Use A Spreadsheet To Plan Your Gifts

This professor of finance proposes you take all the fun out of wildly overspending on last-minute gifts for friends and family, and replace it with the measured, predictable joy of a spreadsheet. However, if you follow his advice, the odds will be much better that you’ll end the year with healthier checking and credit card accounts.

First, fire up the spreadsheet and list everyone you can think of that you might want to give a gift to.

“Beside each person on your list, categorize them as an A, B, or C recipient. The A-list includes the people you must buy a gift for, such as parents, significant others, and children. The Bs are other close family and friends and the Cs are friends, colleagues and those who merit a gift for their hard work helping you in one form or another. Everyone else goes on the holiday card list.”

Then, of course, develop a reasonable budget:

Spending is one area where we should all strive to be below average, especially if our income is below average or money is tight. Clearly, the amount you decide to spend should be representative of your income. One percent of your annual income is a good upper limit to set on holiday gift spending because there will be other costs such as travel during this time that will further strain your budget. For example, a family with an annual income of $60,000 should limit their gift budget to $600.

Make sure your dollar amounts on your spreadsheet don’t exceed that 1% figure, and adjust as necessary, booting C-level recipients to the card list.

Funny, he doesn’t mention anything about saving money by re-gifting. Maybe he equates that with kiting checks or something.

“Personal Finance 101 with H. Swint Friday” [The Caller-Times]


Edit Your Comment

  1. JAYEONE says:

    Ok, when *I* suggest something like this, my boyfriend used to call it ‘anal-retentive’. Now that I have him properly trained, he refers to this sort of behavior as ‘analytically overwrought’.

    (PS I heart Excel!)

  2. TVarmy says:

    “Spending is an area where we should all strive to be bellow average.”

    I’m an optimist. By 2020, the retail industry will lose money during the holidays.

  3. JAYEONE says:

    @TVarmy: It’s not too far off. I work at a retail store that in the last 2 years has had to cut hours in Nov and Dec because *people aren’t spending enough $$ here.*

  4. randomizer9 says:

    If he’s bored, its because he’s in Corpus Christi, because unless you REALLY like the water, its a pretty boring town.

  5. BigNutty says:

    Spreadsheet? Really? That’s the spirit of Christmas!

  6. gruffydd says:

    I’ve been doing this since 2001. I have never used the 1% of annual income formula, but I think it’s a great idea. I recommend listing:
    – item purchased for each person
    – where purchased
    – total spent, including shipping
    – mark when received
    – mark when gift wrapped

    This keeps me from buying the same person multiple gifts, giving the same person the same kind of gift year after year, and gets me to wrap the gift as soon as I get it, rather than having to wrap everything all at once.

  7. SadSam says:

    I’ll also say that holiday planning/budgeting is easy if you remember that the holidays are always in December. In January, tally up how much you spent (that Jan. credit card hangover statement is helpful) on the holidays, divide that number by 11 and put aside that much each month in a high yield savings account. Come Dec. 2008 you will be able to fund your holidays with cash the best present to yourself!

  8. bohemian says:

    Gas is almost $100 a barrel. Everyone is getting cards except the kids. Problem solved.

  9. csdiego says:

    I do this every year, just because it’s the only way I can keep my list straight (and I don’t buy for that many people). My family doesn’t make a big deal of giving lavish gifts, just one or two small things per person. We spend some money on decorating (poinsettias, ornaments, and lots of green wreaths) and having a really nice meal together (nice roast and good wines), but the focus is the celebration, not major asset transfer.

    I don’t keep track of the amount I spend on each person, but just plan on the spreadsheet which gift(s) I’ll buy each person based on rough spending limits, and check them off as I buy them.

  10. DashTheHand says:

    That picture is priceless. I wonder how many people actually looked closely at it.

  11. alfista says:

    And please don’t give gift cards. These are like giving the retailers free cash as they often get lost, aren’t fully utilized and/or cause your friends and family members to overspend, and may depreciate over time.

  12. Kifune says:

    I have done this for several years, as well. I use the past years list as a basis and move people on and off the gift list as relationships change.

    I also include line items for the extra stuff — gift wrap, bows, cards, new decorations (if any), Christmas tree, etc. In addition, if I’m making homemade food (this year I’m planning some easy fudge) gifts I tally the ingredient costs on that.

    To economize on the wrapping, etc. don’t forget about your nearest dollar store. Last night I picked up 4 large rolls of paper, two bags of bows, 40 sheets of white tissue, a sheet of gift tags and two boxes of 16 each cards — all for about $10.

    Spreadsheets can really help with the planning effort.

  13. Skiffer says:

    I tried this once, but finally gave up because the ghost of christmas past kept haunting cell B7 on my holiday spreadsheet…

  14. darkened says:

    @BOHEMIAN Oil is almost $100 per barrel. This is substantially different than gas. Although I have no idea how much gas can be created from 1 barrel of oil.

    Anyone know off hand?

  15. darkened says:

    So how’s your pony doing? Enjoying the vast stash of porn you bought along with it?

  16. kerrington.steele says:

    keeping an annual list of gifts and recipients also helps avoid the potentially embarrassing situation of giving the same person an identical gift two years in a row. like, if my mom found a gift she thought was great, and gave one to each of my cousins for Christmas one year, she’d have a record of it and wouldn’t give them all something similar the next year, thinking it was still a great gift. this is useful especially if you don’t keep in close touch with some of your gift recipients (grown nieces or nephews, distant cousins, etc.)

  17. I got sick of spending money on wrap (and tired of the waste) so the last few years I’ve been buying Xmas fabric on clearance and making fabric wrapping, fabric CD envelopes, fabric paperback envelopes, etc.

    I make my buying list in Word. I’m not quite anal enough to do it in Excel. :)

  18. Lion00 says:

    One 42 gallon barrel of crude oil makes:

    19.5 gallons of gasoline
    4 gallons of fuel oil
    11 gallons of other products

  19. mappable says:

    Anyone got a link to sample spreadsheet template?

  20. juri squared says:

    @Eyebrows McGee: I’m with ya. I just have a .txt file. But then, mine’s more of a list of who to buy for and what to buy than a spreadsheet.

  21. RAREBREED says:

    WOW! Can you just imagine what would happen if a B or C person got a hold of this list?!

  22. xjapanboi says:

    No a bad idea. I made a quick mock spreadsheet. Its pretty rough but add some extra tweaks and formulas and it should be pretty good.

    My own site, but there’s no content or anything so I’m not advertising anything. lol