Stress-Free Christmas Shopping on a Budget – Here’s How to Pull it Off

Joanne Poh



Even if you’re not Christian or Catholic, there’s a high chance you’re not going to be able to get away without spending money this Christmas. Whether it’s a mandatory gift exchange at the office, a Christmas party at a friend’s house or expectant kids, nephews and nieces, if you haven’t already started Christmas shopping it’s probably a good idea to start panicking right about now. If Christmas shopping is something you can’t avoid, here are some tips to minimise the damage.

Devise a total budget based on how many people you have

Not devising a gift budget and just flinging yourself into the throngs at Orchard Road is either going to result in some very painful financial decisions or end in your not being able to find anything.

A total budget is the most effective way to distribute your expenses. Devising a per-gift budget is way too restrictive, although you can have approximate guidelines (eg. not more than $20 per gift). Having a total amount in mind will stop you from overspending on any one gift as you’ll have to take into account how much you have left for the rest.

Write down the prices of all those gifts you’ve already bought or decided on. Subtract the cost of all bought or confirmed gifts and then you roughly know how much you can spend on the remaining recipients.


Set a time limit

Christmas shopping is like writing an essay for university or replying to emails. It can take as much time as you let it. So I recommend setting a time limit—one single trip to Orchard Road during which you have to buy every single gift works for me.

Often we can’t find suitable gifts for people because we’re trying to find something perfect that will change their lives and make anything right in the world. Alight upon a potential gift and your mind tells you, “No, he said he didn’t like green; no, looks too cheap, etc.” With a time limit, you’ll have to make do, which reduces the chances of your overpaying for last minute gifts in desperation.


Buy stuff in bulk

If you’ve ever worked in an office, you’ve probably noticed how many colleagues buy gifts for everyone they work with at Christmas. Buying Christmas gifts for colleagues is an exercise in politics, and similar to how teenage girls “like” each other’s pictures on Instagram. If you’ve gotten sucked into the fray and have to buy multiple gifts of roughly the same value, you can save a ton of time and money buy buying them at the same shop.

A colleague of mine once bought eco-friendly reusable shopping bags for everyone at the office, which meant everyone got the same item in different colours. It’s actually one of the few gifts I use on a regular basis now.

Even if you don’t get the same item for everyone, try to target shops where you’re likely to be able to find gifts for a large number of people. Depending on your budget, some one-stop-shop type places you might find useful (especially for office gifts) include:

  • Market Place by Jason’s – artisanal teas, expensive chocolates, olive oil from some special plantation, gourmet condiments
  • Mustafa – I haven’t actually tried buying Christmas gifts here but I can see a lot of potential, since they sell everything on earth
  • Artbox – cutesy notebooks, pencils and folders, mostly quite cheap
  • Muji – minimalist stationery, accessories, homeware; on the costly side

I’m no shopaholic, so excuse me if you disagree with my suggestions.


Buy online to get cash back

If the thought of jostling with the crowds at Orchard Road makes you feel like puking and you don’t leave all your Christmas shopping to the last minute, you might be able to buy your gifts online.

Obviously, if you buy each gift at a different online store it’s going to cost you a bomb in shipping. The same principle as that in the above pointer applies—aim for stores where you can buy a large number of gifts.

Even better, shop at a store that gives you free shipping or discounts for bulk orders. And of course, use a credit card with a generous cash back policy on online shopping.

Here are some online shops that will let you tick lots of items off your list.

  • Amazon – Free shipping to Singapore if you order more than $120 worth of qualifying items, which is also way faster than using a shipping service. They have everything in the world, from Havaianas slippers to cosmetics to clothing to books.
  • iHerb – Bath and beauty products and gourmet or organic groceries. Shipping to Singapore is cheap, however be careful as you only enjoy discounted shipping on orders under a certain weight, so you might have to split your shipment into multiple packages to save more money. They also offer discounts on orders over a certain amount (at the moment it’s 10% off orders of at least $40).
  • ASOS – If you’re shopping for a trendier crowd, check out the accessories at ASOS. Use the slider on the left to indicate your price range and you’ll see all the items you can afford. To be fair, the stuff isn’t that cheap, but you can find skinny ties and earrings for less than $18. The male accessories section and the female jewellery section contain many relatively affordable items. Free shipping for orders over $50.

Also, there are plenty of credit cards that can give you some great cashback rewards for your Christmas spending, such as the Amex Cashback Credit Card, which currently gives 5% cashback for the first 3 months up to a maximum of $5,000 worth of spend.

To find the best cashback card in Singapore, head on over to MoneySmart’s Credit Cards Section to see what suits you best.


Buy just after Christmas

In case you haven’t noticed, post-Christmas sales are usually more generous than pre-Christmas sales. If you’re buying seasonal (usually fashion) items that are likely to go on sale right after Christmas, you might want to hold out until then. You can inform your colleagues you “forgot” to bring their Christmas gifts and will bring them after the public holiday, or try to convince your kids Santa is late this year. However, you should probably brace yourself for the repercussions.

Do you have any other budget Christmas shopping tips we can all benefit from? Let us know in the comments!

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Joanne Poh

In my previous life, I was a property lawyer who spent most of my time struggling to get out of bed or stuck in peak hour traffic. These days, as a freelance commercial writer, I work in bed, on the beach, in parks and at cafes, all while being really frugal. I like helping other people save money so they can stop living lives they don't like.