students home on holiday break.

christmas budget worksheet screenshotFinally, I’ve created another free PDF download – a simple worksheet to help you budget for Christmas, if you haven’t yet (click on the thumbnail to see an enlarged image).  You can download it here, and I’ve also included it in my downloads page at the top of this site.  Perhaps it can be useful to you – let me know what you think.

How do you budget for Christmas – are you financially ready this year?  Have you ever gotten a holiday job? I’d love to hear your great ideas.


  1. Aimee

    I love giving homemade gifts–usually food related of course! Fruitcake can be wrapped up prettily (I have some updated recipes on my blog) and keeps well. Homemade jam and jelly is always popular and who doesn’t love homemade decorated cookies in a pretty cellophane bag?

    Aimee’s last blog post…Foodie Facebook: Kevin

  2. Cathy

    love this! Thank you for the pdf. I am terrible about the impulse buying during the holidays and want to do better this year – or at least keep track so I have a better idea of where my money went. And this is really going to help.

    I also give away baked goods and people really seem to appreciate it. It’s also a fun way to spend an afternoon and can really get you in the holiday spirit.

  3. Peggy

    My husband’s family is large, and before we all had kids we would buy gifts for each other. So we started a Christmas Club and yes my little home town bank still has one. The also have all-savers accounts which you can start for anything.

    Anyways, this account takes $40 out of my account every friday and puts it in the Christmas Club account. That equals $2,000+ interest. In fact it’s coming due very soon. I’m very excited.

    Peggy’s last blog post…October 1st Already!

  4. Larra

    We made our Christmas budget a few weeks ago..and we cut it way back compared to the years past. We are only buying for our parents, siblings, young nieces and nephews, and a couple of white elephant gifts we do with extended family. I’m a SAHM, but I do photography on the side. I just received a deposit for a wedding and we’ve set that aside to use strictly for our Christmas shopping. We WILL NOT go over that amount..hopefully we’ll come in under and have some for savings. Having extra income REALLY helps out during the holidays.

    Larra’s last blog post…A Recipe for Ya

  5. littlebrownpen

    You’ve officially put me in a holiday mood. Great tips! Austerity when it comes to holiday celebration is positively correlated to the joy of the season. Every time I have “overdone it” on the commercial buying front, I’ve felt empty, and frankly tapped out by the time we all sat down to our Christmas dinner.

    Those years that I’ve exercised restraint and concentrated my efforts on: family events (baking cookies, decorating, reading) and homemade gifts, I’ve been much, much happier.

    littlebrownpen’s last blog post…Tickled Pink Knits

  6. sarah

    Thanks so much for this post – I’ve been meaning to list out the expenses coming up relating to the holidays, and now most if it has been done for me! Love your blog.

    sarah’s last blog post…I am a daredevil and my name is Stanley

  7. Steph

    I love this printable, thanks! I have trouble tracking spending in an organized way, though I think we do a good job of keeping things simple and our costs reigned in.

    I am going to be making several homemade gifts this year, and hubs and I have a set spending limit ($20, which makes for some creative gifts!) for each other. We decide on a “bigger” gift to ourselves, always something practical like a replacement for our partially nonfunctional stove…

    The other thing I’m focusing on this year is planning ahead the activities we want to do as a family, and penciling them in on our monthly calandar pages for the rest of the year. I want to concentrate more on creating memories than gifts, etc.

    Steph’s last blog post…Friday Funnies – Quirky Much?

  8. Lucie @ Unconventional Origins

    This is the first time we have budgeted for Christmas and so far, so good.

    There are a few ways we are saving money. We only spend any significant amount of money on gifts for our children. We get each other small presents (with a limit). For everyone else I try to bake something yummy or do a creative and expensive photo for a gift.

    Since we do not make a lot of money right now (both students) we do not splurge on a big tree or decorations. We have a small fake tree we reuse yearly. I collect things from outside and let the kids go at them with glitter for decorations.

    I am not Christian but I am none the less bothered by the commercialism of a holiday that, for me, is supposed to be about kindness and family. We try to keep things simple and low budget and always have a great holiday!

    Lucie @ Unconventional Origins’s last blog post…Motherhood Rant: “I don’t want to pay for your baby”

  9. Dana

    Awesome Post! You are so right about the budget. I only ever consider the gifts.. not all the extras. (especially cookies and stamps!)

    I have not even started to think about a budget yet. I downloading your pdf right now!

    Thanks Simple Mom!

  10. Avlor

    Yea verily to budgeting for Christmas!

    We recently had to switch from 2 monthly checks to checks every 2 weeks. I wasn’t able to put the Christmas $ into the monthly budget. But I looked ahead when we got the job and saw that in October we got an extra check. That check will fill the rest of our Christmas budget, preschool for the rest of the year, and a few other things. We used to go blow an extra check. But I think we put it to better use this year!

    Avlor’s last blog post…Organizing Roundup Continued: The Office

  11. Sandra

    We’ve already cut back on the Christmas budget. No Christmas cards, no holiday open house for our church members, and since we have 6 family members with birthdays Nov-Jan we’re cutting back on gifts there too. But I don’t think this will be remembered as the year of the cheap Christmas. Traveling to see family and giving more to our missions offering at church are more important in the long run!

    Sandra’s last blog post…#1 Goal in Parenting

  12. jodi

    We started using a Christmas club account @ our local credit union a few years back and it’s been fantastic…we transfer $100/mo and we never even miss the money – but then at the first of Nov, we have $1200 to spend that was planned for Christmas = no guilt! Love it!

    We’ve also done homemade toffee popcorn for family members for the last few years…always a big hit!

    jodi’s last blog post…WFMW – Use Your Pantry

  13. Heather

    Thanks for this article! I really enjoy your approach!

  14. Heather

    I guess I should give some details about our Christmases, too. For the past 5 years my immediate family has been giving mostly handmade gifts – we all agreed that none of us could buy each other any material items that we would really want or need. The handmade aspect has been so fun! Even those who are not normally crafty in everyday life have done things like put together CDs full of family photo archives, or make t-shirts with transfers.

    We usually decorate with ornaments we’ve collected over the years (my parents got us an ornament a year growing up, and we always had our own box of ornaments).

  15. Kristen M.

    We don’t believe in going into debt over Christmas. Some years when we haven’t had a large budget my husband and I have skipped buying each other gifts. Our two kids each get three gifts in addition to a stocking filled with little goodies (so it’s up to them to let us know what they “really” want- knowing what they want allows me to look out for those items on sale). The kids aren’t deprived because we know that they will receive plenty more gifts from relatives/friends.

    Kristen M.’s last blog post…Date Night Idea: Free Night of Theater 2008

  16. Emily L.

    I am new to your blog, but let me say I am ADDICTED! I now read it as soon as possible, looking for the next bit of great advice! Thank you for all of the downloads too…I am now on my way to a more “simple” life!
    Kuddos to you!

  17. Amanda @ Sweet Simple Life

    Thank goodness we started saving in August. We didn’t save much last year, and it didn’t turn out so good. I am a firm believer of the homemade gift. My specialty is my “Mama Bear’s Apple Pie”, which my husband named and I am still trying to figure out. I’m not a mama (yet!) nor am I a bear. This year, everyone is getting a Mama Bear’s Apple Pie, wrapped up beautifully. I am really looking forward to this holiday season. For some reason, all of our wedding gifts from our family were kitchen items to cook Thanksgiving dinner (turkey roasting pan, platters, gravy boat). I think they are trying to tell us Thanksgiving is at our house this year, I better get planning.

  18. LobotoME

    We asked people to NOT give us gifts this year – to keep it simple and easy. Plus, we have too much stuff as it is! We {nicely} asked the grandparents to instead contribute to the kids college funds if they so desired instead of buying plastic toys made in china {didn’t state it that bluntly to my mother in law obviously!}.

    We employ a big advent calendar approach during the holidays – each day is an activity to do together – baking cookies, going skiing, sledding or skating, camping out under the christmas tree, bringing food to the food bank. This way our holidays are focused on DOING and not BUYING.
    J 🙂

    LobotoME’s last blog post…{ and this is why… }

  19. Jennifer

    I can’t do as much with this year’s holiday budget, but I have an online savings account at another bank that has a very good interest rate. I just set up a recurring transfer, starting January 2, to pull money from my everyday checking account and put it in the higher-interest one. Since it’s not in my local savings account, and my bank doesn’t have a “Christmas Club,” this will be easier for me to keep it HANDS OFF so I have it for the holidays next year… and the extra bit of interest will help!

    I use a calendar to keep track of my bills and I’ve already noted this for January, so I won’t forget.

  20. Amy

    One area we always spend more than we should/plan to/can afford is on sending Christmas cards. Receiving cards – with photos – is one of my favorite parts of the season and I really struggle with the thought of not sending them. Part of the issue is that our list is huge. Any suggestions on how to save $ in this area?

    Amy’s last blog post…good intentions

  21. MommyClub.ca

    Great tips – love your site, your writing and your inspiration! Sent you some Stumble Love…

    MommyClub.ca’s last blog post…Fall Scavenger Hunt

  22. April

    This is a great post! We’ve been doing Christmas budgeting for the last 4 years, and WOW what a difference it makes. Makes things so much less stressful when you know you have money for the things you need, and you know you absolutely DON’T have money for other things (like 3 sets of Christmas cards because you just can’t decide, lol).

    (Dork alert) If you don’t mind me asking, what font did you use for the “12 weekly projects…” writing on your Christmas series logo?

    April’s last blog post…To Momma on her 50th Birthday

  23. CC

    Thanks for the pdf!

    We’ve made it simple by “giving” donations in honor of family members. We buy next to nothing. Our kids are getting gifts I pre-bought at yard sales plus maybe one or two things thrown in. I finally caved and bought an artificial tree, so that is one less yearly expense. We’ve got down a pretty good system. 😉

    CC’s last blog post…Time Out

  24. Christi

    I was so excited to check here today and see the first post (well, second – really) in this series! We don’t normally save money for Christmas, but we do pay cash. My husband and I have a “Christmas Meeting” date night at the end of September, and discuss what to get for the boys – and how much those items cost. They are 3 and 5, and we’re leaning toward one larger combined gift (a basketball goal) and a new bike for each of them. The rest will be stocking stuffers. For other family, we buy for our parents, my brother & his girlfriend, and I have 3 friends that I usually make something for. This year I’ve had great luck buying on deep, deep discount or at my MOMs Club consignment sale.

    Amy, you asked about cards… I don’t know how to help with postage, but check out this link for free pictures:


  25. Lindsey

    Amy–regarding your Christmas card question…

    Last Christmas I ordered a “digital Christmas card” from SimpleMom’s Etsy shop, and loved it. It is a really economical way to make your cards because you just have to pay to print the cards like you would any photo (I did mine at Costco). Then, your only other expense is postage and buying the envelopes. Compared to purchasing photo cards elsewhere, it is a considerable savings. Best of all, the card was beautiful and everyone loved it.

  26. christina

    this is such a great post to get me thinking about things early. we have been doing the 12month budget for christmas this past year so we will see how things go once the holiday spending starts. we are going into our third year of something our church started called Advent Conspiracy [http://www.adventconspiracy.org/]. it really encouraged us to make more for loved ones and direct the money we did not spend on gifts to those in real need. we also hang an advent calendar with different family [free/almost free] activities to do through out the season.

    thank you once again for this wonderful post. I have printed out the PDF and will sit down and get to making a budget.

    christina’s last blog post…dear baby brother

  27. Dominique

    I haven’t gotten around to budgeting for Christmas but have decided to do as we always did- give family presents instead of individual presents ( 1 present per family for our relatives) it does cut down the shopping list as there are lesser purchases and we can do homebakes like a cake each for each family making it more economical and easier on our budget.

  28. Dave Fowler

    Hi, for some reason my comments seem to be dropping off after I’ve made them. It’s not just on this post. Is there a problem with the software side of things or does the problem lay with me? 🙂

    I’m starting to feel unwelcome. 🙁

    Dave Fowler’s last blog post…Flaps. Check. Undercarriage. Check.

  29. List Mama

    Our Christmas gifts are lumped into a fund I keep throughout the year called Gifts in which I save $75 every pay period (twice monthly). This fund also includes birthday, wedding, baby gifts. I have another fund called Holidays which pays for any food, crafts, decor, or extras that go along with the holidays. I put $25 every pay period in that fund. If you start in January, then you should have plenty of money (you should still be cautious) for the major holiday season.


    List Mama’s last blog post…List of Popular Halloween Costumes for Boys and Girls

  30. Tiffany

    I am all about the multi-purpose gift this year. I have budgeted out but in these times it is tough, I feel like I should not be spending a dime. I think in times like this you really find out if the ‘thought really counts” . I have found a great idea on ehow.com to give “cookies in a jar”, cute and cheap. I also found these christmas cards (www.truechristmascards.com that show the true meaning and can be framed as a christmas gift.

  31. V. Higgins

    As a newlywed (and my first Christmas completely on my own) there’s a lot of pressure to have the whole shebang for Christmas, wanting it to be “special”. Posts like yours (especially from a sister in Christ) remind me that special means the people you’re with and what you’re celebrating, not how much you spend on decorations and gifts.
    One tip for those who are on a tight budget but want beautiful ornaments, this just needs a little forethought and is great for newlyweds. Keep Christmas cards from the year before, or especially lovely wedding cards. Take a few Christmas cookie cutters and outline the shape on the cards, then cut out, punch a hole to run a ribbon through and hang! If you want to make a little more shiny, you just need some glue and loose sparkles. The only thing you spend money on is the ribbon, glue and sparkles. A lot cheaper than anything at Target, Michael’s, Hallmark, etc!

    • simplemom

      Love this idea! Thanks for sharing.

  32. Beth Young

    Can I just tell you that I’m a regular reader on your blog and always LOVE your posts. I am so not a live simply type of person but I’ve realized that being more minimalistic helps me to breathe a little more deeply each day. I’ve always been anti-clutter but not so much of a simple person by any means. You’ve encouraged me to clean more naturally, treat my body better, play and interact “smartly” with my children, set the timer when I’m on the internet, make more to-do lists, pare down with toys, nick nacks, processed food; etc, etc. I’m truly thankful for this blog and for you.

    Thanks again!
    .-= Beth Young´s last blog ..Simple Woman’s Daybook =-.

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