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Summer's almost here: Think Christmas

The holiday won't arrive for 6 months, but that gives you time to strategize and shop.

By Donna_Freedman Jun 7, 2012 2:04PM
Image: Santa Claus (© Tetra Images/Jupiterimages)Only 201 days until Christmas. That may seem like an odd topic, given that we haven't even celebrated the summer solstice yet. But now, not Black Friday, is the time to start thinking about gifts.

Or whether you'll give presents at all.

A no-gift holiday really is an option. So are these tactics:
  • Presents for the 18-and-under crowd only.
  • An all-homemade-gifts holiday.
  • A strict price limit.
  • Experiences or charitable donations instead of physical gifts.
  • One gift per adult.

Even if you decide to go the piles-of-presents route, now's the time to start planning. News flash: Christmas and a couple of other winter holidays come every December. But to see the way people panic, and overspend, you'd think that the idea of gift giving had just been invented.


Starting early gives you lots of time to make a list of possible gifts, look for the best prices and, yes, to talk to your family about how you want to celebrate. People may need time to mull over ideas like price limits or a kids-only Christmas.

An early start

I look for presents year-round. (For hints on how the real frugalists do it, see "Christmas for less than $100.") By the time holiday music starts playing in the stores, I'm just about finished my shopping.

My usual routine is one gift per adult and up to three per child. If a kid gets three, however, they're fairly small ones. I don't want to start gift wars ("How much did Donna spend on us? Is our gift to her big enough?") or to give nieces and nephews the idea that they deserve lavish piles of presents every year.

An early start is a good idea no matter how you shop. Simply creating a list can save you a lot of head-scratching later on. Each time a giftee mentions a general need or wish, make a note of it.

Revisit the list in late summer or early autumn. Sis still wild about knitting? Dad continuing to tie his own fishing flies? Start looking for great deals on the supplies they need. If you have no luck, go with gift certificates at shops that cater to those hobbies.

Money, money, money

How are you going to pay for all this? Now's the time to think about that, too. My Mom used to belong to a "Christmas club": Each week she'd deposit a set amount and by December she'd go shopping with the cash.

This sure beats shopping with credit cards in December. Why not start your own Christmas club by setting up automatic savings? Create a subaccount and name it something like "cash for Christmas."

If you've made even a partial gift list you'll have some idea of how much you need to save. Divide that figure by six and you'll know how much to set aside each month from now until the holidays.

Speaking of money: Expect some push-back if you propose any changes in holiday spending. Expect to hear the name Scrooge, too. The holidays are pretty fraught, and any deviation from tradition can be upsetting, at least initially.

However, you may be voicing a sentiment that others are too embarrassed to bring up. Siblings or cousins might be feeling financially pinched, especially as more nieces, nephews and grandkids are added to the list each year.

An even better holiday

You can still give. Just don't break your budget, especially for something as ephemeral as a Christmas present.

Pop quiz: Can you name everything you received last year? Probably not.

What makes the holidays great isn't just getting that Red Ryder BB gun. It's being with the people you love, eating special foods and maybe watching "It's a Wonderful Life" for the 20th time.

Trust me: It will be even more fun if you're not shopping and wrapping right up to Dec. 24 and dreading the arrival of the January credit card bills.

When do you start your holiday shopping? Does your family have any special gift-giving rules?

More from MSN Money:

Jun 7, 2012 8:05PM

AMEN....Donna. The older I get the less I enjoy the gift giving and the more I just enjoy seeing extended family over the Holidays and catching up. I enjoy most those gifts that took thought and offer simplicity.. A few years back, my oldest DD gave me a  nice framed picture picture of her and her sister on the oldest daughter's' Wedding Day. It shows her in her wedding gown pulling her "little sister".... in her brides maid outfit....while sitting in the "Radio Flyer" wagon they both enjoyed as children....PRICELESS. This was the best Xmas gift I recieved that year...and it didn't cost a bundle....

Our family is going to donate to several charities. This way we beat the holiday hype, avoid stress and no returns. And corporate America gets nothing. I say that is a win win situation.
Jun 7, 2012 10:10PM
With the economy such as it is,Lets not let anyone tell us what to do about Christmas.Lets celebrate in our own way with our family and friends.Its not about Money and more stuff.
Jun 7, 2012 8:39PM

can't waite, MERRY CHRISTMAS and HAPPY NEW YEAR to all! 

Jun 7, 2012 11:00PM

I make large amounts of homade fudges, and filled chocolates, and I make gift baskets for friends, family, and co-workers.  This works great, because I can give many very nice gifts, but don't spend a lot of money.  And everyone loves it and waits for my candy anxiously, so there is no worry that the gift won't be liked.

It is a lot of work, but I enjoy doing it all for my friends.

Jun 7, 2012 8:41PM
i am watching, ELF, right now, love it, love it, love it.
Jun 7, 2012 8:32PM
I make about 90% of my gifts, so if I haven't started by the 4th of July, I won't be done in time.
Jun 8, 2012 1:04AM

Actually, the best time to buy stuff is right after Christmas--I used to do that back when I gave presents.  These days, no one has money and wanted to quit--so I joined them.  But, expensive Christmas-y stuff is best purchased right after the holiday.  I've gotten $50 crystal for about $8.50.  Can't beat that, especially since it is still in the box--the stores just don't want to ship it anywhere and dump it.


These days, we all make cookies, if we do that.  When baking stuff goes on sale (if it will keep until Christmas), I stock up on it.  Always looking for flour, sugar, chocolate chips--stuff like that often goes on sale and it keeps well.  I just check the dead date first.


Online is good--one can get great stuff at 80% off if one watches the sales.  My daughter just got a $250 prom dress for $80 (including shipping).  It's beautiful and exactly what she wanted.  Why worry with this in June?

Jun 8, 2012 1:01AM
I don't really shop specifically for Christmas. I set aside money every month to my "Miscellaneous Account." This money is used for birthdays, special events and holidays. I buy for older teens and adults, so it's pretty easy to make everybody happy. The teens like books, cash and gift cards. Some of my family members are married, some are not, so economic situations vary quite a bit. Rather than buying gifts for each other, we spend money on the holiday dinners. The host provides the roast or turkey, cooks it, etc. Everybody else brings the sides and desserts. It cuts down on arguing because everybody gets to bring what they like. We all sit around the kitchen, preparing the various dishes, visiting and having a great time. The kids get gifts they can use. Extra canned goods are donated to local food banks, with enough money left over for end-of-year cash donations too. Good times! 
Jun 8, 2012 12:27AM
It seems like Christmas season is starting up earlier and earlier each year.  Though I probably won't start shopping myself till either November or December (June is a little too early for me in my opinion).
  I was suprised to see this artical about  Christmas.  I don't even want to start thinking about that it yet.  Although.... the tips were good.   I don't spend a fortune on gifts any more.  I just get everyone in our family one .  I just enjoy spending time with our family. That's  whats it's all about. I really try hard to keep the  real meaning  during this holiday. It can be hard to do this when holidays become stressful. My mom makes a Happy birthday Jesus cake  and the children in the family sing.  It's a good tradition.Sometimes my husband and I don't put the tree up.  It's wonderful because we don't have to put all the stuff back away.    
Jun 7, 2012 11:36PM
Rut Ro...  I just took down the Christmas Tree lights a week ago...  I guess I'd better get my fat Ayyass up the ladder again and put 'em back up!!
Jun 7, 2012 11:53PM
I appreciate the 'heads up' Donna!  Nothing like some early planning to help plan for cash only prezzie purchases and a pain free Christmas on a very tight income!  Thanks again! ~Deb
Jun 8, 2012 12:52PM
Wow! I, for one, appreciate your post. I have a plan to give my nieces a nice little gift of products to pamper themselves - fragrant lotions and body washes, nail polish and lip gloss purchased cheaply at the drugstores when they're on sale. It costs us a bundle to drive to the relatives' houses so it's great to save money on presents and buy them now, rather than when they're marked at the highest priced they'll be all year.

I would rather be able to afford to give nice gifts rather than nothing at all. If I was to wait until December no one would receive a present at all.

Jun 8, 2012 12:59AM
hey someone,  are you sure that you aren't the grinch ? you sure talk like you are though.
Jun 8, 2012 12:33AM
For me, Christmas shopping during the Christmas season IS fun.
Jun 8, 2012 2:57AM
Alot of the family can't get away or travel(besides we just ate turkey together in November) this year.We are going Christmas camping in July.  Our gifts will include poetry shared around the campfire. We will decorate a tree :)
Jun 8, 2012 8:12AM
WOW! 34 would appear Donna has "struck a nerve"...
Jun 20, 2012 2:31AM

good gifting advice, i just usually spend around 20 bucks a month on clearance items shopping online stores and leave to be gifted items in the closet or in boxes and add items to this stash that i get as gifts which i wont use, and i add sample and travel size items to it and such and when a birthday or holiday arises , is just a matter of getting some gift bags from the dollar store and filling em up from this stash, no work, no stress.Books youve read, movies you dont watch and games you no longer play are also all good things to give out as gifts.

Jun 8, 2012 12:18AM

Christmas is overrated. All this nonsense in June proves it.

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Donna Freedman's Frugal Nation blog is for readers who want to live cheaply -- whether due to necessity or a lifestyle choice. It explores living sustainably and making life more meaningful at the same time.


Donna Freedman

Donna Freedman, a writer based in Anchorage, Alaska, writes the Frugal Nation blog for MSN Money. She won regional and national prizes during an 18-year newspaper career and earned a college degree in midlife without taking out student loans. Donna also writes about the frugal life for her own site, Surviving and Thriving.