Between tinsel and trees, white elephants and wrapping paper, candy canes and Christmas gifts, the holidays can become quite spendy for the average person. It’s even harder when that person is a college student on a budget.
According to USA Today, the average American spends around $1,050 on holiday gifts, goodies and travel combined.
Broken down, $230 of that is for decor—because who doesn’t love a real Christmas tree? Food takes up $160 of the total between cookies for Santa and a ham for the family. Lastly, on average, Americans spend upwards of $660 on Christmas gifts per year.
That may seem like an outrageous number when stated outright, and it is. However, it is not so large in comparison to how many people a person may feel obligated to get presents for.
Krystal D’Costa, in the Scientific American, put it this way: “Though gifts are supposed to be given freely and willingly, they come with the obligation to give and an obligation to receive. Our social collective imposes the obligation to give.”
Thus, that number ticks higher than many actually want to spend.
College students feel this obligation heavily as they not only have a family but their wingmates or apartment mates, teammates, resident assistants, resident directors, beloved professors, coaches and so many others they have the opportunity to interact with on a daily basis in their home space.
Yet, students have a smaller budget than the average American. They need to find ways to balance their budget and their giving spirit in a way that won’t break the bank.
“I personally develop a certain amount that I would like to spend on each person and mark that as a goal to stay under when shopping,” senior Joey Lohse said. “Then, if I go under on some people, I can spend more on others.”
Junior Destinee Montenegro takes a slightly different approach to holiday shopping.
“The process begins with looking at how much I have in my account, then either deciding not to spend anything or taking a portion from each paycheck and setting it aside for Christmas shopping,” she said.
Knowing how much to spend on each person is very useful when budgeting for Christmas gifts. Realistically, a person cannot get gifts for everyone they know and love. College students especially cannot.
As a way to still give yet be friendly on the pocketbook, here are some alternative gift options.
A lot of people appreciate a homemade or handmade gift. Homemade gifts could include face scrubs in a jar or baked goods. Handmade gifts could include ornaments, letters or a family recipe book.
For a significant other, the modern version of a Spotify playlist mixtape could be in the wraps. Whatever the person is in relation to the giver, there are always alternative, cheaper options that will mean just as much to the receiver.
Another way to save money this Christmas is to shop sales or check out outlet or discount stores. Some popular options include TJ Maxx, Marshalls, Nordstrom Rack or GroupOn. They have many options at a price right for each person.
However, none of this savvy spending is possible without first having a reliable budget and budgeting system. One way to start is to follow the 50 / 30 / 20 format.
This says that 50% of a person’s income should be their needs, which includes groceries, housing, car payments or anything else you absolutely cannot go without.
Next in the system is wants, which can include up to 30% of a person’s income. Budgeting does not mean you cannot have or save for what you want. It allows for more ability to spend healthily and to make less impulsive buys. Wants are items like manicures, movies and eating out.
Finally, 20% of your total income should be saved away for a rainy day or for debt repayment. College students will most likely be heavier in their 20% on the debt repayment side for the first few years after college. Whether the 20% goes to savings or debt is dependent on the person’s current situation.
When shopping for others this holiday season, it’s important to budget wisely and remember, as Lohse said, “Don’t stress too much, the season is about giving, not receiving.”