A Christmas Budgeting Carol


In Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, Scrooge gets visited by three ghosts, Christmas Past, Present, and Future. The ghosts show Scrooge his mistakes and what his future could be like if he continues in his terrible ways. While I cannot perfectly predict what your financial future will look like, I do want to share some Past, Present, and Future budgeting tips.

Ghost of Budgeting Past

You didn’t plan (like I suggest in this past OBM post). You did not save a little each month for the holidays and are now stressed about buying gifts for your kids, parents, siblings, kids’ teachers, and your neighbor who just brought over homemade cookies. Or maybe you are beginning to put more on your credit card than you feel comfortable. Take a deep breath and let’s trouble shoot. Here are some ideas you can do RIGHT NOW to help keep your holiday budget in check. 

Ghost of Budgeting Present

Right now there are some tricks you can do to keep the holidays from waking you up to a financial nightmare in 2018.

  • Envelope system for gifts. Some people divide their paychecks into actual envelopes to help them budget for expenses like groceries, coffee, cable bills, etc. You can divide money into envelopes for each person that you’re going to buy a gift for. Not everyone has to have the same amount. You may put $20 for your kid’s teacher and $50 for your husband then that is the amount in each envelope. You only have the cash in the envelope so you’re forced to keep the plan. Make sure you do not use your debit card or credit card to get you out of budgeting trouble here. 
  • Need, read, want.  Limit gifts to your children to three things–a “need” (socks, new shoes, jeans, etc.), a “read” (book, magazine subscription, cookbook, etc.), and a “want.” This helps you limit the stuff you’re buying but also being really thoughtful and specific to that person. 
  • Draw names. Do you have a large extended family that is getting larger as more and more babies are born? Drawing names is a great way to not have to buy 45 gifts for cousins, aunts, and everyone in between. You can decide how to do this as a family. The adults could draw names and the kids still get gifts from everyone or you could just draw for kids’ names and the adults can sit back and sip on some adult beverages. You could also do a version of white elephant gift exchange which adds a little spirited competition and fun to your day. 
  • Gift an experience. Do your kids’ rooms look like the toy aisle of Target? Instead of buying more stuff, do a family outing as a Christmas gift.  Something the kids will talk about long after they broke their latest toy. 
  • Volunteer or donate. Decide as a family to donate or volunteer for the holidays. This helps teach kids humility, graciousness, kindness, and love.  There are many ways and organizations to donate or volunteer for during the holiday season. You can even check if the charity or organization matches your values through this website.

Ghost of Budgeting Future

Holidays can be stressful and adding a tight budget can only add to that stress. Future money goals to help bring merriment to the season can lighten the load a bit.

  • Save a little each month in a gift account. As the holidays get closer use this money without taking from your emergency fund or charging more than you want on your credit card. Make this your 2018 money resolution.
  • Take some stress off materialism and move towards experiences with your family. Think back to your childhood. Do you remember the toy you got for Christmas when you were 8 or do you remember hiking with your family? These experiences can be big or small and can adjust each year. One year your family experience is to go bowling, the next you take a holiday trip to Nebraska City. Not every year has to be a major and expensive holiday experience. Make a Holiday tradition of spending time together something your kids and family will look forward to each year.

Please share your holiday budgeting hacks.  What has worked for you and your family?

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Hi I’m Jamie. I’m originally from Aurora, CO. I moved to Nebraska to attend Hastings College to where I ran into my husband while running on the Track Team. I have my Ph.D in Economics and work at the University of Nebraska at Omaha as an Assistant Professor of Economics and Director of the Center for Economic Education. As a professor I teach economics to college students and research economic education and financial literacy education. As the Director of the Center for Economic Education I get to work with the Omaha and surrounding area K-12 teachers and teach them how to teach economics and personal finance in a fun and engaging way. Economics has a bad rep and I’m here to change that! We have two kids--my daughter Vella is 3 1/2 and my son Brook is 9 months old! I have a fur baby puggle named Rodgers (the Wagners are cheeseheads). We are a family that loves the outdoors and being active!