gift giving on a budget
Savvy Saver

Budget Friendly Gift Ideas for the Holidays

By Jessica Price

December 8, 2023

Tis’ the time to shop for your loved ones and find the perfect holiday gifts to show your appreciation for a wonderful year. Before you pull out the credit card and rack up debt that you may not be thrilled about in the new year,4 consider taking the time to assess the true meaning of the holiday season and create a holiday gift budget. With only 40% of Americans7 reportedly not living paycheck to paycheck, it has become increasingly important to approach the holidays in a way that won’t wreck your financial health. Even if you missed the Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales, you could still create a budget-friendly shopping plan with a little creativity. Even though time is limited before the holidays, you can  avoid last-minute purchases4 that might break the bank and create stress rather than feelings of joy and jolliness. Setting a holiday gift budget and sticking to it is made easier, for some people, by sticking to cash vs swiping a card for holiday purchases. Keep in mind, CheckSmart offers check cashing services in store. You can cash your next check and receive cash that you can divvy up into categories that may help you keep on track throughout the season.* 

gift giving

Stopping the Competition

Before filling your shopping cart, it’s time to get your mindset about the holidays in check. The holiday season, particularly the gift-giving portion, is not a competition. I repeat, you are not in competition with anyone including yourself when it comes to the extravagance of your holiday plans. Social media can make this mindset tough to adopt. Influencers are paid handsomely to promote sales for businesses, especially around the holidays. Just because your favorite social media star began decorating their home in October and filled their tree with gifts by November does not mean you are failing if you don’t follow suit. Beyond social media, some families make the holidays seem competitive. I’ve personally experienced this, and it doesn’t feel good at all. Worrying about gifts when you’re on a tight budget can pull the joy right out of the season.3 Constantly trying to “one up” each other in the gift or décor department is not only unfair, but it can also be unhealthy for your finances4 and create unnecessary stress. I propose that the only competition we should be having is who can be the most relaxed during the holidays and who can enjoy the season without stressing over gifts and appearances. Finding an inexpensive holiday gift for someone you love is just as meaningful as an extravagant gift when given from the heart.

Small Trinkets

Some of the sweetest gifts I’ve ever received were tiny trinkets given from the heart. If you call me sentimental, you’d be right. When a gift is given from the heart, the recipient will appreciate it. The tiniest gift can mean the world, especially when you take the time to consider the recipient’s interests. A spoon rest given to me by someone I love very much is one of my most memorable gifts. I cried when the spoon rest broke. I doubt it cost more than ten bucks. Magazines and lifestyle websites often put together lists of best budget gifts6 that include numerous price ranges, and the gifts are typically unique. Finding a gift that is within budget5 and provides joy is a thrill and completely possible. Create a budget for holiday spending that includes each person you’re planning to give a gift to. This will help you stay on track; you’ll want to record each expense2 along the way in order to stay on budget.

Delightful Homemade Treats

In the age of Pinterest, homemade budget present ideas are abundant, creative, and unique. You can craft your holiday creations in batches for a cost-effective way to give to numerous people on your list. You can also choose to pick specific gifts for each of your friends and family. Have a little fun and make treats and goods that the individual will love like hot cocoa mix with cute marshmallows in a jar for the chocoholics in your life. Make a mix for your favorite sweet treat with a cute recipe card attached for the sweet-tooths on your list, or perhaps homemade bath salts for a workaholic who could use an at home spa day. The possibilities are endless and customizable.

gift of friendship

Not All Gifts Are Wrapped

Take a moment to think back on holidays past. Do you remember every gift you’ve received? What about events and outings? Time spent with the ones you love? It’s likely that when the holidays are mentioned, or as they approach, you are filled with memories of times spent with the people you love. Some people do a family 5K or race on the holidays, some people go to parades or community events each year. Going to the movies is a tradition many people keep yearly. Making themed movie nights with snacks can be a great, low-cost way to bring family and friends together. Creativity is the name of the game. Planning a future event or experience that includes quality time is an excellent gift idea and a way to honor the people on your list who value experiences over stuff. Volunteering as a family is a great way to give without spending a dime, and the memories made along with the inspiration to give back is priceless. You can even offer acts of service to the people you love like free babysitting or cleaning to those who might need an extra hand over the next months or year. I know if someone offered to clean my home for me as a gift, I would consider it one of the best gifts ever!

Spending money is not the only way to give a gift, and you are not obligated to give gifts1 at all if this year you need to save money and time resources in order to accomplish your own goals. At the end of the day, spending time with the people you love or recharging so you can give the best version of yourself in the new year are the best ways to enjoy the holiday season. Lean into the idea that the holidays are a time to be grateful for all of the good in your life, people included.

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1Zinn, Dori (2023, Nov 13). Holiday Budgeting: 15 tips to control your spending Retrieved from:

2Cerullo, Megan (2023, Nov 20). Inflation is driving up gift prices. Use these tips to avoid overspending this holiday. Retrieved from:

3Sandberg, Erica (2023, Nov 17). Tips to Avoid Overspending on Gifts This Holiday Season Retrieved from:

4Allocca, Steve (2019, Dec 10). Five Ways To Avoid Overspending During The Holidays Retrieved from:

5Jacquelyn Greenfield, Siena Gagliano, Daisy Maldonado and Chaise Sanders (2023, Jul 25). 60 Best Cheap Christmas Gifts That Actually Look Pretty Expensive Retrieved from:

6Chen, Lesley (2023, Nov 6). The 43 Best Cheap Christmas Gifts of 2023 Retrieved from:

7Dickler, Jessica (2023, Nov 20). 60% of Americans are living paycheck to paycheck heading into the holidays, report finds Retrieved from:

Jessica is hyper-focused on making information about the Personal Loans offered by CheckSmart including Payday Loans, Installment Loans, and Title Loans accessible and easy to understand. Learning the basics about finances shouldn’t be complicated after all! The key to responsible borrowing is understanding the loans you’re considering, and it’s Jessica’s mission to help anyone considering a loan make an informed decision. Jessica is passionate about sharing easy-to-follow Budgeting Tips and helping readers increase their financial literacy in the Financial Corner of the blog. You’ll find great budgeting tips, Simplified Savings tips, and information that will help you improve your financial wellness sprinkled throughout each of her blogs.

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