Christmas present purchasing can be a sort of mixed bag. There are people you want to buy presents for, like significant others and your kids. Then there are people you have to buy presents for, like whoever you got in the Secret Santa drawing.

But it’s the in-between that’s hardest to sort out. With all the extra purchases that come with the holidays, from jugs of eggnog to flights home, it can be hard to justify purchasing presents for neighbors, co-workers and friends you like but haven’t seen much of lately. But the temptation to add a little Christmas cheer to their lives is understandable, and not bad. What’s the best way to go about deciding who’s in and who’s out during the holidays?

STEP 1: Set a Budget

Practically speaking, you probably won’t be able to buy a present for everyone you want, which is why you should start with a reasonable budget instead of the other way around. Set a firm limit on your Christmas present spending — something that allows you to be generous but won’t create too many headaches in the New Year. Pro-tip: the sooner you do this, the sooner you can start saving, and the higher number you can justify.

STEP 2: Make a List

Santa knows what’s up. Now that you know what kind of money you’re working with, make a list of everyone you’d like to buy presents for, from the musts (family) to the shoulds (…family) to the people you’d really like to. Make the list with your budget in mind. Don’t overdo it.  brightpeak’s “Stress Free Christmas Gift Planner” is an easy way to keep track of gifts and spending. 

STEP 3: Divvy Up Your Budget

Here’s the tough part: making your budget fit into your list. People often skip this part, preferring just to go into the mall with a list and a lump sum in mind, but things will be much, much easier if you determine at the gates who is getting what kind of present. You can even cluster the names into little groups. For example, close friends and family could have a twenty dollar limit, acquaintances and co-workers could have a ten dollar one and people you don’t know well but feel like you need to buy something for can have a five dollar limit.

But even this can end up getting expensive, which is why you may need to … 

STEP 4: Get Creative

Ask yourself this question: would the person I’m buying for rather get a five dollar item from the Big N’ Save sale bin, or something that cost me nothing but a little time and effort? A little tin of Christmas cookies, a handmade card expressing your gratitude or a homemade Christmas ornament could go a lot further than a bargain knick-knack.

STEP 5: Stick to the List

It’s easy to justify getting carried away in the spirit of the holidays, and we certainly aren’t here to advocate seasonal stinginess. But a big part of generosity is learning not to overextend yourself, so that you can continue to be generous in the future by not loading yourself up with debt. By sticking to a list, you can make sure that you’re giving to everyone you want to give to while retaining enough money for the things you need so that you can be generous again in the near future.

For more great resources to get you through the season, check out brightpeak’s “Holiday Survival Guide.”

Love & Money content is created in partnership with brightpeak Financial

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