How to give gifts without breaking the bank

The holidays are a special time to make your family and friends feel special with gifts you know they will love. The holidays can also be a time of stress—the amount of love you have for the people around doesn’t always match the size of your wallet.

Graphic titled "Season's Saving Tips" with 12 Christmas tree ornaments titled: Budget, Review Spending, Buy Early, Look Online, Make a Plan, Make it Personal, Categorize, Serve Together, Don't Build Debt, Give an experience. The Bank of American Fork logo is on the bottom left, and the "Member FDIC" logo is on the bottom right. Here are 10 ways to make sure you keep your spending in check without feeling like Scrooge.

Budget. Sometimes creating a budget for gift-giving and sticking to it can make one feel like a miser, but when you make a plan, you’ll keep from constantly wondering whether you’re spending too much or too little. Making the decision once, ahead-of-time can feel freeing, instead of trying to decide how much you’ll spend when you’re faced with choices in different price ranges. Figure out how much you can afford to spend and what you feel comfortable with. Break it down so you know how much you’re spending on individual gifts, but make sure you leave a little extra set aside in case you find something that was made for your aunt, but costs a little more than you planned.

Look at last year’s bills. When you’re budgeting, look at what you spent last year. Where did you overspend? Is your financial situation better or worse or different than last year? Is there an obvious area you can do something differently to improve savings? Assessing this might help you to figure out which of the rest of our tips apply most particularly to you.

Buy as early as possible. Don’t wait for December to start looking for gifts. You might get better deals if you watch the items you’re considering buying during the months before. Some of the dates for super savings might be back to school time, Columbus Day or Black Friday.

Look online for better deals. If you find the perfect gift for someone in a store or another website, scour the internet for a better deal. You might find that with free Prime shipping and Amazon’s price matching, that you can get the same item for a better price, or upgrade to a nicer version of what you’re purchasing. Last year, when I planned to buy a Kindle for my brother for Christmas, I decided on the amount I would spend, which covered a basic model. I kept it and a couple of other similar items on a watch list on Amazon and when the better Kindle Paperwhite went on sale for the same price as the regular Kindle on Black Friday, I was able to easily cart it and check out in a few minutes. Having a plan and waiting for that sale online meant I could give a gift that was nicer for a price that was still comfortable for me. Of course, make sure you’re factoring in shipping cost versus cost of time and gas to get to a brick-and-mortar store.

Plan what you’re going to give before you hit the mall. I like to spend a few weeks, at least, thinking about what might be special, helpful or enjoyable to the people I want to give gifts to. You might try keeping a note on your phone with a list of the people you’re gifting to, and write down notes as you think of them. That way, when you shop for gifts, you can be a little more confident that it’s a great gift and not just an impulse purchase because you’re sick of holiday shopping.

Image of pine needles against a a fence, with text overlaying the image saying "Try making a homemade gift". Make personalized gifts instead of purchasing expensive gifts. Sometimes a small, thoughtful or creative gift is worth more to the receiver. It might mean more than an item you’d have to break the bank on. My granny still has a scrapbook I made her for Christmas 20 years ago (and she displays it proudly on her coffee table), but I doubt she still wears the earrings I purchased for her in other years. They may have been fashionable and lovely at the time, but sometimes sentiment means more. Even if you don’t consider yourself very creative, considering the receiver’s likes, interests and needs might help you to create something simple and meaningful.

Try “One thing you want, one thing you need, one thing to wear and one thing to read.” For family or children, consider putting a limit on the number and types of gifts you’ll give ahead of time. It’s easy to give much more than anticipated because lists change and sometimes shopping often leads to finding more items than you anticipated buying. When you plan to buy certain types of items

As a family or group of friends, find a way to serve during the holiday season. Finding a local charity to donate time to, a family to prepare a special meal and gifts for or preparing packages for local shelters may help you focus on something besides gift-giving.

When I was a child and youth, my parents would find a family struggling financially that year (our local church leaders often knew about a family that could use help) for us to focus on. Each of us would be assigned someone in that family to purchase gifts for and we shopped using the money we each saved for holiday gifts. As a 11-year-old girl, it was much easier for me to wrap my mind around giving to others when I was focused on what a specific 8-year-old girl, for example, might be hoping to receive for Christmas that year. We also purchased some clothing and food items, and a few days before the holiday, we might anonymously leave the gifts on their doorstep.

Don’t buy with a credit card if you don’t have the money to pay it off now. Avoid starting 2017 in debt by not spending more during the holidays than you can afford. If you are in debt at the start of next year, it will make it harder to save for next year’s holidays. If you can’t afford much by way of gifts this year, maybe it’s a good year to break that debt cycle and keep things low-key.

Image of pine needles against a fence with overlaying text that says "Give a great gift: share a skill". Give a planned experience. Plan a bike ride and picnic, a museum visit or put a local even on your calendar. Time is a valuable gift and you and the receiver will have something to look forward to. Remember to schedule it in so you follow through.

Remember, gift-giving is an opportunity to show those around you that you love and appreciate them. Most people care about the thought that goes into gifts they receive. Put in a little extra time and thought and you may be able to avoid stress and overspending during the holidays this year.

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