So you blew your budget

Despite meticulous, careful planning, I seriously blew my Christmas shopping budget this year. The biggest reason is that family grew on a few sides — like, last year I bought 12 or 13 gifts total and this year I bought 26 just for family. Plus some gifts cost more than expected, and being busy meant I didn’t make as many presents this year as I usually do.

None of those things are bad, but as someone who is very careful and intentional about finances, it does create a bit of a dilemma. Luckily I’ve found a few things that help bridge the gap.

First, the standard disclaimer that I knew everyone’s financial situation is different, which can make well-intentioned gift giving even trickier than finding the right idea. We all want to give something the person will enjoy and feels nice, but don’t want to break the bank or go too extravagant.

For emerging adults in particular, we’re usually considered grown-up enough to be expected to choose/buy gifts for people on our own, but often non financially established enough to be able to comfortably afford that. Which proves a sticky situation this time of year.

Also, I have some issues with the materialism and the contractualism that have seeped into the holiday season for so many of us, but at the end of the day, I still like giving loved ones gift that hopefully make them happy in some way. So we’ll start off with some ways to save when holiday shopping:

  • Gifts in bulk. I hate giving duplicate gifts, but I also have a crap ton of family. My way around this is usually to choose a category of gift and then try to individualize them for each person. For example, personalized ornaments or a batch of sweets with a note about why I’m grateful for them.
  • DIY when wise. Sometimes, DIY can prove more expensive and more time-consuming than just buying, but if you can do it cost-effectively, it can mean a lot to people that you made something for them rather than just going to the store and buying it.
  • Memories over stuff. Connecting a small gift to a memory or meaningful moment can be a lot more special for a loved one than stuff at all. Experiences, photographs, or even their favorite candy bar with a note show that you care about and know them, not just that you can buy stuff for them.

Sometimes, of course, it’s too late to save. Or just plain hard. I could have gone less overboard with Christmas shopping this year, but I’m not sure I could have stayed in budget, and the closer I got the more I’d be unsure if I was getting each person enough (again, the contractualism thing). So what about after the budget has already been blown?

Here are the most useful methods I’ve found for recovering from going over budget:

  • Cut back in other flexible areas (aka fun stuff). I went over budget on Christmas shopping, so I won’t get to eat out for, like, a couple months. I still have to eat and I’m not going to avoid all fun activities, but I am cutting back quite a bit on what was already a small budget (fun spending makes up about 10% of my monthly budget).
  • See if there are areas you can redistribute. I overspent on Christmas this month but needed way less gas than usual. So I moved some funds around in my budget and brought the deficit down a little.
  • If it’s worth it, it’s okay to pull a little from savings once in a while. Savings isn’t meant to be hoarded forever — but it is meant to be used with careful discretion. I try to save 30% of my income every month (and fully realize that isn’t possible for everyone, though saving some is), and try to only dip into it for large expenses like a vacation — still, of course, setting limits on how much. But I put a little less into savings this month so I know that it’s covered, and because I’ve already saved carefully and doing so doesn’t threaten my emergency fund.
  • Don’t compromise what you shouldn’t. Your bills still have to get paid. For me, how much I donate to charity or people in need every month is also non-negotiable, and not something that consumerism (no matter how holiday-themed) gets to threaten. Those things come first, period.
  • Adjust your budget so you don’t do it again. Few categories of purchase are truly one-time things. So if something ends up costing more than you realized, adjust your budget accordingly so that next time you’re ready. In my case, I’ll be cutting back slightly on fun spending throughout the year as well as lowering the budget for each gift to make sure I’m in a better spot next year.

How do you avoid going over budget, and how do you handle it when you do? Let me know in a comment below, on Twitter @ohgrowup, or Instagram @oh.grow.up! Thanks for reading, and have a warm and happy holiday season!

(Photo is a free stock photo because I am definitely not done wrapping gifts.)

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