Gifting for Families this Holiday Season

‘Tis the year for online shopping. Or maybe you’re ready to don your mask and brave the mall crowd. This has been a hard year for many families — and you might have had some financial setbacks yourself. 

Here’s how to brave the holiday season on a more limited budget than usual.

How to Budget for Gift Ideas 

Whether you’re ordering all online or braving the stores this year, check out a few ideas for outlining how you’ll plan, organize and pay for gifts for your loved ones.

Step 1: Figure out what’s at the top of everyone’s wish list.

Stop guessing about what you think everyone “might” want and start asking. That’s all there is to it. That way, you don’t waste money (or your time) on junk nobody needs or wants. Take a look at Giftster. You can add items, share gift preferences and family members can mark items purchased to avoid duplicates. (List makers can’t see this part.) It’s a great way to organize the holidays and it’s really convenient.

Step 2: Make a list of how much everything costs.

From the list, determine how much each family member requests for holiday gifts. One family member might have an expensive gaming system on the list, another might have a (much cheaper) sweater. Take a look at the various options on Giftster so you know just about how much you’ll spend ahead of time.

Step 3: Try to keep the amount you spend the same for everyone. 

It’s tricky to keep the amount you spend the same if your son asks for a Power Wheels Jeep and your daughter asks for a light-up hairbrush. (Major price difference!) However, do your best to try to make it even so you budget the same amount of money for everyone. It helps you plan how much you intend to spend. Plus, it ups the fairness factor. 

Step 4: Organize your shopping to fit your pay schedule.

Figure out how much you’ll get paid during December and coordinate your paycheck with your shopping sprees. That way, you won’t be inundated with any surprises. 

Get started early if possible. Then, next year, make a plan to start shopping for holiday gifts in July! Go ahead — put it on your calendar now and buy at least three gifts per month. Won’t it feel so good to spread out the expenditures and have all your holiday shopping done by October?

Step 5: Make a list, then curb impulse buys.

Make a careful list of the things you plan to buy and vow to stick to your original list. Otherwise, you’ll end up buying more than you planned. (Kind of like going to the grocery store when you’re hungry — just don’t do it!)

If you find yourself looking at something you know your child will really love that isn’t on the list, try to shuffle around items on your list or employ a delay mechanism. 

A delay mechanism is a mental checklist devised to get you thinking about why you’re making each purchase. Take the time to mentally go through these questions before you make your purchase:

  • Should I buy this item at this particular store or on this website? (Can I find a better deal elsewhere?)
  • How do I feel about this purchase?
  • Does my loved one really need this item? Why?
  • What if I wait to see if he or she gets the same thing from someone else during the holidays?
  • Can I reshuffle the budget to include this item?
  • Where will I put it?

How to Choose Budget-Friendly Gifts 

Now that you’ve got a plan, let’s get into how to choose budget-friendly gifts.

Step 1: Curb your itch to purchase expensive gifts.

Expensive gifts aren’t always kids’ favorites! For example, my kids love Magna-Tiles for approximately $50 a box. I’ve added to their collection over the years and it’s been a far more popular present than other items I’ve purchased for them — including a really expensive dollhouse for my daughter (she plays with that about once per year). 

Kids love inexpensive gifts, too, and if you listen closely to some of the things your kids want, you’ll realize that they ask for inexpensive gifts, too. 

Step 2: Listen to the requests, then research a cheaper alternative.

There’s always a cheaper alternative. Let’s say your child wants an iPad. Get a Fire 7 Kids Edition instead. A year of Amazon Kids+ (FreeTime Unlimited) gives your kids access to over 20,000 apps, games, books, videos, audiobooks, and educational content from PBS Kids, Nickelodeon, Disney and more for only $59.99 on Amazon.

Let’s say your child wants a brand new room. DIY it! Encourage your child to get involved in the process. Look for a Habitat for Humanity ReStore chandelier for your daughter’s room, paint old furniture and put together a patchwork quilt yourself.

Think through the ways you can make things cost less.

Step 3: Limit the number of gifts you give per person.

Gift-giving can get out of hand quickly. (We don’t need to tell you that — you already know!) One way to combat this is to sit your kids down and let them know ahead of time that there will be a limit on the number of gifts you buy for each person.

And for your extended family, communicate your ideas to limit gifts so no one feels slighted or upset during the holidays.

Step 4: Sift between needs and wants.

Your children, nieces and nephews and other youngsters you normally buy for may want gadgets and gizmos, but are they really necessary? 

Doesn’t your child really need clothes and new gym shoes? A new comforter for his bed? A new backpack for school? Kids outgrow everything so fast — take stock of whether your child’s stash of holey shoes and threadbare socks need to take priority over more toys. 

In general, it’s a good idea to consider needs versus wants, then teach your kids the difference, too.

Choose the Gift of Education

Again, shove aside iPads, new toys and more for a second and ask yourself whether your child really needs them. What does he or she really need?

Doesn’t your child really need college money? 

Absolutely! There’s never been a better time to save for education.

1: Give a few small gifts, then devote the rest to UNest.

Consider giving each of your kids the toy he or she wanted, a pair of pajamas, a book and a new movie, then devote the rest of the money you have to UNest. In less than five minutes, you can open a UNest investment account. You can also get the right investment options tailored exactly to your child’s age, and you can open an account for just $25 per month. 

You can also get rewards when you buy from brands you love!

2: You can extend this invitation to friends and family, too.

The holidays are the perfect time to invite friends and family to contribute money to your kids’ UNest account for the holidays. 

Also, why stick to just the holidays? It works for special occasions as well!

3: Watch the money grow.

You’ll be simply amazed as you watch your kids’ college savings increase. It goes from $0 to $1,000 so fast no matter how much you contribute per month. Imagine what your savings can do over the course of 10 years, particularly if you have your child’s loved ones contribute as well. 

4. Learn about how to get college paid for.

Yes, you sure can start a college fund through UNest. But did you know that there’s a lot more involved in getting college paid for? Colleges offer merit-based scholarships, your community offers outside scholarships, the U.S. Department of Education offers federal grants and more! Brush up on everything you need to know about scholarships, financial aid and more with College Money Tips’ Essential Timeline and Checklist for the College Search.  

Give Great Gifts — and Gifts for Education

When you’re looking for holiday gifts, it’s natural to want your kids to have everything, including electronics, pricey sports gear, toys and more. 

If you think it’s going to be impossible to purchase as much as you did last year, focus on what you can do together — particularly the holiday rituals you can do together that are most meaningful to you, such as baking cutout cookies, donating small gifts to children in need or volunteering at a food pantry. Many of these traditions cost less than large gifts and are often more satisfying than spending lots of money.

This is also a great year to create new, inexpensive traditions as well. If you always used to go to a show or performance every December, consider creating one yourself this year, complete with homemade construction paper hats and clothes from Grandma’s attic. It’s the year to get creative! 

Above all else, don’t forget to provide for your kids’ education for just $25 per month through UNest.