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Give More, Spend Less, and Reduce Stress’s Holiday Guide for Shopping for the Holidays

by Kaitlyn Ranze |

Even as the temperatures cool and snow and mistletoe enchant us, the holidays and their glittering associated costs loom. Excitement or dread may heighten your anxiety, but not to worry. has created a comprehensive saving strategy to help you conquer the season of giving (and spending) with a thorough focus on avoiding debt.

With this budget-friendly guide, we’ll help you save more, spend less, and reduce your stress around the holidays.

Short on time? Check out this FREE Downloadable Guide to Stressing Less and Saving More Over the Holidays to save for later.

Optimize your finances with a big-picture budget.

If you haven’t set a budget for the holidays, now’s the time to review your big-picture budget and determine what you can allocate to the holidays.

Don’t have a budget yet?

Image of income and expenses in the app. Gains include income. Expenses include groceries, healthcare, restaurants, pharmacies, and unsorted.

The holidays are a great time to update your budget to reflect your current income levels and financial goals. (Holiday gift-giving on your list? Stay tuned.) If you’re like the average American who saw their income fluctuate this year, let’s revisit the basics:

  1. First, you’ll need to determine how much you earned.*
  2. Then, determine how much you’re spending (your expenses) from month to month or paycheck to paycheck. 
  3. Subtract expenses from income
  4. Based on what’s left, work toward goals. In this case, celebrating the holidays like the budget boss you are. 

*If Covid has upended your ability to earn money, you may need to dial everything back and make a crisis budget

Don’t want to spend a bunch of time (that’s limited) on designing a budget from scratch? We got you. The Money App has a budgeting feature baked right in, just like a delicious holiday treat.

Once you’ve downloaded the app from Google Play or Apple Store and connected your account, simply select the “Money” tab. Then select the “Details” button next to Budget. Here you’ll be able to categorize your transactions by clicking each budget line.  

Things to keep in mind BEFORE prioritizing gift-giving as a financial goal:

  1. Are you spending more money than you’re earning?
  2. Have you set up an emergency fund?
  3. How secure is your current job?
  4. Do you have high-interest debt?

You may want to reprioritize your holiday efforts and focus on the above before diving into financing gifts. Even if you can pay in cash, your funds may be better served with smaller and more strategic presents, or maybe no presents at all. Does guilt strike you at the thought of a giftless holiday season? Don’t worry. We got you. Stay tuned for a list of budget-friendly alternatives to gift-giving budget blowouts.

First things first, though. If you’re all set up with an emergency fund, have your debt handled, and are ready to proceed with holiday saving and planning strategy, then figure out what you’re willing and able to spend with a focused picture.

This year may be celebrated differently than years past, but you can get a great picture of your holiday expenses by reviewing previous years’ spending statements. Did you come out in debt? What changes can you make to avoid the same thing this year? And what does your budget say this holiday season?

Two women are sitting with their backs to the camera as they look at a sunset over trees and a city skyline. Overlaid words read, "How Stress Impacts Spending, Saving & Investing." Read button links to the article How Stress Impacts Spending, Saving & Investing.

Define a goal.

How much you save and spend is based on what you’re projected to have, NOT what’s on the recipient’s wishlist.

Define YOUR goal based on YOUR budget, not on somebody else’s wishes. Following these steps will help you optimize what you have to give. So, take the first step and define your savings goal – big or small.

Where do you go once you have a defined savings goal?

Make a plan of action.

Start by saving.

The best savers will tell you to take advantage of automation to reduce the cognitive burden. The Money App will help you calculate your savings plan and execute it by the target date. This target date is based on the interval (daily, bi-weekly, monthly) that YOU decide. (We’ll walk you through this awesome feature in a minute.)

Next, start listing.

Think beyond wrapping and unwrapping; start with a list of everything that is meaningful to you. With your wishes and values clearly defined, you can make choices and spend throughout that season that will increase your contentment and joy.

THEN, make a list of recipients, meal planning and ingredients for dinners, and costs for holiday travel. 

Are you coming up short?

Find out where you can cut groceries and shopping list expenses and try to earn more. 

  • Retailers are still hiring.
  • The holidays are a great time to sell handcrafts  on Etsy.
  • For a list of other creative side-hustles, check this list out.
  • Purge things you don’t need to collect the cash you don’t have. You can cross-list items on Facebook Marketplace or OfferUp and try posting old clothes to Mercari or Poshmark. Short on time? Purge the clothes and send a bag to ThredUp, an online company that will consign your clothes for you and donate the rest.

Okay, so how can you use the Money App like your own personal holiday layaway? Let’s break it down.

If you’ve downloaded the app from the Google Play or Apple Store and connected your account, select the Money tab from your home screen. From there, you’ll scroll down to “Auto-Saves” and create your own automated savings goal by selecting “Add New.” will help you calculate your withdrawal rate and track your progress so that you’ll have the money you need in the timeframe you need it.

Having a goal and strategy for achieving it is essential. Having cash on hand to make planned purchases can prevent you from accruing unwanted credit debt, thereby weighing your credit stocking with high-interest coal. But they’re not the only important things for a successful and stress-free holiday.

Consider your money mindset.

You’ve taken many steps to sort your income and crunch numbers, but before going further, let’s check your mindset and relationship with money. Make sure you remember the spirit of giving, which gets lost in the hustle and bustle of shopping, traveling, and decorating.

The holidays are not about competition or tit-for-tat giving. Remember everything that makes the holiday season meaningful. Think you’ll have difficulty staying intentional? The Money App is equipped with a daily check-in to help you track your mindset and forge a healthy, wealthy outlook.

To save more, plan for holiday basics (like Christmas cards).

Jacques Arsenault of Post Grad Compass points out, “If you send holiday cards, plan in advance and have your photo and design ready to go by Thanksgiving.

Most big photo-card sites (Snapfish, Shutterfly, etc.) run big promotions between Black Friday and Cyber Monday. Sometimes, you can get up to 70% off the list price for holiday cards in that date range. Plus, they’ll be more likely to arrive with time to send them out.

Next, get even more strategic with holiday expenses like gift-giving.

If it’s the thought that counts, make the most of a thoughtful thought with a plan. Thinking critically and planning will help you make the most of your holiday season while saving your budget and sanity.  

Jay Monson of Play Retirement keeps it super simple with his wife, “Go into Target with your spouse or significant other, pick out cards for each other, hand them to each other to read, then put them back where they came from. That’s an instant savings of $3-5. Do this for anniversaries and birthdays, and the savings keep increasing yearly.”

We like frugality, but if that isn’t for you, here are some other strategies.

Stay organized with lists to stress less and save more this holiday season. 

Keeping a list of recipients and updating what you’re giving them will reduce the likelihood of budget surprises. Not only are lists motivating, but they’ll also improve manageability and accountability. After all, we’re trying to keep surprises wrapped in a box, not on your statements. Plus, your lists will help you assess your priorities. 

Spend less during the holidays

Not sure how to prioritize when everyone deserves a present? To spend less, focus your resources where they matter most:

Narrow the focus of your recipient list by thinking of it as an onion. First, focus on the core – your nuclear family. Then the next layer – extended family members. Up next, friends. Then coworkers. Or, if you’re tight with the adoptive kinship, reorganize it. However your onion is layered, knowing where your priorities lie will help you move forward in tackling your list and save your finite resources (your time and money).

Give more during the holidays

Ready to get down to gifting? We promise there are ways to wrap this up without going broke.

Give the gift of time and rethink your presence.

Spend quality time with family, do what you can with friends, and avoid grand materialistic gestures. Studies show that we derive more emotional benefit from experiences rather than possessions, so create a budget aligned with these priorities. How can you best do this?

Remember that wealth is experiential: gift experiences. 

  • Assess what’s available in your backyard and check out one-tank road trips in your area. Chances are, some hidden gems are waiting to be explored. 
  • Skipped a trip this year? Take advantage of low-cost airfares by booking a vacation in the future. Celebrate with a travel fund and apply the same lessons we’ve learned here to your future holiday. (Budget, create a plan, find ways to execute.)
  • Shop Groupon for out-of-the-box and local attractions or events to knock off bucket lists. As Chloe of Off Hour Hustle recommends, “Look on unconventional websites such as Groupon or SlickDeals to find great deals on items for a fraction of the price!”

Consider giving service coupons to your loved ones. Think massages, homemade dinners, or household chores. How many parents do you know that could use a night off? Or help around the house? Pull out your handy-dandy printer and get creative. Your only limitation is your experience, but that’s what the university of YouTube is for.

Make memories at home with DIY that double as presents and decor. 

  • Make ornaments.
  • Knit a scarf or quilt a blanket. 
  • Build a wine bottle holder.
  • Create a cement planter.
  • Bake and get the kids in on the action.  Concerned about Covid-19? Covid isn’t a food-borne virus, meaning you can’t catch it through food you eat. But, there are certainly ways to reduce risks for the recipients. Check out Martha’s ways to safely bake.

Be strategic.

Be on the lookout for other free alternatives and things to do together. Fewer presents make the holiday more manageable, but not less meaningful.

Take advantage of credit card bonuses around the holidays.

Chloe explains, “Get a new credit card in order to get the signing bonus right around the holidays! There are many cards that you can get $100-200 back for spending $500 in three months, which equates to 20-40% cash back.”

Manage expectations with kids

Rather than focusing on the most hyped presents of the season or an irrelevant list from retailers on Black Friday, remember the fundamental equation:

 Child’s interest + child’s ability = great present. 

An art kit, train track, or raspberry pi for the future developer can be as fulfilling as a Baby Yoda animatronic, and frankly, more impactful developmentally. The possibilities are endless if you get creative and know your recipient. 

Another strategy for gifting:

Focus on lower price tags but higher value with the four  I-T-Y’s: 

  • Sentimentality
  • Quality
  • Continuity
  • Utility

One quality present that has sentimentality or utility may be worth more than random knick-knacks, closet-fillers, and stocking stuffers. Do yourself a favor by going through old photos. You can get those vintage gems restored, copied, digitized, and (most importantly!) printed. Yes, there are budget-friendly apps for that. Your friends and family will appreciate the sentimentality, utility, quality, and continuous joy that a photo brings, long after it’s unwrapped like a present.

Alternatively, create new memories by taking advantage of the high-quality cell phone camera with new at-home portraits and a tripod. Attach a meaningful note and send it with love.

Another strategy for optimizing gift-giving and expenses: communication.

This is groundbreaking, but why not take the guesswork out of gift-giving by asking? Set a boundary by vocalizing your limitations and managing expectations. Don’t sweat the lack of surprise, instead bask in the glory of increased satisfaction and reduced anxiety or disappointment.

Lastly, focus on your values. 

We’ve already mentioned that time is the most valuable present, but consider your values and your time. Shopping online may be the most efficient way to reduce shopping anxiety and price comparison. Best of all, purchases come prepackaged to doorsteps; there’s no need to worry about delivery.

Let’s wrap this up! Keep the big picture of your overall budget in view as you navigate the holiday season to give more, spend less, and reduce your stress. Make a plan, stick to your budget, and consider a savings fund to pay for gifts outright instead of loading up on credit debt. No layaway? Forgetting to save? Remember, has an app to help you budget and automate your savings. You can download it here for Android or iOS. Plus, you can always download this guide to the holidays.

Related Reads:

10 Ways to Save on Christmas

Free Downloadable Guide for Stressing Less and Saving More Over the Holidays

Defining Your Relationship with Money


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