Always Track Your Holiday Spending

One sure way to blow your holiday budget is to avoid tracking what you spend.

This may sound like common sense, but really, it’s not.

Many people do shopping for multiple people at once, often having a list of multiple things for those people.  Unless you are uber-prepared and know exactly what every item is going to cost before you buy it, then you will probably be doing shopping in the following fashion:

  1. Gift 1 for Person A
  2. Gift 1 for Person B
  3. Gift 2 for Person B
  4. Gift 1 for Person C
  5. Gift 2 for Person A

And it goes on and on….

Even if you walk into the mall with a person-by-person budget, unless you track your spending immediately after making a purchase, you will go over.

I guarantee this.

I often go on a power-shopping spree for my wife, trying to get all of my buying done at once.  Since I usually get a few different things, I’ve burned myself more than once by underestimating what I spent.

I’ll set off with a budget of, say, $200, go in and spend $60 at the first store, then $40 at the second.  After spending $30 at the third, if I haven’t written down exactly what I’ve spent, I’ll start forgetting about sales tax and oh crap, it completely slipped my mind that I got a stocking stuffer at the second store that really made it $47.  By the time I get to the fifth store, I’ll have a general idea of what I spent, but once I get home, the total amount is a surprise, and not one that keeps me within budget.

My advice is to take a small notepad, or use your smartphone, and take a running total of what you’re spending on each person.  With time in short supply, it may seem like you can’t afford the time to stop after each store, but I can assure you, that from a budget standpoint, you can’t afford not to.

What tips do you have to stick to your holiday budget?

9 thoughts on “Always Track Your Holiday Spending”

  1. We set a gift budget for each month. That way we have money allotted for bdays, christmas etc. We then just divvy that amount up between however many people we need to buy for that month. Works out well.

  2. My tip is just don't buy gifts. Just kidding! 🙂 I usually calculate starting in the summer months (not kidding!) how much I want/can spend per person and open a savings account just for Christmas budget.

  3. Holiday gift buying is a great way to introduce kids to the concept of budgeting. They are usually excited about shopping and can learn to keep track of their spending.

  4. We do the things your other commenters do, also. Aloysa, the not buying gifts idea comes up every year,we laugh and then don't do it. I love internet shopping-easier to keep up with what you spend, avoid the madness and keep the holiday spirit.

  5. Completely agree with Dr. Dean on the internet shopping. It's so much easier, and since you use a credit card to make your purchases, you can automatically add up your spending in Mint, or your own spreadsheet.

  6. I keep a very specific, detailed list for each person including a rough estimate of the price. We have a pretty concrete budget due to the volume of gifts we need to buy (not to mention a birthday party to plan) in December. If we don't track, our budget completely breaks loose.

  7. @MissT – We haven't gotten into non-Christmas gift budgeting as well yet, but that's hopefully a future goal 🙂

    @Aloysa – Bah humbug! 🙂

    @Pam – Our oldest is two and a half. I definitely look forward to teaching our kids about money and budgeting!

    @Dr Dean – Internet shopping is definitely a way to avoid a lot of stress.

    @Money for College – We use a spreadsheet for everything. I can't abide by the rules and categories that Mint or Quicken make you use after having used my own system for 10+ years.

    @Jana – We set a person-by-person budget. Sometimes we go under or over on a person, which usually lets our total budget number stay relatively close to the original estimate.

  8. I have never kept track of my gift giving with a budget before and of course always end up spending more for one person than another. What a great idea! I have no idea what I spent last year, so this sure would be nice to track spending over the years. Thank you!

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