Who Sabotages Your Christmas Budget?

Who Sabotages Your Christmas Budget - picture of gift on arm of a chair with Christmas tree in background

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There was a time in my life when I absolutely hated the holiday season, and it was mainly because I worked nearly every weekend in December for six years straight.

I’m sure you are wondering why I would do such a thing, but I can assure you that I didn’t have a choice.   At my old mortuary job, we had grief events, holiday outings, and memorial get-togethers with a holiday theme.

Believe me when I say that it was not optional.

I dreaded the entire month for that reason, and normally couldn’t wait for the whole thing to be over.  But that wasn’t the only reason I disliked the holidays.  The obvious reason I disliked them was because I always felt forced to spend so much money.

My New Outlook On Christmas

Things have changed since then.  Since I no longer work at the funeral home, I don’t have to spend the entire month of December at work.  And since I no longer work outside of the home, many of the spending triggers associated with the holidays have vanished.

It’s also much harder for outsiders to influence me when it comes to spending money on the holidays.  Years ago, I would have quickly caved to a request for a new and exciting gift exchange among family or friends.

But now?

Pssshhhhtttt…. Please.

I would just say “no.”  I’ve found that being direct and honest with the people who love you can do wonders for changing their expectations of you.  Most of the time.

Regardless, even though my outlook on the holidays is much better now, I still remember all of the pressures surrounding Christmas and the holidays- especially the pressure to spend.  And it all boils down to three different kinds of people and their various agendas:


Once, at my old job, someone took up some money for flowers for Administrative Professional’s Day, and my husband was dumb  kind enough to contribute (we worked together at the time).  Of course, I was one of the recipients of said flowers and did not find it amusing.  In fact, I was like:

“So I bought my own f%&cking flowers?”

Simply put, I was not impressed.

But that kind of thing is typical of the workplace, isn’t it?  There’s always some co-worker who wants you to contribute to Betty Z’s dialysis or buy a tub of extra sharp cheddar from their kid’s school fundraiser.  Or they want to have a Christmas gift exchange- the worst kind being the “Sneaky Santa.”


Your Friends and Neighbors

It’s pretty customary to purchase a gift for anyone who has purchased one for your family, but what happens when it gets out of hand?  What do you do, for example, when one of your neighbors spends twelve hours knitting you a custom-made scarf that matches your car?  Or when casual acquaintances buy gifts for you, your husband, and your kids?

It’s awkward to say the least, especially if they weren’t on your Christmas shopping list to begin with.  And, even though sending a card is a nice gesture, not returning the favor tends to make people feel uncomfortable.

That’s why I’m glad so many of my friends and neighbors know that I write about frugality for a living.  They just assume I’m cheap as hell and won’t be buying them anything…and they’re right.  Problem solved!

Your Family Members

First of all, I feel incredibly thankful that my family (on both sides) is extremely reasonable when it comes to giving and receiving gifts around the holidays.  I never feel pressured to spend exorbitant sums on anyone, and we ditched the tradition of buying for siblings many years ago.

With that being said, I know so many people who are practically prisoners to their family’s holiday traditions and feel forced to spend more than can afford.  This is always sad for me to hear because I truly believe that the holidays should be about family and spending time together (and obviously faith if you are religious)- not buying a bunch of crap.

Keeping Your Christmas Budget in Check

The holidays can be tricky because some people take them far more seriously than others.  For example, a family member who is all gung-ho about the holidays might get extremely offended if you choose to opt out of one of the many gift exchanges.  Likewise, neighbors and friends all have their own set of expectations, and those expectations might include a gift from you.

I obviously don’t have all the answers, but I do believe that honesty is the best policy.  In other words, if you want to cut back on Christmas this year, say so.  And don’t let other people guilt you into spending money you don’t have or wasting your hard-earned cash.

You don’t want to buy your own flowers, do you?

Who sabotages your Christmas budget?  What are you going to do about it this year?

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  1. It sucks, but at some point we all have to own up and admit that by LETTING other people influence our spending, it’s US that’s doing the sabotaging, not them. =/

    1. I’ll disagree with that- I know people whose family members are crazy about the holidays and refuse to budge on their idea of what they should entail. It’s true that the individual ultimately gets to decide their level of participation, but I definitely believe that some people actively sabotage other people’s Christmas budgets. I’ve heard about it too many times not to.

  2. We set boundaries pretty early on and now Christmas is not an issue for us. We buy for our niece and nephews and if if my in-laws visit, we’ll take them out for a nice dinner. That’s it. It keeps things simple, I don’t have the pressure of finding the perfect gift, and I don’t have to worry about anyone spending money on me. It’s perfect.

  3. We’ve done an OK job of managing expectations with our family and setting gift parameters. We buy 1 gift for everyone in our immediate families and that seems to work well. We’re able to be generous and loving, but not go overboard. And, a lot of people in our families ask for books, which are cheap :). We usually don’t get anything for each other and Frugal Hound gets 1 toy. I bake banana breads to give to neighbors, co-workers, etc. Cheap, easy, and tasty.

  4. Thank goodness at my last job those Secret Santa things were always optional. At other jobs I’ve had (when they weren’t optional) I always felt like I was receiving much more expensive gifts than I was giving to other people, which always felt awkward. Sounds like it sucks to work at a mortuary around Christmas!

    1. We never did Sneaky Santa at work either- so glad!

      I actually liked working at the mortuary and the holiday events. It was just a little much to have so many events crammed into a short period of time.

  5. We have no budget. We just spend whatever. It is nice having the cushion of spending far less than you earn so you can not sweat this stuff. And in some ways, giving is easier than buying for myself.

    1. Great! When should I expect my gift?


  6. I’ve really cut back in recent years to the point that I (almost) feel like a scrooge. It just seems stupid spending money on material things. I was just giving my kids $100 plus some stocking stuffers (useful). I’m thinking of going back to our Secret Santa days where we pick a name out of the hat and have to buy something (1) practical (2) readable or listenable (3) eatable or drinkable (4) funny. You don’t sign your name and we each have to guess who had our name. Maximum you can spend is $25 or so. You can even give free stuff for one or many of the categories so as to maximize your spending on one of the other categories. However maybe we will change up the categories this year.

    1. That sounds like a good plan for you guys. I try to buy my kids useful gifts too. A few toys are nice, but I don’t go overboard. My kids are awful about playing with a new toy once then forgetting about it.

  7. I’m already dreading Christmas this year which is so sad! We can afford the gift giving, but I just don’t WANT to afford it. I let myself be pressured into it and it’s my own fault. Im also trying to get rid of a ton of crap out of our home, so getting a bunch of gifts that I don’t necessarily care for is tough too. Do I just hang onto for a while until I donate it? Ugh…

    1. Been there!
      I’m dreading it less and less these past few years though.

  8. No one sabotages my Christmas budget, so I’m very thankful for that! But that may be because I plan ahead and always cash flow Christmas (no credit cards obviously). I hate thinking that Christmas is financially stressful (I wrote a post Monday about this!).

    1. Yep. Unfortunately, it is very stressful for far too many people!

  9. The office traps kill me. The chipping in, or secret Santa stuff can get out of hand pretty quickly if you are direct and to the point with co-workers. It’s all about setting boundaries. That goes for family members too. This is typically the time are year we discuss the plan with family members and agree on spending for the Holidays. It’s easier now because most of the kids in the family are older and expectations are not as high. 🙂

    1. I agree that setting boundaries is key. Some people love spending other people’s money!

  10. I am SO thankful that both my husband and I work for ourselves!! That completely eliminates “coworkers” out of the equation! We’ve never exchanged with friends – for the most part. And for family – we only buy for our little girls (ages 2 and 1 so they don’t get much haha), our parents and we usually get each other a gift or two and exchange them over a nice homemade dinner and wine! It’s a fun tradition for us 🙂 Other than that we keep it simple (except for the decor…I’d be lying if I said I didn’t go a little overboard!).

    1. I always wish I was a holiday decorator, but I’m not. I have a few decorations that I put out. That’s about it =(

  11. The only “problem” I’ve had at Christmas was co-workers. We always did the Secret Santa thing and it was a waste of time. I’d always end up with junk that I never wanted/used. I think 99% of the time, I ended up just donating the item to goodwill. I get the whole idea of giving, but maybe instead find a way to get everyone to pitch in $5-10 to buy gifts for a family that needs them, not buying me a 1 month membership to the jelly of the month club.

    1. Jelly of the month club, lol. I agree with you- I would rather donate to charity!

  12. My family used to destroy my budget because all of the siblings and aunts and uncles would all exchange gifts, which just gets sillier the older you get. A few years ago, we emailed all the adults and said we are only buying gifts for those under 18. I was afraid people would be pissed, but I think they were happy that we also saved them a bunch of money in return.

    1. That’s great! Yeah, I think people can be more reasonable than we give them credit for at times. We were buying for our siblings too for several years until it no longer made sense. We were mostly trading gift cards around.

  13. My husband’s family tries to! They have so many events over Christmas combined with too much gift giving. Over the last few years I’ve put my foot down and it’s gotten much better. It still irks me though!

  14. I love Christmas and gift-giving! To save up, I shop for discounted items for my nephews, nieces, officemates, etc. But for family, I tend to splurge a little. I also look for gifts that I’m sure they would use or would want someday.

  15. we’re planning a camping trip to Death Valley for the two weeks before Christmas! Works every time… 🙂

  16. I’m pretty lucky and I think I dodge the Christmas craze. I don’t exchange gifts with family and friends. Only people I really have to get anything for is my wife and my son (and he’s still too young to be picky about the gift). I give my parents a cash gift…they prefer it that way. And yea I participate in the work gift exchange so I don’t seem like I’m anti-social.

  17. I basically only send cards for Christmas and make memory books on Blurb for my family/friends (they love). I always opt out of Secret Santa due to a traumatic experience in high school. I also tend to send gifts throughout the year to my friends in lieu of holiday gifts. So, it works out. We do have collections for gifts, etc. at my office and I typically am happy to give to those because I’ve worked with my colleagues for a very, very long time. So, they are like an extended family.

  18. Luckily Christmas is usually pretty affordable for us. We have a gift exchange with Wes’s immediate family so that we don’t have to buy everyone a separate present. Makes it easy!

  19. I love the holiday season. I really enjoy getting gifts for others, but I don’t spend much. I get a little something for my closest cousins because it makes me happy. Thankfully, I don’t have to deal with those workplace pressures anymore, either!

  20. My husband and I stick to a pretty tight allowance for Christmas spending. We save starting around October for the amount we both agree on and once it’s gone, it’s gone. Two years ago I did a handmade gift for all 20 coworkers. It was inexpensive but way.too.time.consuming. I vowed to never take on such a task again! Last year I opted to get a fancy bar of soap for just the ladies (6); I figured the guys could care less. And I was right. 😉 As for our families, mine is so small that it’s never been an issue. My in-laws hate all the consumerism that goes on during the holiday’s, so they’re pretty easy too. I guess we got lucky with not having to deal with crazy family traditions that cost an arm and a leg!

  21. I don’t buy my family gifts except for my two nieces. They think it’s awful, but it’s just dumb to get my parents stuff that goes in the bottom of the closet never to be seen again. I do usually give them pictures and that seems to work pretty well. If someone gives us a gift, I do feel obligated to get them something, but I think I’ve taken care of it this year. We hit a wine sale by accident and I bought several bottles of decent wine for $6.99 each. We’ll give that if we need to or keep it for ourselves. It’s a win win. The other probably really sleazy thing we do is regift things that Jim gets from students and staff. We only have room for so many coffee mugs and boxes of candy!

  22. We haven’t proposed it yet, but one of these days we are going to propose doing a “secret santa” type gift exchange with our families. We both have relatively small families so everyone buys everyone gifts. It becomes a bit out of hand. Granted it’s a lot of simply trading money – If I get my sister a $50 Macy’s gift card and she gets me $50 worth of Macy’s clothes, it ends up cancelling out. So I’m not SUPER opposed to it in that sense because it’s really cancelling out and to be honest my Mom LOVES the gift exchanges. But it does take a lot of planning, prep, and budgeting to make sure we don’t overspend.

    With that being said, my wife and I both really like the Christmas season. Though last year I had a hell of a time getting that tree in the tree stand straight and there may have been a few curse words shouted in the process 😉

  23. My family is on the smaller side, and there’s no pressure to go above and beyond, but there’s still the fact that it’s expected you’ll get everyone something. I don’t mind spending a lot on my parents and my grandma as I’m incredibly thankful for all they’ve done for me in the past, but it’s hard to buy for my aunts and cousins, and it sadly comes down to cash or gift cards most of the time. Now that I won’t be spending Christmas with them this year, it’s even harder. I’m wondering if everyone could be in agreement on no gifts being exchanged.

  24. Me – I am the worst. My wife and I will decide to not do anything and then I buy something only to have my wife get really upset because we had agreed ahead of time. I just can’t help it. We never buy large items at Christmas, usually just practical stuff like work or workout clothes. We stopped giving gifts to extended family. Families are getting too big and we can’t buy for everyone so we just do a kid toy exchange, draw names and each cousin gets a gift for the other, that way they all have one gift and it has worked great.

  25. I will be keeping my Christmas Budget on check. Instead of having dinner and buying presents for each person, nowadays my friends and I just go out for brunch and have a secret Santa instead. Also, other than my friends… I am only giving presents to my family and another secret Santa for my cousins. I am aiming for a low budget Christmas this year!

  26. Offices can be tough around the holidays. I’m not big into secret Santas, etc but some people just love that stuff. My team is small. I do buy my employees gifts but they work hard for me and I enjoy buying them a special treat. My gift does seem to have a life of its own at times, but I try to keep it manageable and I definitely stick to a budget.

  27. Well, right now we’re doing OK, since we don’t bother with all the celebration and daughter is still 10 months this winter. From the next year though, we’ll have a different situation, she’ll grow up and we’ll need to really play the part 😀

  28. With having family in different cities I find our Christmas budget can be affected by travel costs. We usually budget for gifts but then the costs of travel (ie. flights, hotels etc) really start to add up and usually aren’t budgeted for

  29. Christmas, an expensive time of year. This year we’re doing Secret Santa with the family. One gift, one family member, max spend $50. Everyone gets a gift, no one misses out and there’s no need to break the budget.

  30. When I used to work in a company before, when speaking about Christmas, I was totally excited but at the same time super stressed! I want to gave my co-workers a special and unforgettable gift. And now that I’m working at home, I don’t have any problem at all because I will only give gifts for my family.

  31. My biggest issue is the insane amount of Christmas parties that require me to bring a gift! lol

  32. Excellent, excellent, EXCELLENT post! I couldn’t have said it better myself (which isn’t surprising – your prose always rocks my world). Your comment about neighbors hits home – one year, my neighbor went all out and bought me holiday stemware, clothing napkins and rings, and place mats because she knew I’d be hosting Christmas. She got homemade tamales from us, and I jokingly (but in all seriousness) told her I hoped she enjoyed them because that’s all she was getting!

  33. In some ways, Hanukkah is much, much worse. lol Waaaaay too many gifts for kids involved, especially since my sister went and had four! 😛 Generally, they get way too many gifts from their various mothers and fathers (mixed family), so the rest of us get off the hook a little. Except for the food. Imagine having a Christmas level of consumption for a freaking WEEK. lol Gaining weight is 100% happening!

  34. This year, I am starting that Christmas is not financially stressful because I have been preparing for it since June, when I started to have my own savings for Christmas. I’d would definitely have a greater Christmas ever this year! I wouldn’t let anyone or anything sabotage my budget (cross finger).

  35. Hmmm… I guess our anti-social behavior is great for frugality! I work from home, and my husband’s on disability. So we don’t go out and about too much. Certainly not in malls, except on very rare occasions.

    Our neighborhood isn’t very… neighborly. We have a very small group of friends, though one of them is struggling right now. So we’re going to send her some goodies. Hopefully using Groupons and other such tricks.

    In short, we buy for me, my husband, my in-laws and my mom. Keeps it pretty cheap.

  36. My parents always go way overboard on getting gifts for everyone. Last year after Christmas I mentioned scaling it back for this year, but we’ll see what happens…

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