The Gift Budget

by Sarah Collins

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When it comes to gifting, the holiday season gets most of the attention. Advice on surviving the so-called giving season without breaking the bank abounds and with good reason as many of us spend hundreds of dollars on gifts in the month of December alone. But what about the rest of the year? If you take a moment to add up the birthdays, anniversaries, and other occasions that dot the rest of the calendar, you may be stunned by how quickly these sporadic gifts add up. We all want to celebrate the special people and moments in our lives, but few of us can, or want to, shoulder the reality of these expenses. So what can you do about it? The answer is surprisingly simple.

Make a List

As with any type of budgeting, the first thing you need to do is write down where your money goes. Flip through the calendar and make a list of everything: birthdays, anniversaries, Mother's Day, Thanksgiving, and any other days that you typically spend money on. Include all occasions that you commemorate, even if it's just with a card, to get a true picture of your spending. If you host parties or dinners and don't incorporate the cost of these in your food budget, then this is the place to add them in. Once you have a good working list, start attaching a dollar amount to each item. If you don't know what you actually spent last year, write down what you would normally plan to spend for each event. Then grab a calculator and add it up. The total may shock you.

Check It Twice

Once you have an accurate idea of how much you're really spending, take a closer look at your list. If you can cut your numbers in half, that's a great place to start. Be mindful of the fact that unexpected expenses will pop up in your gift budget just as they do in your household budget, so leave room for the graduation or the baby shower that you weren't able to plan for. Sometimes just being aware of how much money you're spending is enough to bring out the bargain hunter within. If not, a careful inspection of your list may reveal that there are people listed who don't need gifts after all. For a lot of folks, a thoughtful card with a handwritten message is much more valuable than prepackaged potential clutter, no matter how beautifully you wrap it. In many cases, the mere act of recognizing a special day is enough, and there's no shame in sending a greeting card instead of a gift, especially to a friend or relative who still hasn't acknowledged the gift you sent last year.

An Easy Advantage

Now that you're organized, stay on top of the game with a perpetual calendar. By definition, it's a calendar or list of the days of each month without a day of the week attached. Both practical and infinitely useful, it's a relative gold mine for remembering or planning ahead for birthdays and anniversaries. You can keep it on display year-round or simply pull it out with the new year and transfer the information to your regular calendar. They make great gifts, too, so consider filling one in for a forgetful friend or an elderly family member for a thoughtful, inexpensive gift that they'll use again and again.

The True Benefits

With the ease of planning ahead, you can put a stop to those last minute, guilt-ridden splurges at the stores and opt instead for heartfelt, personal choices that don't have to cost nearly as much. The value of knowing the actual expense of year-round gifting is more than just the money you'll save. Being able to remember your loved ones with thoughtful gifts that don't leave your bank account in shambles has double the bang for the buck. You'll feel great about what you're giving and even better about the smart financial decisions you're making. In our budget-friendly homes, those are two things that are certainly worth celebrating!

Sarah Collins and her husband have five children, ages nine to new. As a one-income family, they are always in search of new ways to save money and not feel deprived by their "less is more" lifestyle.

Take the Next Step:

  • Put a stop to those last minute, guilt-ridden splurges at the stores. Take advantage of the time remaining until the upcoming holiday season to look for heartfelt, personal choices that don't have to cost nearly as much.

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