Tis the Season for Savvy Spending: 7 Tips For Gift-Gifting & Celebrating When You Can’t Afford Christmas

The holiday season is here!! But so is inflation. 

For some, this is the most wonderful time of year. But if you’re like most of us, you’re bracing for the impact inflation (and shrinkflation) will have on your spending and gift-giving.

With soaring costs, worrying about how you’ll pay for presents or whether you’ll be able to afford a nice Christmas dinner can take the fun out of the holidays.

My husband and I have basically skipped Christmas for the last few years because we couldn’t afford it. Since we don’t have kids, it’s pretty easy for us to opt out of celebrating. We don’t exchange gifts, we don’t entertain, and we don’t travel to see family. But that’s not how most people want to spend the holidays.

So what can you do if you’re like me and can’t afford Christmas?

If you’re struggling, there are a few things you can do to help ease the stress without ruining the holiday.

1. Prioritize

woman wearing Santa hate at ATM with wallet and gifts, shopping
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Having a small or non-existent budget probably means you can’t afford to travel, buy gifts for everyone, and say yes to every get-together this Christmas season. But that doesn’t mean you have to opt-out of the celebrations entirely.

Keep it simple. Who is most important to you? What traditions are you not willing to give up?

Once you determine that, spend your money accordingly.

“We are transitioning back into the meaning of Christmas, focusing on providing instead of receiving, and challenging the kids to brainstorm ways we can serve our community,” says Nicole Graber of Gracefully Abundant.

2. Budget

couple working on a budget at home
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Overspending at Christmas is extremely easy and common. Whether you have a lot of money to spend or only a little, you need a budget. Figure out how much you can afford to spend on holiday shopping without getting into debt or financial trouble.

Consider all potential holiday-related expenses, such as gifts, cards, gift wrap, shipping, decorations, food and drinks, entertainment, travel, donations, family photos, etc.

Then taking your priorities into account, start assigning the amount you can spend on each category, person, or activity. Make sure your total doesn’t exceed what your budget allows. If it does, take another look at what’s important to you, and try again until you can make it work.

Stick to this budget!

Check where your budget stands before making any purchase, and update it afterward so that it stays up-to-date.

If you’re concerned about overspending during the holidays, take out what you can afford to spend in cash or use a pre-paid credit card for that set amount. Once it runs out, you’re done. No more spending!

Related Article: 50+ Self Care Gift Ideas For Under $50

3. Start Early

woman online shopping on stairs at home with credit card
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It’s not uncommon these days to walk into a store and see Christmas items on the shelves next to Back to School and Halloween items. There’s even a term for this, called the “Christmas Creep.”

As soon as you see those aisles of green and red, you start thinking about Christmas, whether you want to or not.

Of course, companies start promoting the holidays early to get you to spend more. Especially on “Black Friday” and “Cyber Monday.”

And it works. It doesn’t have to be a bad thing, though. You have a better chance of finding the perfect gift at an affordable price if you have time to look.

Keep an eye on deals and promotions on the items on your Christmas list. Are there any great sales you can take advantage of?

Sign up for newsletters from your favorite stores to take advantage of the discounts they offer to new subscribers. (And then maybe unsubscribe in the new year to avoid any future impulse buys?)

You can also browse the store’s clearance sections and stock up if they have what you need.

Another bonus is that it’s easier to manage your spending by spreading it out over a few weeks or months.

Starting early also gives you more time to make extra money if that’s what you need to do to make it work.

4. Skip the Gifts

laughing family watching movie at home with popcorn
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It’s okay to have a giftless Christmas and not feel guilty about it. After all, the holidays should be about togetherness, not material things.

Sending handwritten cards to friends, family, and other important people is an affordable way to show that you care and are thinking of them. If money is tight, you can do this for free online.

Do fun, free things with your loved ones, like going to winter carnivals and parades or meeting Santa Claus. Host a pot-luck dinner or a Christmas movie marathon. Drive around looking at the lights with your loved ones. Go sledding. Volunteer together at a soup kitchen or food bank.

“Many museums and cultural institutions have special holiday programming or, at the very least, have festive decor,” suggests Monica Fish of Planner at Heart. “The best part? You can check out admission passes just like books from your library for a no-cost.”

If gifts are essential to your celebration, hold a Secret Santa or gift exchange with a set dollar limit. It will reduce stress and keep your spending within your budget.

“Due to increased inflation, we have decided to modify our family gift-buying tradition,” says John Dealbreuin of Financial Freedom Countdown. “We will only be buying gifts for children instead of buying gifts for everyone.”

5. Get Creative

dads and son painting crafts together
Image Credit: monkeybusiness and Depositphotos.

Gift-giving doesn’t have to include spending (a lot of) money. Remember, it’s the thought that counts.

If you’re crafty, handy, or artistic, why not put your skills to use and make handmade gifts? Bake cookies, upcycle those mason jars, knit a scarf, build a wooden bench, or put together a gift basket. Pinterest is a gold mine for do-it-yourself ideas!

Or if you’re more like me and lack those DIY skills (or you simply don’t have the time), why not offer to do something for your loved ones instead?

The good old coupon book of “one free massage” and “one breakfast in bed” is a tried and true gift idea for your significant other. But that same concept can work for other people in your life. Instead of buying gifts, you could always offer to babysit for a loved one on a Friday night or give your child a pass to stay up an hour later.

There are still some costs associated with any DIY gift, but they are often a more affordable option. And people will appreciate the personal touch.

6. Celebrate Late

family having fun playing together in the snow
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If you’re struggling to afford Christmas, celebrating late will allow you to stretch your budget further.

Retailers want to sell their leftover inventory (especially Christmas items) and offer significant discounts in the days right after Christmas. Take advantage of these sales or stock up on anything non-perishable to use next year, like gift wrap and cards.

Boxing Day (December 26) has become a “shopping holiday” for those of us living in the UK, Canada, and Australia. Similar to Black Friday, retailers offer significant discounts on Boxing Day that are often extended into Boxing Week.

The holidays are also busy—48% of those surveyed in the 2023 Deloitte holiday travel survey plan to travel over the holidays. Postponing your trip until January makes it easier to get together and avoid crowds. You can also take advantage of cheaper flights and accommodations.

7. Be Honest

family Christmas video call
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The best piece of advice I can give to someone who can’t afford Christmas is simply to be honest about it.

You don’t have to share the details of your finances, but don’t put yourself into debt because you’re being polite or too shy to speak up.

Your loved ones should be understanding and respectful of your situation.

Many people are not working right now. There’s a good chance that money is tight for your loved ones too. You’re doing them a favor by offering to celebrate differently.

Penny-Pincher’s Guide to the Holidays

friends Christmas dinner party, cheering and taking a photo
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No matter what you do, remember that Christmas is about more than just gifts and money. It’s about spending time with the people you love, creating memories, and feeling grateful for what you have.

In short, if you can’t afford Christmas, you absolutely can still enjoy the holidays without getting into debt. Have a plan. Set a budget. Be creative. And focus on the non-material side of Christmas.

Money-Saving Hacks That You Cannot Afford to Miss This Holiday Season

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Money-saving life hacks are all over the internet, but let’s be real – those hacks can only get you so far. If you’re looking for something beyond the same old tricks, you’ve come to the right place. These money-saving hacks are not only effective, but they’re also practical and easy to implement – no sacrificing your holiday celebrations required.

How to Survive the Holidays When You Have No Money

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I wish I could say that I’m unfamiliar with the experience of trying to survive the holidays while broke. Unfortunately, I’ve experienced more than my fair share of holidays with no money, so I can empathize with those of you who are currently experiencing this reality.  I would like to share how I survived numerous holidays with no money. I used several strategies to make it through those times, and I hope that they will help you too.

Inexpensive DIY Christmas Gift Ideas (With Tutorials)

messy father and daughters painting and making crafts
Image Credit: Tverdohlib.com via Depositphotos.com.

While fun to give gifts during the holiday season, for many, it can be a source of stress because it can get pretty expensive. However, being on a budget doesn’t mean you can’t find great gifts to give your friends and family for Christmas. Not only are these DIY Christmas gifts cheap to make, but your recipients will love that you created something special for them.

Amanda Kay, the founder of My Life, I Guess, provides valuable career advice and support for anyone striving to make a living and, more importantly, make a life. Whether it's navigating job searches, learning new skills, overcoming unemployment, or dealing with debt, My Life, I Guess has been a go-to resource for career guidance and financial stability since 2013. Amanda's expertise and relatable approach have been featured in trusted publications such as MSN, Credit.com, Yahoo! Finance, the Ladders and Fairygodboss.

15 thoughts on “Tis the Season for Savvy Spending: 7 Tips For Gift-Gifting & Celebrating When You Can’t Afford Christmas”

  1. Unfortunately too many of us think that Christmas is all about gifts and partys only. You’re right, we have to be honest about our situation. And we have to remember that that is the best gift is the gift of love. As soon as Christmas is pass, I think about next year. I often buy Christmas gifts anytime of the year when they’re on sale and that I know it will please somebody in particular.
    Whishing you a bright and loving Christmas

  2. I’ve been there. I remember how sad and hurt I felt because I got gifts and couldn’t give them. I basically told my whole family I was broke and that was that. If I couldn’t gift all I would gift none. I find it ridiculous even for people who are not having financial problems to spend a ton on Christmas. It’s just not necessary in my opinion especially as you get older. My family does a name exchange and has for a while now. Good for you for thinking ahead and doing what you can. Don’t feel bad about it. Life happens sometimes. Sorry that things have only gotten worse for you.

  3. Thank you for offering a realistic look at Christmas. It’s difficult to not give gifts but going into debt to give people things they don’t really need is not smart. We can love and enjoy being with friends and family without giving them things. I hope many people in your situation will take your advice and enjoy Christmas without feeling bad about not spending. (We’re cutting back again this year too).

    • I was invited to a Christmas party for a nice Christmas dinner and Christmas movies in which i had brought my projector to project it onto a wall. Later a few of my friends started giving out gifts and two of my friends gab me gifts and i had no gifts to bring.I assumed that since everyone including me were financially not doing all that well that we qould just have a nice Christmas dinner and movies with egg nigh ans to me that’s what Christmas shoukd be about and that’s friendship coning together and having fun bit i litwrally felt like crap when i didn’t have any gifts to bring.I felt awful but in reality i cam barely pay my monthly bills let alone qorry about hundreds of dollars worth of gifts to worry about.Who ever invented Christmas ahould be ashamed if themselves for enforcing gift exchanges.It’s Christmas time and gift exchanges which puts people in financial debt which many people rely on their credit cards to pay for gifts. It shouldn’t be the gifts that makes people happy on Christmas relying on materialistic desires to enhance happiness.Christmas should be about love and kindness and togetherness, Christmas Dinner, movies, sleigh riding and tobogganing, good deeds, helping the homeless, being happy and cheerful to everyone.The gift that should matter is the gift of friendship and live and kindness and doing things together like winter outdoor fun and excitement.singing christmas songs etc.You can do all those things without spending spending money.Its shouldn’t be the gifts that people remember receiving but the friendahip and togetherness and all that fun you had tibogganing and ice skating and making snowman.When kids start expecting hundred dollar gifts that’s when Christmas can take a toll on people.The Christmas movie Jingle all the wall with Arnold Schwarzenegger almost ended up qith his qife divorcing him and his child hating him over a lousy popular toy and Arnold’s character forgetting his sins Christmas Roy alnost cost him his relationship qith his wife and child and i know it’s just a movie but this is the mindset that people have during christmas.

  4. In all honesty, I would prefer to skip the gift giving part of Christmas, because I’m trying to avoid accumulating more stuff. I enjoy the spending time with family/friends more. I think presents really are more for the kids. Besides, the things I want/need are more than the set limits for gift exchanges. I know it’s all about the spirit of giving and that it’s all in good fun, but really these days, $20 isn’t enough to get a decent quality gift (unless you get $20 worth of food/toiletries…that’s actually a better idea, because it’s something people would actually use).

    I’m sorry to hear that things have gotten worse for you guys. I sincerely wish things will be better for you in the New Year.

  5. So happy to hear you have a positive attitude about this. Christmas does not need to be about spending a lot of money. In fact, I find that most adults are more than fine not to receive a gift. I know I am happy not to. I would much rather spend time with people and enjoy some good food 🙂 Good food does not need to be overly expensive either. A pot luck where everyone brings an appetizer is always a lot of fun! I hope you have a great Christmas!

  6. Being together with family at Christmas is what matters, but I wouldn’t skip the gift part, sorry guys. I love getting and giving gifts. That’s how we cherish the thought of each other.

  7. I love seeing sensible posts around Christmas time, especially since the last Christmas post I saw was “The best way to borrow $1,000 for Christmas” *shudders*

    When I moved out of home I bluntly told everyone that I wouldn’t be giving presents for any occasions, and I didn’t want to receive them. Small things have crept in over the years, but there’s more emphasis on getting together, rather than buying the best gift.

    This year my mum and I are exchanging homemade Christmas treats 🙂

  8. How does this blog stack up for you now, with all the job changes etc? I am from a huge family, lots of nieces and I don’t mind the gift giving – I am just bad at budgeting for it, and I want to treat myself too.

    I also now do a wish list for a kid in need, this year I am taking on a family’s wish list 🙂 So I still love to give, but I definitely should budget better for it.

  9. Amazing Post Amanda, This time I am going to do the steps you have mentioned. Also I have started making invitation cards with my own. Hope this time I’ll not waste too much money.

  10. I’ve been there. I remember how sad and hurt I felt because I got gifts and couldn’t give them. I basically told my whole family I was broke and that was that. If I couldn’t gift all I would gift none. I find it ridiculous even for people who are not having financial problems to spend a ton on Christmas. It’s just not necessary in my opinion especially as you get older.


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