It’s December and because I am not a power shopper (did you know there are people who are DONE shopping at Thanksgiving?  Big props.) that means it’s time to get serious about shopping for the Holidays.  I shop about once a year, and because I’m out of practice I’m pretty bad at it. Here’s a short list of what goes wrong during my holiday shopping:

  1. I think of something awesome to buy someone but when I’m ready to shop, I’ve forgotten it.  So I get something convenient only to remember the awesome thing later… then I either buy both, which is a waste of money or feel cranky about my gift of convenience.
  2. I buy things on impulse for people that I don’t really need to buy for.  This can be awkward for everyone- there I am with a gift, but they don’t have something for me. Then next year they have a gift for me but I don’t have one for them. This tendency of mine can cause a multi-year debacle and it costs money we don’t really have.
  3. I buy something for someone, my niece let’s say, and then forget that I’ve already gotten something… and then I buy something else.  Which, obviously, costs us twice as much!
  4. My husband buys something for our niece and I buy something for our niece and then we’ve double bought and paid twice as much.
  5. I set a budget for all the gifts I want to get my kids and then buy stuff… but between buying moments I’ve forgotten some of the things I’ve bought. Then my husband buys things. Then it’s Christmas eve and we’re wrapping presents only to discover that we have WAY more presents than we planned… and we’ve spent much, much more money.

The past three years my husband and I have been furiously paying off our debt and so we’ve developed a plan to handle some of these pitfalls and because we’re such good friends I thought I would share it with you.  It’s the Holiday Shopping Planner and it has been A LIFESAVER for me (you can download it down below!)

The planner consists of three sheets:

1. The Holiday Brainstorming List:


This page is my solution to the problem where I have a lot of great ideas but forget them when it’s time to shop. I try to carry this one around with me so that as new ideas occur I can jot them down right then!  Since I do most of my shopping online, this also helps me cut down on the time I spend shopping- I just find the items I’ve brainstormed and compare prices.  This keeps me out of the “people who looked at this also looked at this!” vortex, which saves both time and money!

2. The Multiple Gifts Purchase List


This is the page that we use for the kids.  Because we are going to get them a few gifts (I’m really, really, really trying to cut the number way, way down. More about that next week.) we need a way to track the ongoing expenses against an overall budget.

Confession time: A few Christmases ago, we spent $1200 more than we budgeted for Christmas and most of that went towards gifts for the kids… who were 2 and 4 and in no way benefitted!

It took us ALL YEAR to pay that Christmas off and every time I had to pay into that hole,I was mad. NO MORE!  Now we have a strict budget for the kids and every time we buy something for them we put it on the Multiple Gifts Purchase List.  We’ve created this as a shared google spreadsheet so that the remaining budget gets calculated automatically and we can each update the sheet when we are apart.  I suggest you do the same if you’ve got someone else also buying Holiday gifts for your list.

3. The Holiday Purchase List


As our kids get older, the list of people we have to buy a single gift continues to grow. We started with just the kids of our most important friends and family- you know, nieces and nephews or best friends’ kids. Now we add to that list teachers, babysitters, and tutors, my editors and partners, and my husband’s team.

I used to spend $20 a person on these “little gifts” but math finally caught up with me.  15 people at $20=300. We do not have that money!

All of this is to say please, please consider handmade gifts for these people. I am the least crafty person in history, so I know its possible to find something that you can do.  Cookies in a little clear bag with a ribbon- BAM.  Half the list is DONE!  

Here’s my secret weapon- people hoard these cookies. They are unreasonably good.

If you can’t find the time to do handmade gifts for anyone (I feel you, I really do), just please, please set a budget and stick to it.

That’s what you do with this page of the planner- you give each person a row and a budget and then as you choose gifts you check it against the budget before you buy.  For us, this one is also a shared google spreadsheet so that we can see what the other is up to.

That’s it!  This list has created a system that works really well for us- let me know if it works for you!




About the author

Dr. Amanda Crowell is a cognitive psychologist and business coach who helps accidental entrepreneurs get more clients and have a bigger impact. She is the author of Great Work, the host of the Unleashing Your Great Work podcast, and the creator of the Great Work Journals. Amanda's TEDx talk has received almost two million views and has been featured on TED's Ideas blog and Ted Shorts. Her ideas have also been featured on NPR, Al Jazeera, The Wall Street Journal, Quartz, and Thrive Global.