Don’t let the pumpkin spice lattes fool you

Ready to be freaked out? As of yesterday, there are 12 weeks until Christmas. Maybe that sounds far off to you, or maybe that’s sooner than you’d like. Either way, I know that for me, Christmas usually sneaks up on me when I’m not looking. Is it really December 25 every year?

In the past, I’ve done a 12 week countdown to the big day, giving you little tasks to accomplish each week, so that the season is actually enjoyable and not stressful.

Well, this year I’m only doing a six week countdown (which is starting November 4, because one of those weeks will be a holiday giveaway). But I thought today would be a good reminder to do—what I think is—the most important prep task for the holiday season. Your holidays will be miserable without it. And it’s true, no matter what big holiday you do celebrate this year.

I’ll give you one guess as to what it is.

Prepare your holiday budget

Sounds boring and unsexy, I know, but it’s dreadfully important—and if you don’t prepare a budget, you’ll either be unable to afford anything, or worse, put everything on a credit card. Then you might be paying off one measly holiday for who knows how long.

Technically, it’s a great idea to set aside money for Christmas all year long. Just a little each month adds up to plenty for the entire season. But even if you haven’t yet done this, you’ve got time to save—which is why I’m writing this today.

I have a simple little budget sheet you can download here (it’s also on the main downloads page), but there’s no rocket science to it. It’s a matter of calculating your potential Christmas expenses, finding the grand total, then dividing by the amount of months (or paychecks) until December 25.

As of today, there are around three months, 12 weeks, or 84 days until Christmas. Divide your budget as necessary.

The trick is to remember the little things, because those are what always kills the budget. Not saying you have to include all the following things (we certainly don’t in our family), but here is what’s listed on the budget worksheet:


  • tree
  • lights
  • gift wrap & supplies
  • craft supplies
  • music
  • movies
  • other


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


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


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


  • tickets
  • clothing
  • dining out
  • contributions
  • other


  • charities
  • volunteering
  • other

Basically, the point is to plan, and to not turn a blind eye to the upcoming holiday season. I know you don’t really want to think about it—I honestly don’t, either. But put it in your monthly budget today, make it automatic, even, and then move on to enjoying the fall. Because didn’t that just start? Who evens wants to panic about Christmas yet? We’ve got pumpkin spice lattes to make.

What’s your usual holiday budget killer?

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Tsh Oxenreider

Tsh is the founder of this blog and just finished traveling around the world with her husband and 3 kids. Her latest book is Notes From a Blue Bike, and believes a passport is one of the world's greatest textbooks.

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  1. I always forget stocking stufffers til the last minute.

  2. Perhaps, we came from a different culture and do not do much for Christmas. Somehow, your post reminds me to check our tax withholding instead. This is the time to adjust in case we missed the mark in our estimates and were paying too little: there are still a few paychecks to spread out the adjustments and to avoid a fine when tax time come next year…

    I guess this could be a holiday budget killer too…

  3. I always tend to ignore the Christmas budget. I think that is because I try to do as many homemade items as possible…but just because they are homemade doesn’t mean that they don’t cost money to begin with. So here’s to planning on how much yarn I actually need, and then not deviating from that just because I found another beautiful purple wool that I *need* for my stash 🙂

  4. Thanks for the great resource! This will be the first year that we’re able to pay cash for not only our needs, but also a few wants, as we’re in the process of becoming debt-free. We’;; be putting this budget worksheet to good use!

  5. We have simplified Christmas greatly: DS gets 3 gifts from Mommy and Daddy. DH and I give each other small gifts. Nieces each get a gift around $20. Adults we know only get gifts if they have helped us out in a major way during the yr and insisted we didn’t pay them, like my friend who watered my garden while we were on vacation.

    We use the same artifical tree and decor year after year.

    Boring? We don’t think so. Stressful? Not one bit!

  6. Thanks for the reminder! We gotta get crackin’ over in my next of the woods. I can’t believe it’s only 12 weeks away!

  7. What a fabulous post! Thanks for the reminder & ideas of what expenses might be coming down the pike sooner than we think! 🙂

  8. My holiday budget killer is forgetting to set aside money for things like lights that need replacing, cookie ingredients and that sort of thing. Great post. Thanks for encouraging me to think about the important things that seem unimportant.

  9. YES! YES! YES! And we budget throughout the year, so we sock away something monthly for Christmas, have a bundle of CASH instead of credit cards and then work out what we can spend for whom. We often go over a little which is ok. We also buy our kidlets THREE gifts, since that is all Jesus received(it is HARD to do)…plus the grandparents will notoriously overdo it and who REALLY needs ALL. THAT. STUFF. Simple Living, Babe! thanks for the great list, where were you a few years ago? UGH.

  10. Can I just say I love you for posting this! Just what I needed to get organized.

  11. Travel expenses can sometimes break the budget. When we lived abroad traveling home for Christmas could easily cost over $1,000. Now, we just have to budget for extra gas, but it is still an expense.

  12. What kills my holiday budget is that there are birthdays on 10/15 (9), 11/21 (13) & 12/26 (11). There is also one “family day” on 12/17 and another on 1/4 (no gifts but dinner out as a family).

  13. Glad I read your posts last year about the Holidays and starting saving in January for this Christmas 🙂 You don’t miss putting aside 35$ bi-weekly all year long!

    Thank you for making this Christmas a feasible one!

    Happy travels,

  14. What always has a tendency to break my budget is that last minute panic that I didn’t buy enough! We tend to not spoil our kids, which are actually all grown now, so we would intentionally not buy a lot. Then as it gets closer to Christmas, I start thinking I need to buy more! Since I am not working now, and hubby took a paycut on the new job, I guess I will have no choice but to stick with the budget. It is what it is!
    Great post!
    How do I clean…?

  15. Thanks. This looks like it covers everything. I always save throughout the year and also stash things away that I see on sale that the kids might like. Knitting already started. Here we go!

  16. Travel expenses are always more than we expect, it seems! I love giving gifts, and so does my husband, so it’s hard to not over do it. At least my family and his extended family draw names, so that helps a lot. Last year we gave chickens, goats, and guinea pigs to most of our family through Food For the Hungry and Compassion, and that was a win-win all around!

  17. Cookie ingredients are what get me every year! I love baking, I buy stuff, I make some, I find new recipes, I want to make more, I buy more….

    Last year I went through 25 lbs of flour in December….sheesh!

  18. My second baby is due on Christmas, so I’m actually a little agitated to be reminded that there are only 12 weeks left!! But we are shortly to move into our first home and I am SOO looking forward to quiet-ish Christmas as a family in our own space.

  19. What I want to do – but have never been BRAVE enough to do – is to simply put the holiday budget in an envelope in CASH. When the cash runs dry, no more holiday spending. Fini.

    Frankly I think for us it’s probably the only thing that would really work. And then only if we really QUIT spending when the cash was gone. As you said, all the little stuff KILLS. That and the fact that invariably when I go shopping for others I spend far to much on myself or my own family. I know that sounds bad but it’s the truth 😛

  20. Such a great reminder! I think next year I’m finally going to do what my mom has done for years – set up a Christmas account. She has a nominal amount of money automatically transferred to a special account every month until November. It’s been on my to do list for years!

  21. I agree with two earlier posts- it’s the cookie/dessert ingredients and the stocking stuffers that do it for us. I am usually done with my shopping a couple of weeks before the big day, but then I pick up more sugar, etc to bake, or else go crazy at the church bake sale. Then I rush “one more time” to pick up a few goodies for the kids’ stockings. It all really adds up. And every year I say…this year will be the one when I cut back!

  22. You know, I was going along, minding my own business, when SOMEBODY told me there are only 12 WEEKS TILL CHRISTMAS! Talk about a wake-up call. Thanks…I think. :0)

  23. We put money aside every month for Christmas (and that does include holiday travel–that’s a separate line item budget). One year we forgot and we got hit hard with expenses in December. It really sucked the joy out of it. We’re both hard core planners so it works for us!

  24. avatar
    Shelley R. says:

    Hmm, the element of Christmas that has ‘broken’ our budget is what has actually saved it in someways. When we were first married, I planned for cookie ingredients but not gifts to family. So, we would purchase gifts out-if-pocket and then delay some bills. (I know, I figured late charges were better than charging debt.) Then, we altered our approach and became creative with gifts, making them, or purchasing inexpensive (under $15) for all family–even the kids. Plus, my mom began giving me a small amount of cash to help with cookie ingredients for I bake for all 3 sides of my family with my kids. All these small changes prepared our family to join Advent Conspiracy last year alongside our local church, and that is what will define our giving this coming season as well.

  25. We’re skipping the Christmas expenses this year and taking a family mission trip to Cambodia from December 11 to January 13. I always mean to save a little every month and NEVER do. This year I guess I did. We saved for our plane tickets for 13 months. 🙂

  26. Our family does homemade Christmas presents or “gifts from the heart.” We started this 5 years ago and it has really been a blessing, not only financially but it also helps us keep perspective on what the season is all about. Even still… we can benefit from starting our holiday budget earlier rather than later. Great post idea.

  27. We are debt free and manage our money very well so we actually don’t have a budget and can buy what we want for Christmas. We still try to be creative because we are not into just having things.
    The best least expensive gift my husband gave me was a 2 sided frame that folds in the middle. It was a cutsy frame. On one side was a photo of me as a 5 year old doing crafts and on the other a photo of hubby around same age playing with a cat ( he chose to display attributes we still have as adults- crafty/ animal lover.
    The whole thing cost less than $5!!!
    I also have a round ball ornament made with a photo of our daughter each year ( this year will be the 3rd).
    You can do this with photos of you/kid you/best friend
    Sibblings, etc…
    One of the whole family as babies?

  28. Right now, buying for my nieces and nephews are the biggest budget drainer. And we’ll have two more on the list next Christmas! We don’t buy much for our toddler, as first off, she doesn’t understand Christmas yet, and secondly, we don’t want her focus on Jesus birthday to be on hoarding gifts. Last year we started a new tradition of giving to a charity (Project Cure last year, this year it will be Samaritan’s purse) in honor of the rest of our family members instead of giving them material gifts.

  29. eBates is a great way to earn cash back on purchases. Here’s a link. Hope this helps save $ for all the cyber shoppers! 🙂

  30. Love the Swedish christmas card btw, it says Merry christmas to the Everlöf family by A.M 1905. I don’t have a budget but try to spend carefully anyway. I usually don’t spend much if anything on decor, I reuses what I have instead.

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