To buy or not to buy…that is the question of the season.

Every time the holidays roll around there is this debate about how much you should spend. There are the naysayers that don’t buy gifts and choose to celebrate in other ways. Then there are those who spend like crazy people and end up battling debt well into the New Year. And, of course, you have those of us who land smack dab in the middle, spending within their budgets, but spending nonetheless. Today I’m talking about how I find value in presents and also passing on a few of my favourite ideas in my Christmas gift guide.

The Stats

  • The average Canadian spends over $1,500 each on Christmas
  • 45% of that spending goes towards travel expenses
  • 58% of consumers plan to shop local, but price is still the driving factor in choosing gifts
  • 62% of Canadians still plan to shop in-store as opposed to online

Was anyone else shocked at that $1,500 number?! That’s $3,000 for a couple! I set my budget for this years Christmas at $600, and I’m on track to come in right around there. This is a relatively low year for us because we aren’t travelling or hosting, so the bulk of that is going towards gifts. If you spend what I do and then have to factor in travel costs, it makes perfect sense that you’d be creeping up on that $1,500 average pretty darn quickly. I’ve been lucky this hasn’t been the case for me. Our cycle is to travel one out of every three years; one year we host everyone, one year we travel to the bf’s family, and one year we are with my parents who are local.

There’s No Shame in Bowing Out

Christmas is loaded with pressure. Pressure to buy gifts, go to parties, meet friends for dinner, decorate your home, give to charity…

It’s overwhelming for anyone, even those who have a plan and budget year-round.

But remember one thing; you are allowed to say no. Will it be hard to explain? Probably. Will you be judged? Maybe. Will your stress level and wallet thank you? Almost certainly. Participating in the holidays with little to no budget is possible. Spending time with family, checking out local events, or hosting a potluck with friends are all affordable options that will keep you feeling more like Santa and less like Scrooge. It’s not worth going into debt so that you can appear generous.

Why I’m Not Bowing Out

I said above that my budget for Christmas this year is $600. That might not be anywhere near the $1,500 average, but it’s hardly frugal. Do you want to know the most important reason I’m spending? Because I can afford it. Sure, I love giving gifts and getting them in return, but I love a balanced budget more (personal finance nerd alert). That’s why I make Christmas a priority and set aside money for it during the year. That way I can buy gifts for all and not be seeing red come January.

My budget for presents might not be that frugal, but my shopping habits still are. I took advantage of Black Friday and Cyber Monday deals to get the most bang for my buck, I use Rakuten to earn cash back when shopping online, I hit up local craft fairs, and I charge everything to my credit card to receive reward points.

But don’t forget the cardinal rule of using credit cards…

No matter how great a deal you scored, those savings will soon evaporate if the purchase sits on your card for a few months. 

The amount of excess income you have is what should drive your spending decisions (just as it should the rest of the year). If you have the funds and the desire, then spend freely. This is the benefit of building fun money into your budget; it eliminates the guilt of buying things you love or things for the people you love.

I thought that since I enjoy (and am fully participating in) the gifting part, I would put together a quick gift guide for those of you who are still trying to come up with the perfect present.

The Gift Guide

For the Wannabe Chef

The Food Lab: Better Home Cooking Through Science – This is so much more than just a cookbook. Sure, it has recipes in it, but it will teach you how to master cooking techniques that will turn you into a real home cook. Trust me, I bought this for the bf two years ago, and we eat a whole lot better these days.

For the Dog Fanatic

Dog Dog Goose collars: Both my pups are the proud owners of these collars, made locally right here in Edmonton. They aren’t cheap, but they will last forever, and the leather gets better with age. And if you don’t want to splurge on a collar, she also makes adorable bandanas.

For the Office Gift Exchange

90s Jigsaw Puzzle: I can’t be alone in my love for good old-fashioned jigsaw puzzles, and this 90s edition would keep me very happy for a weekend of hibernation. At only $20, this puzzle will provide hours of entertainment while keeping you in the Secret Santa spending limit.

For the Chronically Disorganized

Mindful Budgeting 2018 Planner: Cait Flanders is both a wonderful person and the queen of mindfulness. She’s put together a new version of her mindful planner that will help get anyone’s budget (and life) in order.

For that Friend Who’s Make-up is Always On Point

Lipstick Set: There is no such thing as too many lipsticks (said beauty lovers everywhere). This set of minis from Smashbox will earn you props from your favourite make-up lover…even if you’re a chapstick only kind of gal.

For that Extra Special Someone

Berg and Betts Watch: I think watches are the perfect gift if you’re looking to spend a little more on someone. These Berg and Betts watches are also made here in Edmonton with sustainable leather, come in a variety of colours, and have a two-year warranty. I’ve bought one for my mom and my best friend.

For Your Cousin Who Needs to Get Her Sh*t Together

Broke Millennial: Queue up Erin Lowry to drop some serious financial knowledge wherever it is needed. This book is perfect for beginners, and it’s as entertaining as it is smart.

For the BF Who Always Talks to His Phone

Google Home Mini: I don’t know about you, but my bf is constantly giving orders to his phone. ‘Hey Google, remind me to take out the garbage at 9 pm’ or ‘Hey Google, remind me to remind Sarah to call her mom at 10 am’. Enter the Google Home Mini, so he can now do all of the above without going upstairs to get his phone. Plus, at only $40, it’s a tech gift that’s affordable.

Hopefully, this will help check those last few people off your Christmas lists, if you’re doing the gifting thing. Whatever your choice, I hope you can embrace the joy of the holidays and not stress out about time, money or family.

How are you coping with the pressures of Christmas? Are you giving gifts this year? Or are you skipping that in favour of something else? 

Choosing to participate in Christmas in a way that works for you.

This post was proofread by Grammarly

Image Credit: Rawpixel


  1. Our whole family gave up the pressure. We only do grab bag gifts. We each spend $25 and have a helluva time making a game out of it. We allow “stealing” and some gifts are great gags.

    Our cousin’s children are little and we give them $25 gift cards. I don’t like doing it because it means nothing to them — but it’s one area where I bend to Mr. G. He tends to compromise more than I do.

    Great job on only $600. If we were gift givers I could easily see spending more than that.

    • Sarah Reply

      I love your grab bag idea, sounds like a blast! I would 100% consider something like that but I have such a tiny family. I’m an only child and most of my relatives live overseas so it’s usually just my parents and I (and now my partner). That’s a big part of why I still buy gifts for everyone, my list isn’t that crazy.

      (PS. I’m with you on the gift cards, I like giving physical gifts too)

  2. Ha! I suggested that my aunt get Broke Millennial for her granddaughter. Apparently my second cousin once removed (or first cousin once removed?) is having some difficulty learning to adult when it comes to finances.

    • Sarah Reply

      It’s pretty much the perfect gift for those youngsters that need a kick in the butt 😉 And that first, second cousin thing is a mystery to me! My tiny family did not give me any sort of education on such terms.

  3. We are obligated to do a gift exchange but it’s mildly less annoying this year. I’ve always been annoyed by it because I’m not close to most of the people on the list and as a rule I don’t enjoy either being required to give gifts or to give gifts to people I don’t know well enough to come up with useful gift ideas for them on my own. This year I’m going to be proud of myself for finding a way to let go of that annoyance.

    We’re still going to spend a stupid amount on Christmas between travel ($700?) and gifts ($350) but at least I won’t also be paying in stress and resentment.

    • Sarah Reply

      I love buying gifts, but I too find it annoying when it’s for someone I don’t know that well. This used to always be my issue at my old job when we would do a Secret Santa with the whole office. At my new job we don’t do anything official for gifting and I usually just take it some Christmas baking. Much less pressure, because who doesn’t love treats!

      Travel at Christmas is such a budget killer, I feel very lucky to not have to do that every year. Enjoy the season, and hopefully letting go of the annoyance works 🙂

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