I feel like it's a worldwide accepted thing for people to hold on a little tighter to their wallets after Christmas. Before making some changes in how we budget, I remember feeling like the stress on my finances took away a little bit of the joy of giving. I also think that when you don't feel like the money is there, you can start trying to buy the cheapest gift possible and end up buying gifts just for the sake of it.
Why am I addressing this in January, and not December? Because saving for Christmas should start now. Although I would recommend using the envelope system for all normal spending, if that doesn't sound like your cup of tea, maybe just using it for Christmas would benefit you!
Something I love about using envelopes to handle our finances is that when the money has been allocated for a specific purpose, I feel much more freedom in spending it. For example, when I spend money on mailing something at the post office I always cringe and feel awful about it. Postage can be pricey! However, I often dream of being able to mail packages to friends in different cities and states. When we set aside a certain amount of money each month for "Miscellaneous Giving".. I know that those dollars are to love on others. It makes $7 at the post office go a little smoother knowing it was allocated specifically for that purpose. I hope that makes sense. :) I've felt the same way about Christmas shopping. Knowing that I had a certain amount to spend on each person (and all of our Christmas shopping overall) kept me focused and excited on being able to thoughtfully choose gifts for all of our loved ones.
To get ourselves set for next Christmas, we followed the following steps:
Make a master list of everyone whom we plan to give gifts next Christmas.
I know, this can seem hard sometimes, a year away! For us, the family members aren't changing, so those names are the same as the previous year. If we think someone might be a "maybe" we'll go ahead and include them on the list. We also include an amount for "Friends" to either use for a fun baking project for everyone or in any other way.
For the upcoming year, I also put the printing and postage for our Christmas Cards in the budget. If you're cooking a big meal for Christmas, go ahead and plan for that too, if you'd like!
Set a budget amount for each gift. This is different for everyone, and I think it's great to be okay with that. Some people are going to be big spenders on their gifts, they just are. I think it is so important to not let comparison become the guide for your gift giving. Set a budget per gift that you are comfortable with.. an amount that you can joyfully spend on a thoughtful gift. That is what will be sweet and memorable in years to come... Example: Don't be Michael Scott and bring the iPod to the $20 gift exchange. That example doesn't quiiiiite line up. But I like The Office. :)
As for if you should set the same amount for every gift... that's what we do. The only exceptions are categories that aren't a person (Christmas cards) and our homemade gift exchange gifts. This works great because there will be some people I can score a deal for, and then I can move the extra budgeted amount over for use if I need an extra $10 (or whatever!) for another gift.
Add up the total budgeted amount and divide it by 12 (months). Plan to put aside that much money into an envelope every month. This can be a stretch, I know. It can be tempting to dip into early for other expenditures, I know. But I cannot stress to you the difference that this made in our Christmas experience this year. I was SO joyful in our Christmas shopping this year. SO. It brought me so much happiness to find a gift for someone, and to hit the price point. There was an extra bit of freedom and joy in my Christmas shopping/gift giving. For me, that's what brought more of the true focus of Christmas into our holiday experience. We weren't hurting for cash and frustrated when the holiday was over. Our hearts were full from celebrating the Savior's birth with our family.
If you have any specific questions about this, I'd LOVE to answer them. Shoot me an email! :) If you have any other method of saving for Christmas, I'd love to hear it! Does anyone really regret how they did Christmas shopping this year and need a change?