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.


College Savings Calculator is a hypothetical tool that demonstrates how monthly contributions, age-based asset rebalancing, and tax savings may impact the long-term value of your account, and do not take into account a portfolio’s underlying investment management fees. Calculations assume the private institution cost inflation is 2.8%, public out of state cost inflation is 3.9%, public in state cost inflation is 2.7%. Portfolio is assumed to have only stocks and bonds. Monthly equity returns are based on the historical data from the 10-year track record of the stock market (SPY). Monthly fixed income returns are based on the historical data from the 10-year track record of the bond market index (AGG). The current college expenses are provided by the Actual account performance may differ due to market fluctuations, changes in recurring investments, and asset allocation. The information provided here is for illustrative purposes only and does not represent actual or future performance of any investment option and is not intended to predict or project the investment performance of any security or index.

Ksenia Yudina, CFA, MBA

Founder and CEO

Ksenia is the Founder and CEO of U-Nest, the first mobile app that makes it easy for families to save for college. As an entrepreneur and finance professional, Ksenia has focused on alleviating the impact of student debt on families across the economic spectrum. Previously, Ksenia was a Vice President atCapital Group/American Funds, the largest 529 provider in the U.S. In this role, she played a leadership role in helping parents plan and manage their finances, with a focus on the future well-being of their children. Prior to Capital Group/American Funds, she was founder of a residential real estate company. Ksenia earned her bachelor’s degree in finance from CaliforniaState University Northridge, and an MBA from UCLA’s Anderson School of Management.

Mike Van Kempen

Chief Operating Officer

Mike joined U-Nest in September 2019 as COO. He was previously at Acorns, a financial wellness platform, where he spearheaded the analytics and growth initiatives. Mike successfully expandedAcorns’ paid acquisition strategy, adding over 4.5 million investment accounts. Mike began his career in strategy & analytics at Belly, a Chicago-based loyalty startup in 2012. At Belly, Mike led projects that fueled growth across all aspects of the business, growing the customer base from1,000 to over 11,000 merchants, and accumulating a membership of over 2 million customers.Mike holds a B.B.A. in Finance from Loyola University of Chicago.

Steve Buchanan

Chief Technology Officer

Steve has over 20 years of experience in delivering digital innovations in the financial sector. Steve previously orchestrated product architecture and innovation as a Solutions Architect/ Fintech consultant at Union Bank. Prior to Union Bank, he was Chief Architect and Director of Engineering at Calypso, a Silicon Valley startup, where he architected and built multiple financial solutions. He was also Head of Global Integrations at Globe One in Vietnam where he integrated its Peer-to-Peer lending products into core banking solutions. Steve also built the first ever electronic Equities &Equity Options trading systems for Scottish stock brokers Wood Mackenzie (acquired by CountyNatWest). He is a graduate of Edinburgh University.

Peter Mansfield

Chief Marketing Officer

Peter has built an impressive track record in multiple financial industry segments including payments, credit/prepaid cards and lending. He has played an instrumental role at a succession of financial industry leaders, co-founding companies such as Brand3 (acquired by American Express) and PropertyBridge (acquired by Moneygram), and, as the early stage marketing lead at Marqeta (where he was team member number two), BillFloat and WallabyFinancial (acquired by Bankrate).He has helped fast-growth companies reach an aggregate market value of close to $8 billion. Peter holds a bachelor’s degree in economics from the University of Angila, UK.

Sonya Kidman

Client Relationship Manager

Sonya Kidman is a Customer Success professional with a decade of experience in advocating for consumer through user research and genuine empathy. Sonya specializes in user behavior and regularly attends national and global training sessions in wellness and people analytics tools. Sonya is a true global citizen was born in Russia, grew up in Israel, lived and worked in Canada and NewZealand. That global expertise along with an undergraduate degree in Sociology from Tel AvivUniversity have helped to shape a bullet-prof Sonya's framework to develop a winning customer strategy.

Frank Mastrangelo

Board Member

One part banker and one part technologist, Frank spent his early days with the Annenberg Foundation and PNC Bank. His career path led him to Jefferson Bank, where he led the build-out of its electronic banking platforms, and where he would forge a powerful alliance with The Bancorp co-founder Betsy Z. Cohen. As President and COO of The Bancorp from its inception in 1999 Frank played a critical role in helping the organization become an industry bellwether for branchless financial services and a global leader in payments. For this, he has become a widely respected fintech expert, and thought-leader. Frank was recognized in 2013 by Banking Innovation, a leading industry journal, as an “Innovator to Watch.” and as one of the innovators shaping the future of banking. Frank is a graduate of West Chester University of Pennsylvania.