How to Make a Christmas Budget that Actually Works (in Singapore)

Ryan Ong



I now understand why Christmas dinners are huge. It’s obvious that, having spent the GDP of a third world country on this one celebration, that meal had better keep us going till March. But for the ones too weak to cram-and-store 52 kilos of stuffed turkey in their gut, I guess careful budgeting is the safer option. Here’s how to get all the appropriate gifts, without breaking the budget:

Why Don’t Most Christmas Budgets Work?

Christmas is the worst time to budget.

Every mall is tempting, you’re socially pressured to buy, and we have more flash sales than a Somali gun dealer before a UN intervention. Face it: Most of us make Christmas budgets, without actually believing we’ll keep to them. It’s more of a hopeful afterthought than an actual plan.

It’s time to change that. Use the ironclad MoneySmart approach, and redefine the meaning of “control”. You’re going to:

  • Prioritize Gift Recipients
  • Items First, Numbers Next
  • Avoid the Store as Much as Possible
  • Buy Vouchers and Gift Cards
  • The Unexpected Guest Plan


1. Prioritize Gift Recipients


Santa with naughty and nice list
About our budget list…could we be a little less obvious?


Most Christmas budgets start with a list of people. So fine, we’ll do the same.

But rather than compile names and write “present X, for Y dollars” next to them, you need to prioritize them. Divide the list into three parts: Most important, somewhat important, and Regret I Ever Met Them.

Prioritization could be based on family vs. acquaintances, favourite people vs. okay people, etc. Keep shifting names until:

  • The “Most Important” category accounts for less than six names on the list
  • The “Somewhat Important” category accounts for half the list (minus those five names)
  • The “Regret I Ever Met Them” category accounts for the other half of the list

Presents for people in the “Most Important” category are non-negotiable. Get them their presents without quibbling over price.

Those who are “Somewhat Important” get the remnants of the budget. And those in the final category get a dirty look (or maybe even a cheap card). Believe me, this is the most satisfying way to distribute presents.


2. Items First, Numbers Next


Chick toys
Well, Paul’s always wanted a chick, so…


Start by assigning items, not dollar values, to people on the budget list.

So instead of a budget entry like: “Uncle Phil – $50”, you should see “Uncle Phil – MP3 Player”.

From there, you can research available MP 3 players, and pick the model with the best price. Once you’ve done that, the entry looks like this:

“Uncle Phil – Zapple MP3 Player ($105.90)”

After that, tally the total prices. If it’s over-budget, change the models for cheaper ones, until the price fits.

This process turns your budget into a fixed shopping list. You don’t have to walk around the mall and browse; you can get what you need, and leave quickly. It also provides handy price comparisons, so you can spot price differences if there’s a flash sale.


3. Avoid the Store as Much as Possible


Empty Pocket
Tourists, just check your pockets. The emptier it looks, the closer you’re getting to Orchard.


So you have a pretty long shopping list. It seems it might keep you in the mall for some time. Well in that case, outsource.

Get friends or family to pick up some of the items for you; and only those items. If it’s on their way back from work or school, I’m sure they won’t mind. Alternatively, if you’re two or more weeks from Christmas, you can try buying online (there is a risk of shipping delays).

The point is to avoid the store as much as possible. Even if you have to go, stick to your highly specific list: Run in, buy the stuff, and get out. Never browse. If you want to stay on budget, shopping is a chore…not a form of entertainment.

As an aside, remember to pick the right credit card as a payment mode. Use the card, get the discount, and pay it back immediately to dodge any interest. Check sites like SmartCredit for the best options, or follow us on Facebook (we’ll update you).


4. Buy Vouchers and Gift Cards

So you’ve tried searching for a specific item, and failed. Maybe the right model isn’t in stock, or it’s all too overpriced. Alternatively, you may not know what item to get someone.

In which case, stick to buying gift vouchers or gift cards. These allow you to set a specific amount, like $20, $50, etc., so you can keep well within budget. Also, in a recent poll that we did, more than half of you (41 out of 77 respondents) said you preferred money or cash vouchers to an actual, physical gift.


5. The Unexpected Guest Plan


Christmas sweets
Why do all these dentists give the same Christmas presents?


There will be unexpected guests. Relatives who fly in from abroad, old acquaintances who suddenly turn up, etc.

Pre-plan for these occasions. Rather than scramble for a last minute gift, set aside a small amount (say $50) to buy generic gifts beforehand. These are things like chocolates, cards, pen sets, etc. Anything that qualifies as a door gift will do.

This stops you from running to the store when unexpected guests turn up. And if you don’t use all of them, hey, keep them for next Christmas (except the chocolates. I’m so sorry about that Charles, and I hope your stomach cramps end by this year’s Christmas).

Image Credits:
Hades2krondostar, jeremyfoo, danielmoyle, elvissa

How do you Christmas budget? Comment and let us know!

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Ryan Ong

I was a freelance writer for over a decade, and covered topics from music to super-contagious foot diseases. I took this job because I believe financial news should be accessible and fun to read. Also, because the assignments don't involve shouting teenagers and debilitating plagues.