Holiday gift-giving can be a drain, both on your mental health and your wallet. I've put together a list of ideas to help you celebrate Christmas within your limits.

As you age deeper and deeper into adulthood, the holiday spirit takes on a different meaning. Hopefully, the feelings of cheer and goodwill stay the same, but your attitude towards presents starts to shift.

Namely, it changes from something you await eagerly to something you endure wearily.

That might be an exaggeration, but gift-giving does take on new connotations once you’re expected to give as much as you get. It can feel like an imposition to spend so much money on so many people – especially if you’re living on a shoestring budget. It’s no wonder that so many Americans find themselves deep in credit card debt by the time the new year rolls around, often failing to pull themselves out by the next holiday season.

But Christmas shopping doesn’t have to be a budget-buster. There are plenty of ways you can cut back on holiday expenses, shaving off a few dollars or even eliminating them entirely. You just have to be willing to try something new.

Make a budget

7 Tips For Making Your Holiday Affordable And Still Enjoyable - Make a budget

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Christmas spending often goes overboard when consumers fail to reconcile their budget with their shopping list. To avoid overspending, determine how much you can afford to spend on Christmas and then make a list of all your holiday obligations, including presents, travel, and decorations. Then, ascribe a dollar amount to each item, overestimating slightly.

It will probably hurt to spend less this year, but consider this: consumers still haven’t repaid their credit card bills from last year’s holidays (according to CNBC). If you’re in the same boat, add up how much you’ve spent on credit card interest and stick to the budget this year.

Read more: How To Make A Budget: Our Step-By-Step Guide To Managing Your Money

Keep next year in mind

You’ll be spending money anyway, so why not make the most of it? Try to set a little money aside for next Christmas. At the end of the season, look at what you spent on gifts, food, and decorations and find ways you can save even more. Then start putting a little money aside each month to pay for those expenses.

Better yet, get started on next year’s savings while you’re shopping for this holiday season. Apps like Acorns will round up to the nearest dollar every time you make a purchase using your connected credit card. You can then invest the money, starting with as little as $5. 

Find extra savings

7 Tips For Making Your Holiday Affordable And Still Enjoyable - Find extra savings

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Looking at a long list of presents to buy? Here are some of my favorite shopping hacks:

Look for discount codes

There are plenty of sites that aggregate coupon codes so you can always snag a great deal. 

One of the best I’ve discovered is Capital One Shopping, a free browser extension that automatically applies coupon codes at checkout. If you’ve viewed an item, the extension will also alert you when the price drops.

Disclaimer - Capital One Shopping compensates us when you get the browser extension using the links we provided.

Sign up for a store’s email list

Usually, you’ll get an extra 10%-20% off if you’re a new subscriber. Sometimes I’ll even create a new email address to get multiple discounts.

Use a cash back credit card

While taking out a credit card for the sole purpose of buying Christmas gifts isn’t the best idea, if you’re in the market for a new card, taking advantage of sign-up bonuses and great 5% cash back categories could be the smart thing to do.

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The Chase Freedom Flex℠ is a perfect example of a wonderful holiday credit card. New cardholders can have the benefit of a sign-up bonus offer: $200 bonus after spending $500 on purchases in the first three months from account opening. That $200 can go straight to your Christmas budget. 

Plus, you’ll also earn 5% cash back on eligible purchases in rotating categories, 5% on travel purchased through Chase Ultimate Rewards®, 3% on dining and drugstores, and 1% on all other purchases. That’s a lot of cash back!

Shop with used gift cards

If I know exactly where I’m doing my holiday shopping, I’ll buy used gift cards for those stores where you can sometimes save up to 10% on a card. You can even find discounted gift cards at Costco or Sam’s Club, with savings up to 25% off.

Save on wrapping

I love wrapping Christmas gifts more than anything, but wrapping paper, bows, and ribbon add up quickly. I shop at the dollar store for all my wrapping needs, where you can get more than enough paper for just a few bucks.

When I was really living on a tight budget, I saved cartoons from the Sunday paper to wrap my gifts. Yes, your gifts won’t look as beautiful under the tree, but it’s better than spending $20 on something that will end up in the trash.

Find cheap gift ideas

A couple of years ago, I asked my friend Melissa what she’d put on her Christmas list. A recent homeowner, Melissa was practical and asked that her parents come down and help her with some house projects instead of buying a physical gift.

I remember thinking how grown-up she was, eschewing traditional gifts in favor of sweat equity. Now, I understand the genius behind her thinking.

If you have a special skill, such as woodworking or landscape design, give that as your present. The monetary value will be much higher than whatever you’d find at Macy’s, and it could be especially precious to the beneficiary. Plus, it won’t cost you anything except for your time.

Other cheap gift ideas include:

  • Baking mixes.
  • Homemade soaps.
  • Bath salts.
  • Anything edible (hello Christmas cookies).

My husband and I love to buy food and beverage-related gifts because they’re often less expensive, we know they’ll always get used, and they won’t add extra clutter. 

Read more: Cheap Gifts: 55 Inexpensive Christmas Gift Ideas

Look for alternatives to gifts

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Instead of buying everyone on your list an expensive present, here are some gift alternatives that won’t make you look like a Scrooge.

Take the money you’d spend on gifts and treat everyone to dinner at your favorite restaurant, an evening at the movies, or an afternoon at an escape room (after COVID ends, obviously). The camaraderie you get from sharing an experience together will last longer than the thrill of opening a cashmere sweater.

Another popular alternative is to do a gift exchange instead of buying each person a present. Draw names and set a price limit, such as $30. That’s enough to buy a substantial gift without ruining your holiday budget. This is perfect for big families, where gift-giving can get pricey once spouses and children come into the mix. Some families even decide to skip presents for adults and only buy gifts for the kids.

Talk to your family and friends

If money is tight, Christmas can feel more like an imposition than a celebration. Stressing about the holidays isn’t fun and can lead to feelings of resentment towards your more affluent family and friends.

Talk to your loved ones about avoiding a gift exchange or minimizing how much you spend. You don’t have to give them all the reasons why – just enough so they understand. Who knows – your brother-in-law who’s just had a baby might be grateful to take a year off from the craziness of gift-giving.


As an adult, getting gifts for your friends and family feels more and more like a chore. But it can still be fun if you come up with some alternatives to traditional gifts!

There are lots of ways to be creative, so just continue to think out of the box.

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About the author

Total Articles: 50
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.