No money for Christmas gifts this year? Get a plan, opt-out when you can, and don't get so caught up in the holiday spirit that you forget your other goals. Here's how to stretch your budget and get the most for your money.

The holidays are here. Holiday shopping 2020 – here I come! 

Do you know how many presents you still need to buy? More importantly – do you know how much those gifts are going to cost?

If you’re like me, and not prepared in advance to shell out a bunch of cash, it can be a pretty hard blow to the ‘ol pocketbook.

Still, there are ways to rein in your spending on Christmas and holiday presents, especially if you didn’t save for the holidays in advance. These are my favorite ideas – take a look.

1. Plan

How To Budget For Holiday Shopping If You Haven't Saved For Gifts (REWRITE) - Plan

Before you do anything, you need a plan. A plan could save you hundreds of dollars and your sanity.

To start, you’ll need to gather ideas. Put out the feelers to those that you have to buy gifts for. What are they interested in this year? Where do they shop? What do they do for fun? E-mail or call friends to compile your ideas.

I usually put on my “nerd hat” this time of year and break out an Excel spreadsheet to document my gift-giving plan. It’s an easy way to gather all your ideas in one place so you can start scouting deals. If you’re not into Excel, use your preferred list-making method – pen and paper, note on your phone, app organizer…the list goes on and on.

Another great perk of having a plan is being able to price check everything online; this amounts to saving big bucks during the holidays. 

2. Opt-out of presents altogether

Stick with me for a moment before you reject this one altogether.

Consider spending time with friends or family for the holidays instead of exchanging presents. I see some of my family members just once a year – during the holidays. Why not just enjoy the gift of ‘company’ instead of giving material gifts?

Sounds cheesy – I know – but it’s true. Especially when you spend hundreds of dollars in travel expenses to get to the place where your family is gathering – you should rightfully consider that expense as part of your gift to your family. If COVID has you staying close to home this year, don’t forget that you’ll be saving bundles of money on holiday travel. Instead of traveling, consider organizing a family video call as your gift this year, which would save you even more.

And with 2020 being a tough year for many, don’t be afraid to suggest a no-gift policy with some of your extended family members. It’s almost a guarantee that 99% of people will be relieved their shopping list just got shorter!

3. DIY

How To Budget For Holiday Shopping If You Haven't Saved For Gifts (REWRITE) - DIY

Everybody’s favorite time suck – Pinterest – is crawling with cute and cheap DIY gifts. Here are some of my favorites:

  • Homemade photo coasters.
  • Sharpie mugs.
  • Homemade vanilla extract.
  • DIY ornaments.
  • Countless gifts in a jar.
  • Food!

Don’t forget to follow Money Under 30 on Pinterest for more ideas!

4. Give ‘em what they want

I used to be the type that hated giving gift cards, money, or alcohol as Christmas presents. I felt like that was a totally lazy way out.

But after receiving (and giving!) too many Christmas gifts that just weren’t right for me (or the receiver), I’ve decided to toss out my old notions of banning those so-called “lazy” gifts. Because, really, who doesn’t like those gifts? I know I got a lot more use out of my gift cards last Christmas than I did from the puke green robe I received (which now lives in the racks of Goodwill).

The other great thing about these lazy-but-oh-so-desirable gifts? They can be as expensive or inexpensive as you want. A $10 iTunes, Starbucks, or Target gift card can go a long way. You can easily snag a bottle of wine or build a six-pack of craft beer for under $10. And you can never go wrong with a crisp $10 or $20 bill (especially for kids). You could even gift a pandemic-friendly gift card for food or grocery delivery – services many have come to rely on this year.

Speaking of home delivery, how about having wine delivered directly to someone’s door? In 2020, you likely won’t be showing up for the annual Christmas party with a bottle of wine in hand, but that doesn’t have to stop you from gifting your favorites hosts with some much-needed alcohol. Winc sends wine, which can be customized to a member’s personal taste, straight to your doorstep. 

5. Set a limit

How To Budget For Holiday Shopping If You Haven't Saved For Gifts (REWRITE) - Set a limit

Do you have a budget set for every person you have to buy a gift for? If not, set one and add it to your gift-giving plan.

If you saved in advance, perhaps you have a more flexible budget. If not, put a cap of $15 or $25 on each person. If you think it’s necessary, make a pact with your friend or family member and promise that neither of you will spend more than X amount (to prevent that I-gave-you-an-iPod-and-all-I-got-was-this-$10-Starbucks-gift-card awkwardness).

A good budgeting app can help you reign in your spending.

One that stands out to me is PocketSmith. It’s more than just a budgeting app because it shows you how much you’ll have in the future based on what you’re spending today. It links up to your bank account to track your spending, so all the work is done for you. This can be a great way to see what you can truly afford to spend on gifts this holiday season.

6. Meet financial goals with your significant other

I know it seems like no fun, but hear me out.

When you’re in a committed relationship (and especially if you’ve already combined finances), you often share the same financial goals. Spending frivolously on gifts for each other when you’re trying to pay off student loans or save for that trip to Mexico just doesn’t make sense.

I know it can seem very “bah-humbug-esque” to not give something to your sweetie, so maybe you can opt for a cute DIY gift instead? A cute ornament proclaiming your “First Christmas Together” or a coupon for a homemade meal can be wrapped and given just like any expensive gift.

Why not give the gift of staying on track with your finances instead of veering way off track with hundreds of dollars in gifts you might only use a couple of times?

7. Earn while you spend

How To Budget For Holiday Shopping If You Haven't Saved For Gifts (REWRITE) - Earn while you shop

No matter how much you cut back, you’ll still be spending more this time of year than any other. Why not get money back on the money you’re spending?

One way to do this is by choosing a credit card that offers cash back rewards for your purchases. This may be the perfect time to sign up for a card like the Chase Freedom Flex℠, which gives you $200 bonus after you spend $500 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening.

You’ll also earn 5% cash back for all those holiday snacks and meals you buy at the grocery store. And after the holiday is over, you’ll still earn 5% cash back on eligible purchases in rotating categories, 5% on travel purchased through Chase Ultimate Rewards®, 3% on dining and drugstores, and finally, 1% cash back on all other purchases. 

Cash back isn’t the only way you can make money while you spend, though. Dosh links to your credit card or favorite payment apps, issuing cash back every time you buy something from one of its partners. You can view the partners’ list and steer your spending in the direction that will save you the most money. Partners include popular Christmas shopping locations like Walmart and Cost Plus World Market.

8. Take out a personal loan

If you plan to rely heavily on your credit cards to get you through the holiday season, there may be a better way. A personal loan could save you money on interest while giving you a longer timeframe to repay. 

Fiona lets you shop multiple lenders at once! You can borrow lower amounts, too, which you may not be able to do with traditional loan options. Whether you choose to go with Fiona or not, it’s a great first stop. You’ll have a baseline you can use as you compare other loan offers.


No matter what you decide about your holiday spending, hopefully, you enjoy the time with your loved ones. After all, isn’t spending time with family what the holidays are all about? Well, that and copious helpings of sugar and turkey and other delicious holiday treats.

How do you budget for the holidays if you haven’t saved in advance?

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About the author

Total Articles: 44
Stephanie Faris has written about finance for entrepreneurs and marketing firms since 2013. She spent nearly a year as a writer for a credit card processing service and has written about finance for numerous marketing firms and entrepreneurs. Her work has appeared on Retirable, The Motley Fool, MoneyGeek, Ecommerce Insiders, GoBankingRates, and ThriveBy30. Learn more about Stephanie on her website or find her on LinkedIn, Facebook, or Twitter.