The Broke Millennial Checklist to Avoid Overspending at Christmas


My Charlie Brown Christmas tree.

I’m a peculiar person when it comes to gifts. I never spent an afternoon trying to find where my parents stashed Christmas gifts. In fact, two presents from Peach are sitting in my office, unwrapped, and I haven’t had the slightly temptation to take a peek. I don’t gleefully rip the wrapping from a bunch of presents in a row. Instead, there is a very extended, methodical process in which it takes me a long time to get through all my gifts. Thanks delayed gratification.

What I relish even more than the painstaking act of removing wrapping paper from a package without a tear (oh, yeah – I can do that) is the act of giving presents. There is just something about finding that perfect gift that a loved one isn’t expecting and didn’t put on a wish list.

Alas, gift giving at Christmas time often costs significant money because you have to hit everyone all at once. At least birthdays a staggered, unless you’re in the Gosselin family or Octomom.

In order to combat this budget buster, I do what any financially diligent, type-A personality would: write a checklist.

None of this will be mind-blowing. Trust me, I wish I had some special secret to automatically reduce the cost of gift giving (other than don’t give any). But one or two of the tips may help you save some money, or at least get cash back in the process.

  • Start early – really early.
    • It’s not just that I start the actual shopping process particularly early. I keep a running list on my phone of gift ideas throughout the year. Anytime someone on my Christmas gift list mentions something he or she would want – it goes on the list. This reduces the headache of scrambling for ideas in late December. It also helps buy items on sale throughout the year.
  • Making a list – and checking it a whole bunch of times.
    • I’m admittedly a little Scrooge-esque about the people to whom I give presents. I prefer to spoil those I really care about instead of giving $10 gifts to a bunch of folks. In mid-November, I draft up a gift list and then potentially make cuts. Or have open conversation with some friends about doing a Secret Santa or just nixing a gift exchange and spending time together instead.
  • Set budgets per person not just overall.
    • Yup, people are assigned dollar amounts. I put a maximum I would want to spend on said person and then shop accordingly. It also helps take the sting out if you and a friend/family member agree on a maximum budget together. Hey, I guess you can put a price tag on love.
  • Cash in on my credit card rewards
    • I’ll let cash back accrue all year long and then dump it into my checking account or use it as a statement credit during the holidays.
  • Use cash back portals like Ebates* and Mr. Rebates* when shopping.
    • Like your average millennial, most of my Christmas shopping is done online. Instead of just clicking directly to my intended website, I first check cash back portals like Ebates and Mr. Rebates. By simply clicking through those sites, I can earn a little bit of cash back. It doesn’t end up, that being big bucks, but so far I’ve earned $50 back on shopping this year. Granted did include some holiday bonuses Ebates grants and not just off the percentage back.
    • Tip: put all rebates go directly into savings and don’t use it as an excuse to spend more.
    • Combine going through a cash back portal with a rewards credit card and it makes you feel like you’re saving a little bit on your budget. Learn how to stack cash back here.
  • Use credit cards with highest cash back value on purchases.
    • I’m always sure to check and see which credit card would earn me the most cash back on a purchase before I check out.
  • Shop sales.
    • Pretty self-explanatory…
  • Combine purchasing power with my sister.
    • Cailin, my young sister, and I have been known to put our money together in order to buy something nicer for our parents. As we’ve gotten older, many of the more fun presents are experiences to share instead of just another trinket for the house. It’s nice to be able to treat our mom and dad to a night out or a fun family evening because we don’t all get to see each other too often.
  • Use Groupon or LivingSocial to find experiences.
    • Speaking of gifting experiences – Groupon and LivingSocial are great sites to help find deals. Even if you can’t find a deal, they can help get the creative juices flowing. Peach and I used Groupon to do a painting workshop class, which means I now have art in the apartment – double win. I gave my friend Hannah a chocolate tour of New York as a birthday gift. Unless you have particular materialistic loved ones, the experience route is often the way to go.

Can guess which one is mine and which one belongs to Peach?

*I do get a small referral bonus if you sign up for Ebates or Mr. Rebates. So send me some Christmas cheer and sign up!

Catch a video I shot in 2014 about how to reduce holiday shopping stress!

This post originally ran December 11, 2015. Yay for evergreen content. 
Posted in Budgeting Tagged with: , ,
17 comments on “The Broke Millennial Checklist to Avoid Overspending at Christmas
  1. Josh says:

    I love the idea of combining budgets to get special experience for loved ones! I’m relatively young, but I’m already starting to get gift burnout for myself and my family. Do we really need one more toy that won’t get played with or clothing that won’t get worn? When I look back on this Christmas I’ll remember the time spent and not what color socks I received!
    Josh recently posted…Why I Feel Great About Spending Money for ChristmasMy Profile

  2. I am fan of Groupon especially this time of the year as there are so many fantastic deals available. Doing this help me avoid overspending and stick to my budget and shopping list.
    Jayson @ Monster Piggy Bank recently posted…New Baby Arrival Soon!My Profile

  3. Jamie says:

    Planning for Christmas is really needed because it determines how much budget I may need to have and things I shouldn’t miss because as the Christmas approaches, my list gets updated.

  4. Great tips! While none of them are 100% original, they can definitely save you some money on Christmas gifts. We try to keep gifts to a minimum. We have a small list of people we buy for and other than that, we try to avoid shopping during this time of year.
    Cat@BudgetBlonde recently posted…How These 12 Incredibly Successful Mompreneurs Make It WorkMy Profile

  5. Diana says:

    I started planing for Christmas expenses in September. It was really early so that I could prepare myself and my budget to cover all those expenses. And, I think I did the right thing. Less stress and got some budget still here.
    Diana recently posted…How to Become More Frugal in 2016My Profile

  6. Excellent tips. One thing that has been a difference-maker to me has been making a budget per person, as you suggested in the post.
    DC @ Young Adult Money recently posted…16 Cheap Ways to Ring in the New YearMy Profile

  7. Every Year I am making list and checking it a whole bunch of times, but always when I am at Macy’s forgot on list and spend much more.
    there is no tactics to change this when I see kitchen set’s…

  8. James says:

    I just wish that I had checked which credit cards would have higher cash back. Now I just learned a lesson.
    James recently posted…How to Become More Frugal in 2016My Profile

  9. Cody says:

    One way that helped me save during Christmas season is the gift cards because there are really cheaper cards and I think it’s easy to find the right card for the right people the gifts we’re giving to.
    Cody recently posted…How to Become More Frugal in 2016My Profile

  10. Great ideas! I also look at earning airline miles when buying holiday gifts to help me save $ on future travel. Amazon had 10 points per dollar (or 10% cash back) with the Chase Freedom and many online flower companies had 1,000+ pt deals per purchase.
    MB @ Millennial Boss recently posted…How to Make Yourself Look OlderMy Profile

  11. moneycorgi says:


    Lots of good ideas. The one that saves me the most is getting the xmas shopping done early. if I buy everything in early December then I’m not tempted by random things I see in the shop during the rest of the season.

  12. Jackson says:

    Thanks for your helpful idea so much. I believe that it will help me save a lot of money at Chrismas 😀

  13. I agree with you here. In order to avoid overspending at Christmas, you need to budget and plan early for your Christmas gift presents. But, sometimes there are also Holiday Season Sale Alert that you need to consider,[link to spam site removed by site admin], where you can find super cheap Christmas gift presents. Well, it is just a matter of budgeting and searching on online stores too.

  14. Jeremy says:

    Great tips … I need to pare back on my list. Really treat those that matter to me most!
    Jeremy recently posted…7 Ways that Acting can Change your LifeMy Profile

  15. I really appreciate the idea of combining multiple offers while buying gifts for our loved ones, but at certain times you don’t get a discount or any offer on some particular gifts, and many people refuse the product because of no discounts or offers. But you should purchase gifts without really worrying about offers. And I really like your tip of using particular bank’s cards to make purchases of gifts. There are many banks offering some really good and interesting offers on card spending and payments.

  16. Don’t spend too much in celebrating this holiday season, a simple and memorable celebration is enough tho.

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