How much do we spend on the Holidays?


Kitty PoP did a little posing under the tree in his santa sweater for the holiday pictures. =)

So just to recap, we had $1,098 in cash rewards that we built up over the last year by using our cash back rewards cards – Chase Visa, Discover, and American Express Blue Everyday. We cash these rewards in every year, and that’s the firm cap on all of our holiday spending from October through the end of the year. It covers most of the birthdays in our families, Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas.


How Did We Do?

On the whole, I think we did a great job of aligning our spending with our values, which is probably the most important aspect of spending in our opinions. We were well under budget, which is another positive. But let’s take a look at where all the money went.


Holiday Food – $40

Halloween Candy – $8 was more than enough for all of our trick-or-treaters this year. We even sent plenty of extra candy to Mr. PoP’s office the day after thanks to a heck of a BOGO deal.

Thanksgiving Dinner – $16 covers two different veggies that I bring to Thanksgiving dinners. As side dishes go, I luck out because the ones I am “assigned” are pretty inexpensive and easy to make.

Christmas Dinner – $16. At the PoP’s dinner table, it’s exactly like Thanksgiving, but with presents. =)


Non-Food Gifts For Family and Friends – $227

This is seven birthdays and eight Christmases.  Phew.  That’s a lot.  But, an unexpected store credit to a store where we didn’t want anything provided an additional $67 worth of home merchandise that will be gifted on Christmas morning.  It was of no cost to us.  Score!

Also, in order to prevent giving a gun rack Wayne’s World style, we worked off of wish lists, went shopping with the recipients, and chipped in with other family members to buy what we hope is a buy-it-for-life gift for one family member this year.


Non-Food Gifts For Each Other – $222

Birthday spending for each of us was $50, and we did end up making purchases that were a little on the frivolous side with the money. When Christmas approached, though, we both felt like all of our wants were taken care of, so the Christmas spending on each other this year has been mostly “needs” that are getting wrapped and put under the tree. These are things that are usually everyday purchases, but when nothing else is under the tree, I like to wrap up the replacement running shoes I just bought or a bag of espresso beans for Mr. PoP.


Holiday Cards and Stamps – $25

Mr. PoP thinks these are a big waste, but we have some family and friends that still treasure these small tangible tokens of our thoughts each year.


Food Gifts For Family & Friends – $42

Every year I make some family favorite holiday sweets recipes and we give them out to very special people in our lives. These particular treats aren’t all that costly to make (in fact, much of that cost is because I needed to buy a new bottle of Kahlua for the Chocolate Kahlua Cake, but a bottle lasts several years). But these treats do take a significant portion of time. My MIL came over this year to help with the baking, and making them with her added a touch of love to the process. The $42 includes trays and fancy wrapping paper that I use to doll the treats up as gifts for distribution. Gotta love the dollar store trays!


Holiday Parties – $40

Though I did complain briefly about attending four holiday parties in two weekends this year, we survived. Spending on these parties fell into two categories.

Food – $15. This covered desserts and veggie trays that aren’t all that expensive to make when you assemble them yourself.

Gifts – $25. Participating in a White Elephant gift exchange at a work party was pretty non-negotiable, so we contributed a $25 gift. From the exchange we brought home a $25 gag-type gift, too.  Mr. PoP’s been having a good time with the gag gift at work with his friends there.


Holiday Decorations: $56

We pay $35 for a live tree every year, and then we have a tradition of where each year we purchase one new ornament for each of us. It gets marked with our name and the year, and is often loosely related to something that happened that year. Those ornaments cost $21 this year. Although does anyone know of a blogging ornament? I might be convinced to buy one more if I could find one to signify starting the blog this year. =)


Gifts & Donations to Non Family & Friends: $250

For us, this is donations of food, gifts, and cash to needy local families this time of year. Typically we spend between $75 and $100 in this category each year. However, we upped this for two reasons this year. First, we had way more rewards money to spend than we have in past years. But more importantly, one of the charities that we’ve supported for our entire marriage experienced an acute need this year. It was really important to us that group be able to meet their goal of helping all the families they had committed to helping this holiday season, so we bumped up our donation to that group and were really glad to do so.


Total Holiday Spending: $902

Looking at that number, it feels like a lot of money. But…

1 – It was kindof “free money” since we stuck to our cash back rewards budget

2 – Our proportions were good

3 – This is pretty much most of the holiday spending for the entire year.  We’re not big on anniversaries or Valentine’s Day, so this is pretty much it for big lavish spending for the year.


Were you able to stick to planned spending for your holiday spending this year?  Anyone else care to share their total holiday spending for the season?  

18 comments to How much do we spend on the Holidays?

  • Our biggest expense this year was for our daughter’s presents. Since she’s an only child and we really don’t buy toys except for Christmas and Birthdays, we do probably spend more than we should. Like you, we had about $1100 in reward money, but I was hoping to save some of that for travel. I also had points through a vendor at work that I can cash in for gift cards. We spent about $200 for the kiddo, but got a set of starter golf clubs, 2 Disney dolls, an art set, an alarm clock (they want the weirdest things), a beauty shop set,some clothes and headbands, and the last minute toy pony. My husband and I aren’t doing gifts except we gave our daughter $20 each to pick something out for the other. He almost got Disney Princess Candyland, but I convinced her that a multitool and set of Uno cards would be better. I spend $15 on that. We spent $4 on our nephews because I had some Old Navy store rewards and we used points to get movie tickets for them, so that was a score. I spent $80 on my nieces. We got my inlaws gift cards with points. I don’t do gifts for adults in my family. I spent $3 at the Dollar store for my husband’s secret Santa work gifts, and I used a massage gift certificate that I got through bartering as the big gift for that exchange. I spent $8 on a plant for the neighbor, $20 on her granddaughter, and regifted a very nice cookie jar to another. We spent $93 on gifts for our daughter’s teachers and my husband’s student teacher. I will not give crap to teachers because my husband hauls a whole load of it home every year. I bartered with a photographer for photos and Christmas cards that I will give to my family since I don’t do gifts, and $15 on my husband’s grandparents. I spent around $40 in postage and $10 on my Frugal Portland gift exchange. I won’t count food because that was a business expense for hour holiday party and I just used leftover ingredients for baked goods. Sorry so long, but about $500 total. I feel like I bought for the people I wanted to buy for and gave them something they will like and use and we certainly didn’t go overboard this year like we have in the past.
    Kim@Eyesonthedollar recently posted..Financial Lessons from Clark W. GriswoldMy Profile

    • Sounds like you got a fabulous bang for your buck this Christmas!

      By the way, I love that your little daughter wanted an alarm clock and a set of golf clubs from Santa. Is she 5 going on 55? That’s how I was!

  • We don’t keep track of spending on holidays the same way that you do – we have a savings account for travel + gifts and the rest (food) is lumped into our normal budget.

    This year we’ve spent a bit north of $400 on gifts (all for family, 30 or so recipients), but some of that cost was covered by old gift cards. We also spent $625 on flights for Christmas and there will be another $100 or so in gas related to Christmas travel when it’s all done.

    Actually, both of those categories represent coming in solidly under budget! We only made 2 exceptions to our gift price cap and the total was well under the spending ceiling. We also always assume we’ll spend about $800 on flights so we were excited to get a good deal on those (and we don’t have layovers!).
    Emily @ evolvingPF recently posted..At Long Last, Our Budget(s)My Profile

    • Congrats on coming in so under budget. But I think the best part of all of that is the “no layovers”. That is definitely a luxury when winter weather can mess up travel plans and leave you stranded in a random location on a layover.

      As for the food, when we do our monthly statements, the holiday food gets piled in with grocery spending, but I still like to keep track of it separately since it’s almost always a special trip to the grocery just for those items. Its weird, but I feel like when I add it to a normal grocery trip, I end up getting more than I need as opposed to when I go with the recipes in hand and get exactly how much we need!

      Enjoy your time with family and Happy Holidays!

  • The total amount looks big, but when you break it down it looks quite reasonable. That’s why I always break it down otherwise the number at the end looks to scary!
    Mo’ Money Mo’ Houses recently posted..Happy Christmas Eve Mo’ Money ReadersMy Profile

    • I think it definitely goes both ways. The end number can look scary, but sometimes letting yourself ignore the end number and just thinking of the $50 here and $100 there can be a recipe for disaster, too.

      Happy Holidays!

  • I really like your spending proportions graph. I think that’s something nobody worries about these days. Who we give away our money to speaks louder than words.
    Ross recently posted..It’s because I spend less, not because I make moreMy Profile

    • Yeah, in general we’re not big on spending, but when we do it’s a really easy check to see if it’s lining up with what we value.

      Happy Holidays!

  • I always feel like I should be sending out Christmas cards whenever I get them, but never bad enough to actually do it! Some year I might surprise everyone by sending them a card. I really feel like they don’t notice (do you ever notice gifts people DON’T give you?)
    AverageJoe recently posted..Two Guys & Your Money 023: Better Work? Quality Trips to the Grocery Store?My Profile

    • Mr. PoP thinks they are a huge waste, and I’ve considered stopping them. But independently a couple different people commented how much they appreciate getting them even if they don’t reciprocate with cards.

      For me, the cards are mostly for people who live far away that are important enough in our lives that we’d spend time with them over the holiday season if they were closer. Presents are overkill, but a nice card with actual heartfelt words written inside… eh, maybe I’m an old fashioned softie, but I know I appreciate them, and think a lot of other people do too. =)

      Happy Holidays!


    The time to buy the cards is right after Christmas.Or at estate sales or garage sales. Your main cost should be postage.

    And I agree with sending physical cards. It really does mean a lot. I found myself unexpectedly touched when my husband’s Masonic Lodge sent me a “get-well” card. You can give a lot of joy very easily.

  • I love when I read stuff like this, so organized. We are running our numbers in the next week or so for 2012 to see how we made out. We don’t break it down as much as you have as we don’t have many people to buy for. You did well considering what you bought. Great Job. Mr.CBB Happy Holidays.
    Canadianbudgetbinder recently posted..Merry Christmas To All!My Profile

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  • I think you guys did great! Especially on the family buying. We have a couple more people, but ended up spending A LOT more. not because we feel like $$=love, but just because we weren’t as awesome as you. Haha. Nice job with the store credit.
    femmefrugality recently posted..Today Is My Favorite Day to Go ShoppingMy Profile

  • CF

    Nice recap! I don’t have a detailed breakdown of our holiday spending, but I know that for myself, I spent about $300 on gifts, cards and stocking stuffers for 5 people. We did also spend some money on turkeys and baking and whatnot, but that money came out of the regular grocery budget.
    CF recently posted..Discarding toxic people from your lifeMy Profile

  • I haven’t tallied our holiday spending yet. I did make a budget, but I’m not sure yet if we went over or not. If we did I don’t think we’re over by much. I also used credit card rewards this year to buy a few gifts (gift cards for the grandparents that I didn’t plan on “buying” but since it was “free money” to me, I decided it was a worthy splurge). I didn’t end up doing any baking, but we did buy a big prime rib for Christmas dinner.
    KK @ Student Debt Survivor recently posted..Our Son Is Clueless About Student Debt-Help!My Profile

    • Is prime rib a new thing that all the cool kids are eating these days? I feel like you’re the 3rd person to mention it lately and I’ve barely heard of it in my life prior to 2012. =)

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