Shopping·3 min read

How to set a holiday gift budget you can actually stick to

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November 4, 2019

The story

‘Tis the season for making your list, checking it twice…and trying not to go broke while you’re at it. If you’ve ever found yourself slam ordering gifts on December 23, you know that’s easier said than done.So we’re partnering with Bank of America to help you tackle your gift list without fa-la-la-losing your mind (or blowing your budget) this holiday season. 

Make your naughty and nice list. Then tier it.

Steal a page from Santa and spend some time making a list of all the people you want to buy presents for. Then get real with yourself about your budget. You don’t want to head into the new year totally broke, so settle on a number you can actually afford.

Once you’ve got that total in mind, break your shopping list into spending tiers: Tier 1 is for your closest people who you really want to spoil. Tier 2, 3, and onwards (ok, why are you so popular?) are still important, but not necessarily your ride or dies. 

Talk it out.

Once you’ve tiered your list, tell your giftees you’re planning to get them something, and give them a rough sense of your budget. (A quick e-mail’s fine if it feels too awkward IRL.) Sure, it takes away some of the spontaneity, but it also helps avoid potential weirdness for everyone, like when your new-ish significant other goes big and you’ve only planned on a Christmas morning text. It’s not about being a grinch. It’s about establishing mutual expectations early on. So...

  • For work: Try setting up an office-wide cookie swap, so you’re not pressured to buy something for Susan in accounting.

  • For your circle of friends: Do a White Elephant exchange to keep budgets reasonable.

  • For your family: Suggest only getting gifts for the kids, because mom’s definitely returning that sweater anyway. 

Bonus: If you’re the one to initiate the conversation, you can help set the terms. 

Embrace the spreadsheet.

Marie Kondo meets Buddy the Elf. Here are some basics to include: 

  • Who you’re shopping for, organized by tier

  • All of your gift ideas for each person 

  • Your target budget per person 

Every time you buy a present, take the time to note it on your list, specifying exactly what you spent. Make your purchases online so that you get confirmation emails and have an easy way to track. That helps you make sure you stay within your overall budget, and avoid 11th hour freakouts when you realize you tooootally forgot to get something for your mom. 

Apps like Giftster and Santa’s Bag let you track all of your gift plans in one easy spot, and let you see what your friends are asking for.

Get smart about shopping. 

There’s a reason why you take the time to do all of that planning up front. Hint: it’s so don’t go rogue when it’s time to get down to business. Hiii, random stocking stuffers. Tell yourself you’re going to stick to your plan like tape sticks to wrapping paper. Here’s a holiday miracle for you: you can earn money on your gift list by using a rewards credit card, like the Cash Rewards card from Bank of America. It has a low introductory offer of 0% APR for the first 15 months, so you won’t have to pay interest on the gifts you’re buying until 2021. Plus, you can earn 3% cash back on things you’re already buying in the category of your choice. So, you could choose to earn 3% cash back for online purchases in November and December, then switch it to dining or travel in January. Treat yourself with that extra cash, and not even Santa would judge you for it. 


The holidays can be magical...or they can turn you into an absolute stress ball. Crush your gift giving plan this year and hit everyone on your list, while earning rewards along the way. 

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