Money doesn’t Grow on Christmas Trees: How to Budget Christmas Spending

There is nothing like a big, red 40 percent off sale sign, an exhaustingly joyous Christmas tune and a tinge of freedom due to the upcoming Christmas break to make college students overspend their hard-earned cash on Christmas presents. If one doesn’t have a closet full of Bath & Body Works products and a rack full of neck ties, then one cannot be prepared for the season. Most college students are known for being broke and procrastinating on Christmas shopping, so they don’t normally fit in this category. After the last shards of Christmas decorations are put away, a wave of regret crashes over many student minds with thoughts like, “Why did I spend so much on Christmas only to be penniless for the rest of the year?” We are all going to have to show up to at least half a dozen Christmas parties with white elephant gifts and an armload of wrapped goodies on the big day, so there has to be a way to keep the holiday cheer of giving up and the overspending low.

It seems that a current flow of expensive gifting for college students is taking effect more and more each year. With this generation being known as the digital age many presents on the top of Christmas list are electronical gadgets. According to, four out of six of the top picks for college students are electronic and expensive. Some of those being the $400 Anki DRIVE race game, the $99 3Doodle 3D printing pen, and the $97 FitnessORB fitness tracker. Thus the gift-giving hits hard on parents and is nearly impossible for many students.

According to, 59 percent of college students are in debt, with an average amount of $26,250 by the time they graduate. An article titled “Holiday Spending Tips to Prevent Overspending” on said that students are spending an average of $749.51 on gifts, decorations and other seasonal items during Christmas time. Research conducted for this article using Tyler Junior College and University of Texas at Tyler revealed that most students buy an average of eight to 10 gifts for Christmas. The study showed that students tend to splurge a little on gifts if they know they are getting something their loved one would really like. English sophomore at TJC MiKayla Yancy budgets and splurges a little too. “I usually have a set budget for each person but if I end up spending less on someone, I might splurge and get a slightly better gift for someone else,” Yancy said. Instead of paying high dollars on gifts, there are tips and tricks to keeping more money in the bank, the same amount of presents under the tree, and less penny-pinching once the holidays end.

For those not interested in large group settings and being social, one can bypass the in store shopping and purchase their gifts online. An article called “Holiday Shopping Tips for Students on a Budget” on suggests this idea since buying in a shopping mall increases the tendency to buy impulsively, whereas online purchasing can be handled with one click of the mouse. With stores like Target and Best Buy, shoppers can get free shipping without any minimum amount spent on a purchase.

A simple, yet slightly time-consuming strategy to save money is to track the prices of specific gifts. However, apps like RedLaser, ShopSavvy and BuyVia are available for iOS and Android users to easily compare the prices of a specific purchase with different stores. UT Tyler graduate assistant for student money management Zaineb Sehgal advises students to use a free app called Mint. “You connect your account to Mint and it splits your expenses into categories like food or shopping, and you can monitor it from your phone,” said Sehgal.

Looking to get thrifty on a gift? Places like Craigslist, Plato’s Closet and eBay are all great alternatives to finding a variety of brand new or gently used items for up to 70 percent the cost of brand new items in retail stores. A perk for online sites like Craigslist is price negotiation and tax-free items.

Sometimes its not the quantity that matters as much as the quality. A gift that comes from the heart can mean more than the latest gear. Try making some DIY projects for family members, teachers and close friends instead. Mass communications junior Maya Foster at UT Tyler is deciding to make all of her gifts this year. “Right now, I am not making a lot of money so instead of buying extravagant things, I will be making some gifts, whether its be food or DIY trinkets,” said Foster. Sehgal advised this type of gift-giving as well. “Do-it-yourself is the best way to save money on gifts. To stay on budget, use the envelope system. Have an envelope with the money you planned for gifts, and when the envelope is empty that is when you know you have no money left to spend on gifts.” Who wouldn’t want a mason jar field with a terrarium kit? Or a personalized set of coffee coasters? Even for the animal lovers, students can make homemade dog treats and stitched-up felt catnip toys. Students needing help with DIY gift ideas and instructions can check out the article on called “39 DIY Christmas a gifts You’d Actually Want to Receive.”

For some students like piano pedagogy senior Brian Sanders at UT Tyler, gifts are not necessary for celebrating the holidays, but rather quality time. “I would rather just chill, watch Christmas movies and enjoy the cool weather,” said Sanders. “It [buying gifts] can be good to show how you care for someone, but this obligation to do so ruins it.” Who would disagree that quality time with the cellphone off and the headphones aside is sometimes the best gift one can get?

The bottom line is to stay within the lines of your bank account, figure out how to find good deals and give the gift of quality time regardless. Sehgal offered a general rule of thumb in terms of budgeting for all students, “Budgeting helps you put a name to every dollar so you don’t wonder where all of your money went at the end of the semester. At the Student Money Management, we recommend you make a zero-based budget where you ‘put a name to every dollar’. So for instance, if some money is left, put it into savings. Make sure you budget for saving. Pay yourself first.”