With the end of the year popping up everyone will soon be making new year’s resolutions and most likely desire to finally get control of their finances. Stories about being generous givers will turn into stories about how to save money in your budget. Often there can be a lot of regret in how much money was spent over the holidays. There are a ton of articles that go into how to save money giving gifts. This is not that. This is about what you should ask for this Christmas to help your budget next year.
As an adult, you most likely get less gifts than you were a kid. For some people, this article might not apply if you are not able to ask for or receive gifts from family assuming they are still around. If you are though, use the opportunity to ask for gifts that give you value the entire year.
Keep in mind though, the person giving the gift has the complete right to get you what they choose. Ideally, they will listen to what you ask for, but as they are the ones giving the gift, it is up to them. Be thankful that you are receiving anything as you know full well what it is like to spend your money on someone else.
The Big Picture
While paying off $107K of debt we used every resource we could. If we received a pay raise or a bonus we threw that at the debt. We sold some stuff and put the proceeds towards debt. Erin worked on the side for extra money which went towards the debt. You see a theme here?
Now, how does this relate to gifts? Well, we looked at the big picture and figured out how we could use these ‘extra’ resources to our benefit. We realized that a gift card to a restaurant would help us spend less on food.
Instead of isolating each aspect of our finances we connected the dots and got creative. We thought of different ways we could stretch our budget over the year. This meant using the gifts we received during Christmas and our Birthdays to play a key role in that.
Also, for a successful Christmas you will want to stay out of debt this holiday season.
What You Should Ask For This Christmas
Here are a series of items that I suggest you think about. Some are practical, some are fun and some are both so let’s get to it.
This can be used 2 different ways. If you have no clue what you want you can keep your options open and use it at the right time. Just make sure to keep track of it though. The other option is that if you are really strapped you can use it to pay off some debt or put towards an emergency fund. There is no shame in doing that. In fact, it is a sign of maturity to do that.
2. Personal Items
This topic is less of a forte of mine but these are items that lots of people charge each year. These types of items can be basic to high end. If you have a weakness for something in here, this would be a good spot to ask for it such as a nice perfume or lotion. When you do get it use it sparingly during the year. Celebrate the use of it rather than use it up with little fanfare.
As a kid I always made fun of my Dad for asking for T-shirts or socks but now that I pay the bills, that is what I want. I’m looking quite forward to some socks this year.
- Hair Products
This is probably our most rewarding gift that we get each year. We get a Costco membership and a Zoo membership. A lot of memberships can be tough to justify the cost when trying to cut your budget. When you get it as a gift you don’t think of it that way. You can just enjoy having access to that venue or service for a year without feeling guilty.
Regarding the Amazon Prime Membership, if you cut your cable you can rely on Prime TV. That can impact two areas of your budget. No need to buy the membership and you can cut your cable. On a side note though, Prime membership is not a right. If you can’t afford it you can’t afford it. If you don’t get it for a gift you can manage to do free ground shipping while trying to get out of debt.
- Costco Membership
- Amazon Prime Membership
- Zoo Membership
- Museum Membership
4. Gift Cards
For many years I had a book problem. I bought lots of Architecture books that I couldn’t afford. This led to lots of credit card debt because I thought my credit limit was the same as my checking account. FYI, it isn’t.
When we started paying off debt I had to make changes. I used the opportunities of birthdays and Christmas to ask for Amazon gift cards for the sole purpose of buying books. With those gift cards, I can buy what I want. I ration them throughout the year. When I see something I can purchase it but I usually think pretty hard about using that gift card. The 72 hour rule is great for these instances. Knowing that I am limited to the gift cards for Amazon spending makes me think twice about using it though.
- Grocery stores
- Gift Card for Hair Appointments (some salons offer these)
5. Books on Money
If you are interested in getting a book on getting out of debt then it can feel weird spending money on a book that only tells you to not spend money. If you get it as a gift though it is easier to appreciate it and it can be life changing. If you still don’t want to spend money on it you can check your local library. If they don’t have what you are looking for you can request it.
Some books I recommend are:
- Total Money Make Over by Dave Ramsey
- Debt Free Living by Larry Burkett
- The Automatic Millionaire by David Bach
- The Millionaire Next Door by Thomas Stanley
- Your Money or Your Life by Vicki Robin
6. Gifts For Each Other
A great way to save money during your debt payoff is to not go on vacation. It isn’t so much that you save money but rather you don’t spend it or go further into debt. After a couple birthdays of trying to give as much as we could to each other we realized that we really valued day trips north rather than other gifts.
We started to have our gift to each other be a surprise trip planned just for that person. We had some memorable trips that I guarantee brought better memories than something else we would have asked for.
By consolidating birthdays/Christmas gifts and vacations it really helped keep our budget under control when we got the itch to get out of town.
Practical Gifts – Isn’t That Boring?
It might seem boring to ask for gifts that are more practical. The reality though is that being stuck in debt is no fun. I guarantee that you will be more thankful to be out of debt than receive what might seem fun now. Do you even remember what you received last year for Christmas?
Think about the big picture. You can temporarily enjoy the thing you cast aside later or you can enjoy knowing that you are taking care of business.
Honestly though, we find a ton of value in these gifts anyways so they aren’t boring to us. Practical doesn’t have to mean boring.
Make an Event of It
When we go to Costco it is a fun event. We eat in the food court for a cheaper meal out. We then walk around and get some samples and then go home. If we need diapers or formula this is the best place to get them.
We recently received a bread maker as a random gift and it sure has been fun. We get the big bag of bread flour from Costco and save a lot of money on it. Not everything is cheaper at Costco, but when you don’t feel the pressure to justify the membership you can just buy what truly is cheaper.
Going to the zoo is a great time for us. By planning our meals to eat before or after we get to spend time together and not money. It is nice to get out in the fresh air and enjoy watching our kids see the animals. Walking is good for you too. That item holds so much value for us.
It isn’t just about what you are doing with your time, but what you aren’t doing with your time. When you are saving money because you received the gift of a membership you aren’t spending money on something else. Think about that for a moment. It is obvious, but if each weekend you are going places and spending money it will add up negatively. If you are still spending time together each weekend using these gifted memberships and not spending money it adds up positively.
Maybe there are similar places you can go such as a local Science Center or Kids Museum. A lot of the time we want to get out of debt to make our kid’s lives better. What a great way to make their life better by spending time with them and not going into debt in the process. Honestly though, kids or no kids, make your life better by spending less than you earn and saving/paying off debt with the rest.
Getting back to the idea of looking at the whole picture it is easy to not see the connection between Christmas and your budget. During that first year of getting out of debt we started to realize that we could use those gifts to get the extra things that otherwise might have been cut.
By thinking creatively, we established some rules that were easy to follow such as only using Amazon gift cards for Architecture books or using a restaurant gift card for our one meal out a week. We then saw results that allowed our debt to go down and our happiness go up.