Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links, which means if you choose to purchase something I'll earn a commission. This doesn't cost you anything extra but helps me keep this site going. I only recommend products I use (or have used) and find valuable. Please don't spend money on anything unless you think it will provide you more value than it costs. Check out our disclosure policy for more details. Thanks for your support!

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas! Who am I kidding? Christmas goodies have been out since Halloween, but I live in the desert so it doesn’t “feel” like Christmas until we have to turn the heat on. (Which I did last night only to have the smoke detectors start blaring at 11pm…but I digress.)

I usually look forward to Christmas, but this year I’m a little apprehensive given our current finances. The massive credit card debt we’ve accrued in the past couple months have led to attempts to really streamline our budget. One category that took a hit was the Christmas one.

Luckily I had pre-paid for most of our traditional Christmas entertainment (North Pole here we come!), but the gifts budget is woefully underfunded.

What can you do when you don’t have any Christmas money in the budget?

Well after some brainstorming these are the 5 tactics I plan to use to see us through the holidays and hopefully keep us from adding anything more to our debt.

1 – Plan It Out

I spent this morning working out everyone we want to send something to get an idea of just how many I’m looking at. In my family alone this is over 20 people so I’m going to have to get creative to not add to our debt.

Since we don’t have a category balance anymore I need to see what I can reasonably pull out of other categories to cover this spending. Then I can divide it up to get an idea of how much I can spend per gift.

2 – Group Folks Together

I have 4 brothers, 2 of whom are married with kids. Instead of figuring out how to afford 12 gifts, I plan on grouping families together. This should save me quite a bit. I also plan to group gift for my parents and in-laws. That will bring 18 potential gifts down to a more manageable 6.

3 – Get Creative

While I have short bursts of creativity every so often, in general, I am not a crafty person. Thankfully my husband is fantastically creative and an excellent artist and story-teller. He’s been working his parents’ gift and I’m hoping we can re-create it in some way for mine.

My creative input this year is in the family group gifts I plan to give. I’m hoping to create memorable, event/activity driven gifts that the whole family can enjoy together (think movie or game night).

4 – Use Coupon Codes and Cash Back Sites

This time of year you can find coupon codes for just about any website. Some even stack – meaning you can apply multiple codes for one order to get an even bigger discount. I usually just do a Google search for “[store name] coupon code”, but there are dedicated sites like Retailmenot and Chrome extensions like Honey that can make the process easier.

Combine your coupon codes with cash back sites for an even greater win. There are several to choose from so before buying anything, scan through your gift list to see what stores you’ll be shopping with. Then see which cashback sites have the better rates for those sites. I tend to use Ebates because I don’t like managing multiple cashback accounts and they’ve always been reliable about sending me my rewards. They also usually list any available promo codes and have a handy Chrome extension.

In addition to using a cashback site, don’t forget to use your rewards credit card. I usually use a 2% cash back card for everything (except gas and groceries which I use my Amex Blue for), but this time of year my Discover card offers 5% cash back on Amazon and Target. So make sure you check what discounts might be available on your cards.

5 – Use Reward Points or Discount Gift Cards

Because I “hack” my credit card usage to try to optimize our cash back, we usually have ample rewards by this time of year. I don’t like to rely on them for our Christmas spending. I’d rather budget throughout the year, but I failed big time with that this year, so I’ll definitely be pulling out that cash to help fund the Christmas category.

If you aren’t disciplined with your spending, ignore this part. If you can make sure to pay off your credit cards each month (I’m talking new spending, not old debt), make sure you use a card that pays you back. We don’t travel much so I went with a 2% cash back card, but depending how much research/work you’re willing to put in, you can manipulate these rewards to get what I like to think of as annual spending bonuses. Please note I’m not buying anything I wouldn’t normally. That level of credit card hacking requires too much mental strain on my part.

If you don’t have any credit card reward points, you can still save money by using discount gift cards. Sites like Raise and Gift Card Granny offer gift cards for almost any site you can think of. The amount of the discount varies drastically depending on the store, so it might be worth checking the discount amount before you choose where to buy from. For example, if Target, Walmart, and Toys R Us are all selling what you’re buying, see which one has the bigger discount.

That’s my plan!

So there it is. Basically, group family members, get creative and stack coupons and rewards to make it all less expensive.

How about you? Do you have a plan to stay on track financially heading into Christmas? Let me know in the comments.