Balancing the Budget

Hi all!  I’m sure that, like me, many of you are starting (or finishing, you early birds) your holiday shopping. And probably also like me, a lot of you are finding this time of year a little rough on the bank account.  In the past couple of years, I’ve gawked at my low balance and/or high credit card charges in January like I was waking up after some kind of month-long shopping binge. I think that because I live far away from my family, I sometimes try to make up for the time we’re not together my spending money, instead of really focusing on what the gift is.


I decorated this beautiful thing, after buying it from a Canadian on the sidewalk.

So here are a couple of tips from a seasoned shopper to make sure that the good feelings you’re generating while buying and wrapping those presents don’t dissolve into tears and regret when you’re paying the bills in January.

  1. Make a list. The importance of this cannot be ignored. If you have your list of people, you won’t be tempted once you’re out shopping to buy for people who don’t make the list. This way, you can also write down what you buy those people and keep track of who you have left to buy for.
  2. Set a firm dollar amount. I’m buying Christmas presents for my brand-new nephew this year, so I knew that I’d be a little crazy around the baby stuff this year. But I wrote down how much I wanted to spend on him next to his name, so when I saw the cute little onesie that said Anarchy in the Pre-K, I was able to pass it up without too much longing. (He did wind up with a pair of pjs with alligators on them, a felt rhino ornament, and a book called My First Superman Book.)
  3. Buy it when you see it. This is, hands down, my biggest problem when I shop for Christmas presents. Call it a commitment problem, but even if I see a gift and think, “Oh that would be perfect for my mom!” I still cannot buy it, because what if something more perfect exists somewhere else? Now, when I see the perfect gift, I give myself a time limit. Okay, Erin, that’s exactly what you were looking for for your sister-in-law; you have 10 minutes to check out other stands here, and then you’re coming back and making a decision. (I do most of my shopping at the Union Square Holiday Market, so it’s easy to wander a little before making the decision.)
  4. Save your receipts. This way, if you do start to get a little panicky about what you’ve spent, you can go over the numbers and say, “Oh, yeah, I’ve spent $150 already, but I only have 2 more people to buy for, so I’m looking good.”
  5. Take a break when you’re out shopping. If you’re really focused on shopping, you can drop quite a bit of money in a short amount of time, and that gets a little dangerous…it’s like the money doesn’t matter any more. So after you spend a certain dollar amount, or buy a certain number of things, take a break. If you’re doing your shopping by car, take a drive through a neighborhood and look at lights and yard decorations before hitting the next store. If you’re doing it online, step away from the screen and have a Christmas music dance break. Or if, like me, you do your Christmas shopping in a market full of little interesting stalls, go to the one selling crazy hats and try a couple on. Do something that keeps you happy and positive and in the spirit, but allows your brain to recharge a little bit from the spending.

(And if you need some gift ideas, I suggest checking out Helena’s picks over at She did a great series of etsy collections that shouldn’t be missed!)

So tell me, wise blog readers, what are your shopping skills that help you avoid the post-shopping hangover?



  1. We always talk about what we want to get each person before we start shopping. Rarely will I just go out and wander without any ideas. If I don’t have something specific in mind, I set a price range — no more than $20 or $30 or whatever. Helps us make sure we’re sticking to a budget that’s comfortable and doesn’t leave a big hole in the bank account come January…

    I also immediately apply cash rewards from our credit card back toward the balance, so it’s also less of a hit on the bank acct. (Just can’t fool yourself into thinking it’s free money…)

    1. The cash back thing is a good idea. Someday I will get to the point where I feel financially confident enough to use a credit card again…:)

      1. Yeah, I had it drilled into me as a kid/teen that I should never buy anything with my credit card that I don’t have the money to pay for immediately. But I can definitely understand the temptation to overspend. We use ours for gas, groceries, pizza, the things we would be buying anyway… but don’t feel bad for not using one, everyone’s got their financial guns to stick to.

  2. Great tips for the holidays. I have problems with two and three, especially three. I can never decide what to buy people. Then I go overboard.

    I love going to the holiday market. But it’s also very hard to walk away without buying too much for everyone–including myself!

    1. This year, I put myself on my list! I bought some loose tea from Spice & Tease, and my now traditional wooden Santa ornament…I can’t believe this is my fifth Christmas in the city!

  3. […] morning! This week I wrote a series of posts on balancing the past and future. Today’s post is all about the […]

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