A woman in her kitchen budgeting for the holidays

The countdown is on and you’ll be reading “The Night Before Christmas” on Christmas Eve before you know it. Feeling the pressure already? We’ve got you covered with helpful tips to check off all the items on your holiday to-do list.

Here’s how to budget for the holidays to ensure you don’t run out of time or money.

1Organize your existing Christmas décor in clear bins with labels.

Bin of Christmas ornaments

Before you begin decorating the house and tree, take a peek at your Christmas décor stash. Unpack the decorations you put away last year and sort through what’s still good and what needs to be tossed (broken tree baubles, for example). Take stock of what you’re keeping, anything new you want to purchase and all items that need replacing.

If you’re working with lots of lead time, pack things back up in a way that will save you a headache later. If not, you can keep these tips in mind for storing your décor at the end of the holidays (and make next year’s set-up a breeze):

  • Purchase plenty of large, clear plastic storage bins.
  • Use small boxes or crisscrossed cardboard to create dividers in each bin.
  • Collect paper towel rolls for wrapping garland around in a way that prevents tangles.
  • Use old food containers from strawberries, margarine and crackers to keep delicate decorations separate from other items. Just wrap them up in a bit of tissue before placing them inside the box or tub.
  • List the contents of each bin on an index card and tape it to the outside of the bin.

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2Make your gift-giving list with a budget next to each name.

Woman making a Christmas budget

The first rule of budgeting for the holidays is to set a spending limit. A good rule of thumb for the average family is to limit your Christmas spending to about one per cent of your annual income before taxes. So, if your household income is $70,000, you could reasonably afford to spend around $700 on gifts.[1]

Once you know how much money you have available to spend, you’ll want to make a list of everyone you’re going to buy presents for. It’s helpful to organize your recipients into tiers.

  • Tier 1: Your partner and children (about half your budget)
  • Tier 2: Close family and close friends (about 25 per cent of your budget)
  • Tier 3: Everyone else, including coworkers, teachers, neighbours, hostess gifts, etc. (about 25 per cent of your budget)[2]

3Read online gift guides before shopping.

Woman reading online Christmas gift guides on her laptop

Before you add items to your online shopping cart or attempt to navigate a packed shopping mall, do a little research from the comfort of your couch. Online gift guides can help you find the perfect present—or at the very least offer inspiration.

Many online retail sites also show store inventory for their items, so you’ll be able to check if something’s sold out before you make the trip to the store. It also gives you the opportunity to compare pricing with other retailers and take advantage of online-only discounts.

We’ve created dozens of gift guides for everyone on your list!

4Make your own holiday decorations from items you have around the house.

Christmas garland of popcorn and cranberries

Think outside the (ornament) box when it comes to holiday décor. These old-fashioned DIY decorations are easy to make, plus they repurpose old and affordable items. Get the family together for an evening of crafting—just don’t eat too many of your decorations before you hang them!

  • Popcorn garland: Bring a pop of colour to a simple popcorn garland by alternating popcorn with fresh cranberries. To make it last longer, spray the whole garland with shellac!
  • Citrus slice ornaments: Dry citrus slices to make fresh and festive tree ornaments.
  • Framed art: Pop old holiday cards into vintage frames and display them on your fireplace mantel or windowsill as holiday artwork.
  • Snow globes: Schedule a craft day with the kids so they can create and display their very own mason jar snow globes.
  • Ornament wreath: Find a new purpose for mismatched or unwanted ornaments that no longer fit your tree’s theme by displaying them in a glass vase or crafting a Christmas ornament wreath.
  • Front-door décor: Have an old wooden sled lying around? Adorn it with a large red bow and prop it up on your front porch for instant vintage charm.

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5Create a gift-wrapping workstation to keep supplies organized.

Christmas gift wrapping station

If you have a spare table or cart where you can stash your wrapping supplies, it will be easy to wrap items as you buy them, rather than gathering the whole kit and caboodle every time you’re in the mood to wrap (or leaving your wrapping to the night before Christmas—we’ve all done it!).

Make sure you have these items on hand:

If you don’t have a cart, you can store the rolls of wrapping paper upright in a spare wastebasket or bucket. You’ll be able to see all styles at once and select the roll you need.

Still worried about wrapping everything “just right”? This wrapping guide will help you wrap even awkwardly shaped items without stress.

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6Get creative with gift wrap.

Unique gift wrap with pine cones and greenery

When it comes to adorning your presents with bows, bells and name tags, all the tiny items can add up to a big expense—and even excess waste. Try these fun ideas to jazz up your gift wrap.

  • Puzzle tags: Upcycle an old puzzle with missing pieces into puzzle piece gift tags with this simple tutorial.
  • Greenery: Instead of bows, tack seasonal greenery like evergreen sprigs or pinecones onto your gifts. Candy canes work, too!
  • Hand-drawn wrapping paper: Let little ones make their own custom gift wrap by drawing or painting on kraft paper (which is similar in size to most wrapping paper) or paper bags. Kids of all ages will love making Santa handprint wrapping paper or Holly Jolly reindeer prints.
  • Cookie tube: Turn an empty Pringles can into a Christmas cookie container.

7Keep an eye on shipping deadlines to avoid extra fees.

Shipping gifts

Avoid incurring any extra fees (which could be as much as the gift you’re wanting to ship!) by sending packages well before the send-by dates. To be on the safe side, mail holiday greeting cards by the end of the first week of December.

You can check individual deadlines on the FedEx, Purolator and Canada Post websites.

Canada Post hasn’t released its 2021 dates yet, but last year’s Canada Post deadlines may act as a guide:

Distance PriorityTM XpresspostTM Flat Rate Box Regular Parcel
Local Dec. 18 Dec. 18 Dec. 18 Dec. 18
Regional Dec. 18 Dec. 18 Dec. 16-18 Dec. 14-16
National Dec. 18 Dec. 17 Dec. 11-17 Dec. 9-15

8Keep hostess gifts on hand to avoid last-minute trips to the store.

Hostess gift boxes

Even if you plan ahead for Christmas, you’re bound to get an unexpected invite to dinner or have a surprise guest drop by. Keep small gifts on hand for such occasions and avoid an impromptu (and potentially stressful) trip to the store! Here are a few unique ideas that can help you save time and money in the long run.

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9Take a family photo for holiday cards and gifts.

Family posing for a Christmas photo

If you only get one family photo a year, let it be for Christmas. Using it for your holiday cards is a nice personal touch. Plus, framed copies, calendars and image-adorned mugs from Walmart’s Photo Centre make great personalized presents for grandparents!

Here’s how to get the perfect shot:

  • If the weather is mild enough, head outside: Natural lighting is key for a professional-looking photo, even if you’re using a self-timer or friend to snap the shot.
  • Create different levels and add dimension: Stagger the heights of the people in your photo and have some family members sit in front. You want to avoid creating a literal line of your lineage.
  • Plan outfits ahead of time: Lay out what everyone is going to wear so you have an idea of how the colours look together. You can’t go wrong with neutrals like navy, beige and grey.
  • Have fun with it: Let the kids be kids.

10Gather family for an annual holiday baking (or bake prep) day.

Family baking Christmas cookies together

You’ve got enough to do through the holidays without adding regular kitchen clean-ups to your list. If you devote one day to baking Christmas cookies (and enlist some close friends and family to help), it’s more efficient and fun.

To keep things super simple, you could stick with one type of cookie dough and create different varieties based on different add-ins. For example, start with oatmeal cookie batter and add raisins and nuts to one batch, white and milk chocolate chips to another, cranberries to another and so on.

If you only have one oven or don’t want to bake everything in one day, try batch-making all your cookie dough. Once you combine the ingredients, roll the appropriate amount into individual balls and freeze. Each person can go home with their cookie dough already portioned and ready to be placed on a baking sheet and put in the oven when ready. Fresh baked cookies, ready in a flash!

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