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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.)

Gifting season

Thanksgiving is now over, and Christmas season has begun — and unless you are way more proactive than most of us, that probably means you have some shopping (or making) to do. Some people are really easy to come up with gift ideas for, and some people, well, aren’t.

For the record, I do not have the gifting thing all figured out. There are a minimum of 10 people I get gifts for every year (this year will be 12 or 13), and every year someone’s gets left until the last minute. But between a big family and a lot of years of trying different things, I’ve come across a few tricks to make picking out presents easier.

For your sake, set a budget. Usually I set a rough budget for each person’s gift because otherwise I’ll struggle to cap my spending. This year, I’m trying something a bit different and setting an overall budget; this makes individual gifts more flexible, but keeps little bits of overspending from accumulating. (I usually keep it between $15 and $30 per person, but sometimes a particular gift demands more.)

Keep a list of gift ideas going. If you see something a few months early that’s perfect, get it. But if you’re in the car and they happen to mention needing or wanting something, or you just think of something great, write it down and go back to that list for later. There are a few people for whom I have a running list of ideas and when present time comes up, I just choose an item or two that feel most fitting.

Ask people what they want. For some people this effort will be fruitless (you know who you are), but a lot of people will actually give you an idea or two. And even if you can’t make the ideas they offer happen, it can spark another idea.

If people tell you specifically what they want, be sure to get that exactly. For example, my best friend is insanely helpful and because she knows I can struggle with gift ideas, will mention something she wants and where to get it, and usually sends out an organized, itemized, hyperlinked interactive PDF of her Christmas wishlist to the people who ask her for ideas. Then it’s exactly what she wants, and there’s no awkward waiting in the return line.

Go practical. Last Christmas, my mom and I were shopping for my boyfriend and we got him a couple of nice dress shirts and new ties since job interview season would be coming up fast. It’s not super exciting, but it’s useful, and something that is inconvenient to buy for oneself.

If you’re buying clothes, double check size and include a gift receipt. I know what size most of my immediate family and close friends are, but will check similar clothes in their closet (that I know they wear) for sizes if I’m in doubt.

If you don’t know them super well, food or movies. Movie theater certificates or semi-universal treat baskets (Trader Joe’s is my favorite place to put them together) are perfect and not expensive ways to get gifts for people you aren’t quite sure how to shop for but do want to gift something enjoyable to.

If they don’t need stuff, go for experiences. I’ve used this one a fair amount with people, and we’ll do dinner and a movie or a day trip to a place they really love. Then you get to spend time together and they don’t have any more stuff they don’t need.

If you’ve got a big category of people, do a category of gifts. When I was younger I would pick one craft and make a bunch for all of my grandparents every year (I grew up with at least 10 at any given time). One year it was framed prints of different photographs I had taken, one year it was super cute Christmas cookies. It doesn’t have to be crazy, but the fact that you made it helps it feel less generic even if you made a bunch.

Go splitsies. Sometimes there’s something I want to get for someone that’s out of my budget, so I’ll ask a mutual friend or family member if they want to split the gift with me. Especially since as an adult you’re responsible for more and more funding on your own, joint gifts can be super helpful.

If you suck at this, slow and steady. I am very slow to come up with gift ideas and get stressed if it’s left til the eleventh hour, so I start at least planning Christmas gifts a couple months early. This year I’m a little behind — which means one person is totally handled and three people are partly handled — but I’ll have more time than usual in December to shop, so I’m not too stressed.

I know that was a lot, but hopefully it’s helpful in the coming weeks of holiday prep. What have you found most helpful when getting presents for people? Let me know in a comment below, on Twitter @ohgrowup, or Instagram @oh.grow.up! (I’m actually super interested, because I’m gonna need ideas.) As always, thanks for reading, and good luck adulting!