Successfully Plan for Holiday Shopping on a Budget [Downloadable Budget Sheet]

‘Tis the season to be jolly! ‘Tis the season for the gifts, decorations, family, friends, and children on their best behavior. ‘Tis the season for overloaded shopping bags, impulse buying, and credit card bills. Wait! That doesn’t sound as cheery.

close-up of wrapped holiday gifts, red and gold wrapping

In 2016, according to a survey conducted by The American Research Group Inc., Americans spent an average of $929 on holiday gifts alone. That doesn’t take into account what people are spending on food, decorations, and more! It’s incredibly easy to get swept up in the excitement of the holiday season, but it only means you have to pay for it in the reality of the New Year. But don’t “Bah Humbug” the season away, because with a little planning and little will-power you can complete your holiday shopping on a budget – stress-free!

Start Saving Early

Holiday shopping on a budget is easy when you save for it all year long. A savings “club” allows you to deposit a dollar amount of your choice into a dedicated savings account each week, for an entire year. Your funds are then automatically distributed into your regular share account just in time for the holiday shopping season! At Lancaster Red Rose, our holiday savings club runs from October 1 – October 1.

Peace of Mind

The best part about using an automatic savings account is that all the work is done for you. It truly is “set it and forget it.”

Use a holiday budget worksheet (see our example below!) to determine how much you’ll spend throughout the season. With that total in mind, choose a dollar amount to transfer from an existing savings or checking account or from your direct deposit each week. Consider how much you can grow your holiday shopping budget if you put away $10, $25 or $50 each week.

holiday savings accounts

Celebrate Debt Free

A survey from Magnify Money showed that Americans added $1,003 in holiday debt, on average, in 2016. Debt that, they believe, will take them over four months to pay off. Perhaps the most “cheerful” benefit of automatic savings accounts is that you can cut down considerably, or eliminate completely, on the amount of debt you’ll carry on your credit cards.

Protect Your Money… from Yourself

We all succumb to an impulse buy every now and then. Another benefit of automatic savings accounts is that your money grows in a dedicated account that can’t be depleted. While you can withdraw your holiday funds earlier than the distribution date, you will have to pay a fee. This should be enough to encourage to keep your savings in place.

Make a List

… And check it twice. Holiday shopping on a budget is more realistic when you can have a plan and stick to it. To help you out along the way, we’ve developed this holiday budget template that you can download, for free. With this template, you can keep track of all your necessary purchases and track them against your available funds.

click to download


Start by writing down your holiday budget – the amount you feel comfortable spending on gifts. Next, add the names of everyone you wish to purchase gifts for, along with your gift ideas and an estimation of the costs. If you find that your list is growing beyond your budget, you can make the necessary changes before you hit the stores. This list will give you direction and help you avoid making random purchases that don’t make sense financially.

Holiday Shopping Online and In Stores

Tip #1: Don’t Be Fooled by the “BIG SALE!”

Retailers use phrases like “Biggest Shopping Day of the Year” or “Lowest Prices of the Season” to entice you to shop their sales immediately. But beware, these sales are not always the best deals. The biggest offender is Black Friday. While Black Friday does boast some incredible deals, it is not necessarily the day to find the best price on every item. Retailers know that this is the day when shoppers are hungry for a deal and ready to spend.

If you have a big ticket item on your shopping list, research the pricing now, before the holiday frenzy kicks in, so you have a point of a reference to compare to the “big sales” prices.

It’s also important to approach holiday sales with a bit of skepticism. There’s a reason a retailer can afford to sell a big screen TV for $65 and it’s probably because the brand is an unknown and it may not be a quality product.

Tip #2: Let the Deals Come to You

When you’re holiday shopping on a budget, discount and coupon codes can go a long way towards making your dollars stretch.

Sign up for promotional emails from the stores you shop at most often. Around the holidays, emails that offer percentage savings, BOGO deals, or free shipping will your hit your inbox daily. Pay attention to what kinds of deals each retailer offers on a regular basis. There’s no sense in jumping on a 20% off coupon when you know this retailer has offered 40-60% off savings in the past.

Free shipping can be a lifesaver when you’re holiday shopping on a budget. Nothing can blow your budget more than shipping costs. Look for online retailers that offer:

  • Free shipping on delivery and returns
  • In-store pick up
  • In- store returns

Most importantly, don’t procrastinate! Most online stores have free shipping or standard shipping cut-off dates. If you shop too late you’ll be paying for two-day or overnight express shipping which can really cost you.

Tip #3: Avoid Store Credit Cards

It seems like every store offers its own credit card these days, and each one promises discounts or special offers. The problem is that many of these discounts come with a high interest rate, percentages from the mid-teens and into the twenties. And though they often come with “no interest for 12 months” introductory promotions, if you don’t pay off your balance in that time period, that interest rate will quickly catch up with you.

Additionally, store cards can have a negative impact on your credit score. Credit scores are measured by the amount of debt you have as well as the amount of debt you can potentially amass. So every credit card you apply for represents more dollars you potentially have to repay.

Black Friday Shopping Tips

Many retailers offer their Black Friday ads online before they are delivered in your newspaper. When you’re holiday shopping on a budget, these websites to can keep you in in-the-know on the all the latest holiday deals.

1. BFAds

It starts with the countdown clock that tells you exactly how much time is left until Black Friday 2017! The site navigation is incredibly easy. You can choose to visit a page dedicated to each major retailer or search hot deal categories, like apparel, cell phones, or cameras.

The best part of this site is that it includes scans of each retailer’s Black Friday, Cyber Monday, weekly ad or toy book circulars. They also have created a series of Buying Guides that break down all you need to know about choosing the best camera, tablet or HDTV, along with lists of the best video games and top toys of the season. You can also sign-up to receive emails with the latest Black Friday sneak peeks.

2. Deal News

Deal News breaks their Black Friday sneak peek page into really user-friendly sections. Not only can you find the latest retailer deals, as they are released, they also provide Product Guides to help you make an informed decision, and get the best savings, on many of this year’s high-tech, in-demand gifts. Whether it’s a new laptop, tablet or gaming system, they’ll have you talking processors, consoles, and gigabytes like a pro. You’ll also find deals broken out by category, so you can easily compare dealers from various retailers on anything from a new pair of boots to a new microwave.

3. The Black Friday

The name says it all! Although this site is a little bit “busy” it offers a lot of great information. It showcases all the holiday shopping deals, released to date, by top retailers and allows you to browse either by the retailer or by gift categories. What The Black Friday also does well is outlining sales that take place outside of the big day, with pre-Black Friday sales, Cyber Monday and Green Monday savings as well. They also have complete information on store hours and which retailers have chosen to be open or closed on Thanksgiving Day.

Before the big shopping days, take the time to check and compare prices online. Also be sure to check reviews on any products or brands you may be unfamiliar with or unsure of. Reviews are a super helpful way to determine if something is worth buying or not.

Do you have your plans for holiday shopping prepared? What are your best tips for Black Friday shopping? Share with us below!

Kara Vincent
Kara Vincent

Kara Vincent is the Financial Officer at Lancaster Red Rose Credit Union.