Holiday How-To: Giving When You’re Broke


For the past decade, I’ve been either underemployed or living on financial aid.  I can’t remember the last Christmas when I had enough money to buy everything I wanted for the people I love.  For me, Christmas means being stressed out until I can manage to get gifts for everyone.

I could diatribe forever on how Christmas should be about more than buying things, but I’m sure you already know about that.  So, instead, here are my best tips on getting through Christmas while still being able to pay rent:

1. Shop early. Obviously, at this point, I’ve been preparing for Christmas since September.  I have a cache of presents that I’ve been slowly acquiring since then.  It helps stave off the necessity of dropping $500 at once.

2. Save ahead, if you can.  I’ve just started being able to save money. What a novelty! I’ve set up a specific savings account just for Christmas and I automatically dump some cash into it every month.  Any little bit helps and it will make you feel way less panicked come next December when you have money just sitting around waiting to be spent. I also sell books and movies I don’t need anymore to my local used bookstore and use the money from that for gifts.

3. Group gift. Have a family on your list? Get them a giant food gift basket or tickets to the Renaissance Faire (I have a particularly cool set of friends). Make sure it’s personal to their tastes and food allergies.

4. Cut as many corners as possible. Don’t feel obligated to get your friend’s kids extravagant gifts.  They are already getting things from several family members and probably won’t notice you not giving them another battery-powered toy. Candy always works, and you won’t have to pay for the dental bills. Same goes with people you haven’t talked to in over a year.

5. Quality vs. Quantity. Buy intelligently.  Instead of getting someone a ton of crappy gifts with no specific meaning, pay attention.  Check Amazon wish lists or just listen.  If you give something that has meaning, you can skimp on cash value.  And, you know, the person won’t have to return it and find out how much you didn’t spend on it.  You can add personal touches, like embroidery or an engraving, too.

Have any other tips for me to add? Are you finished shopping?  Who is the hardest person to shop for in your family?

2 thoughts on “Holiday How-To: Giving When You’re Broke

  1. Setting money aside each month for Christmas is a brilliant idea. I don’t know if I have that much self control though. I tried doing this one year, I started saving money 2 months before Christmas, but I ended up dipping into the savings to pay bills. SIGH. Starting in January should make that easier though. LOVELY POST WOMAN.

    • Thanks, miss. It’s hard to keep up the self control. I usually do about $30 a month ($15/paycheck) and that gives me around $360 by December. Sometimes it still isn’t enough, because I end up dipping into it for birthdays, but it’s awesome at how it’s just conveniently there. There are specific accounts you can set up with your bank that make it untouchable until November and auto-withdraw from your paycheck. I was super uncomfortable with auto withdrawals until now.

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