How to Gift Shop on a Budget (5 Tips for Terrible Gift-Givers)

September 8, 2020

This post may include affiliate links, which means that if you end up buying something, I will earn a commission at no extra cost to you.

Giving gifts is supposed to be fun. But if you identify as a terrible gift-giver and you are working on a slim budget, like me, then it’s just plain stressful.

It wasn’t because I didn’t like people or I didn’t like giving gifts.  I loved the people I was buying for, and I wanted to love giving them gifts! I was always stressed out about money, always late ordering gifts (because I procrastinated), and never confident that my gifts were actually enjoyed by my loved ones.

If you are heading into this Christmas season, stressing about how to give great gifts on a budget, the rest of this article will show you the obstacles in your way and how to overcome them.

Two Obstacles to Gift Shopping on a Budget

Here are two obstacles you are probably facing when you’re gift shopping:

  • You can’t afford expensive or elaborate gifts
  • You don’t know how or where to find interesting gifts on a budget

Am I right, or am I right? The fact is that gift shopping on a budget is more challenging. If you didn’t have a budget, you could give everyone expensive gifts, and we wouldn’t be having this discussion.

Even though you surely want to give friends and family something they’ll love and be really blessed with, you feel seriously stressed when you think about spending more than a little bit of money–for me, I started freaking out at $20!

On the other hand, figuring out how to find unique and affordable gifts is SO possible. I changed my mindset and learned a few keys that have made shopping for gifts not only less stressful… but actually FUN!

5 Keys to Gift Shopping on a Budget

Here are the five keys to gift shopping on a budget:

  • Organize
  • Budget
  • Think backwards
  • Scroll and scroll early
  • Make money while you shop for gifts

Key #1: Organize Your Gift Shopping Plan

Lists on lists on lists!

For Christmas, start by making a list of every person you want to buy for. Then narrow the list down to every person you actually can buy for.

Be sure to include any and all mandatory giving, like workplaces or other organizations.  Also, include any Christmas donations you give–like Operation Christmas Child or Toys for Tots.

Brainstorm Gift Ideas

For every gift shopping on a budget occasion, make a list of any and all ideas you might have.

I usually have space beside each person’s name to write specific ideas for them, but I also write down ANY random products I see that I think would make great gifts.

Write everything down even if your ideas are too expensive, unrealistic, or stupid–just write the down. This is just brainstorming.

Track Your Gift Purchases

As you purchase each gift, write it down along with the cost, and then cross those suckers off! Crossing things off of lists is good for your mental health. Scientifically. Probably.

The importance of having these lists is HUGE.  When it’s time to spend your money on each person or charity, you won’t be overwhelmed about how much you’re spending, how many more people you have to buy for, etc.

You won’t be anxiously trying to find the cheapest thing possible.  You will be happy to give… even excited to find something you really think each person will love.

Key #2: Budget

It SHOULD seem obvious, but when I started gift shopping as a college student, I did not think of this.

Key #2 is to HAVE A BUDGET. And yes–you can and should make a budget no matter how little or how much you have. In fact, a tiny budget will do even more good–and here’s why.

An Example of Gift Shopping with No Budget

As a young adult, when I had no budget for gift shopping, my strategy was just to spend AS LITTLE AS HUMANLY POSSIBLE.

…As you can imagine, that generally didn’t result in the best gifts ever. My focus was all about the money and on my own money problems, and not on actually giving selflessly.

It also made me extremely anxious over every single dollar I spent.

When you don’t make a budget, your stress is higher and your gifts are crappy.

An Example of Gift Shopping with a Budget

For a few years (before I started my copywriting business), I was really blessed to find a job that I only worked between September and October for a few hours a week. Every year I made around $1,000 over about 6 weeks, and I used most of that money to buy Christmas gifts.

The first year of this was the first year that I had EVER enjoyed buying gifts. And it got me thinking…

Maybe I’m not just awful at giving gifts. Maybe I just didn’t know how.

When I had a budget, I was able to shop for gifts and purchase them HAPPILY. I was able to actually focus on things my loved ones would appreciate, instead of what was cheapest.

I finally experience gift shopping with freedom and–yes!–even excitement.  Because giving things to the people you love is actually amazing!

Now, I know what you’re thinking: “But Kaylee, I do not have a perfectly timed extra job provided from Heaven.  Where do I get all that extra money for gift shopping?”

Well, don’t fret, in case you haven’t heard–there are MANY other ways to bring in some extra money before Christmas. Do a quick Google search–or Pinterest search– for “side hustles.” This is a great blog post from Ladies Make Money with some more ideas.

Key #3: Choose Gifts Strategically

Like I said earlier, I still don’t feel completely confident when my loved ones start ripping the paper open. Does anyone? I’m pretty sure I will be at least a little nervous about choosing the right gifts forever–I think it’s just part of giving.

But I have learned one important key that has helped me A LOT.

Think Backwards

I used to make my list of people to buy for, then pick one person and think, “Okay, what in all of the dang world would this person want?”

That was totally overwhelming! My mind tends to go blank when I try to answer open-ended questions. Especially when I put so much pressure on myself to magically think of an amazing idea with less than $20.

I’m guessing you are the same way. But think of it like this–how are you supposed to know what options you have if you’re not even looking?!

It’s likely that the way you’re thinking about giving gifts is backward. You don’t have to magically conjure up an image of the perfect product… it turns out there’s already a place with images of perfect products.

Yeah, really! Like a lot of them!  It has images, and descriptions, even links!  It’s called the internet.

What Not to Search

Raise your hand if you’re thinking of googling “gifts for mother in law,” or “gifts for husband.”  Been there, done that, scrolled my dang life away.

It’s overwhelming for me to think of trying to search the WHOLE internet for the ONE perfect thing for each person on my list!  Where do I even start?!

Well, I have that answer for you.  Right now.

Key #4: Scroll & Scroll Early

I have found a few websites where I do all of my gift shopping. So I start scrolling these websites early.

Around early November or even earlier, start marking ideas of things you like. Start paying attention to things in stores and online that you think would make good gifts–even if you’re not sure who they would be for.

Starting early reduces the pressure and stress, and gives you more options.

As time goes on, narrow down your ideas and decide on items for individual people. For birthdays and holidays, I really depend on my birthday calendar to remind me when something is coming up.

So are here are my gifting websites.  Shh, don’t tell my family.

1. Groupon

Probably 85% of the last 3 years of my Christmas gifts have been found and bought through Groupon.

Groupon is the best for me because it’s pretty targeted.  If you give me too many choices,  I just panic.  It’s also great because it has so many personalized things. I’ve come to love giving personalized gifts because it makes many normal items special.

It also is full of GREAT deals. But you do have to be aware that if you’re buying a deal for something through Groupon, you will still have to pay shipping costs separately on the website. I plan on this in advance and calculate it into my budget. Even with higher shipping costs, I have still found my Groupon deals to be extremely worth it!

A few of my favorite purchases from Groupon have been a photo blanket and personalized serving boards.  Everyone who received these gifts absolutely loved them, and they stayed within my budget.

2. Etsy

My favorite thing about Etsy is that I know I’m supporting an actual person, and not another CEO. And there is an endless variety of personalization options!

I got my dad this mug for his birthday last year, and I just messaged the seller to see if they could write “pap” instead of “dad.”  There was no extra charge, and it was perfect.

It’s another great idea website.  I don’t think you’ll find another website with as many unique, beautiful items.  The only negative to Etsy in comparison to Groupon is the prices–definitely more expensive on average.  But there is more variety, more choices, and you are supporting an entrepreneur.

3. Pinterest

I don’t actually make many purchases from Pinterest, but it is endlessly valuable as a search engine.  Just do a simple search for “gift ideas” or “gifts for teenagers” or even “Paw Patrol gifts.” It’s also a GREAT place to look for DIY gift ideas, which can obviously save tons of money.

Key #5: Make Money While You Shop

This one I did not know about until this year and I seriously regret it. EBATES.  I had heard of it before… in my head, it will forever go with the women squealing things about getting paid to shop.

Honestly, I kind of thought it was a scammy thing that would send me constant obnoxious emails.  Thankfully, that has definitely not been the case.

I finally signed up because I learned what affiliate marketing is and realized that it wasn’t a scam, that it was actually possible for them to give you some money back.

When I signed up, I chose (i.e. it’s NOT automatic) to have something pop up on eligible websites so I can see that I’ll get cashback on that website.  You have to “activate” your cashback before you checkout, which takes all of 4 seconds.

For instance, this is what I see when I go to Walmart.com.

gift shop on a budget

All I have to do is click that button, then when I make a purchase, I get money back!  You get a check in the mail after a few weeks.  Most of my cashback is from Groupon, of course 😉

P.S.  DON’T BE JUDGING ME FOR ALL MY TABS.

If you sign up with this link, you will get an extra $10 when you start buying things you’re already planning on buying 😉

Make Gift Shopping Fun

I have learned the hard way that sweating over every dollar you spend makes you anxious about giving instead of excited about it. Honestly, budgeting and using Groupon, Ebates, Etsy, and Pinterest has helped me be able to actually be generous with the people I love.

I hope the same happens for you!

Other posts you might like:

8 Christmas Crafts You Can Do Today
Best Unique Christmas Decor
The Best Outdoor Christmas Decorations


Ebates Coupons and Cash Back

5 fail proof keys to shop for gifts on a budget
Such great information on how to give gifts on a really tight budget when you're terrible at giving gifts!


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Hi! I’m Kaylee–a mom of 2, business owner, DIY addict, and so much more. You’ll find some fun DIY tutorials, totally honest reviews, and lots of tips for making your home fit YOU. Welcome to Mama and More!

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