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How to Budget for the 2021 Holiday Season

Aly Walansky  |  November 8, 2021

Planning your holiday budget and wondering what gifts to give? This is how experts say you should be spending your cash this year.

Holiday spending has long been a critical part of many of our budgets. As we prepare for a season of entertaining and gift-giving, things can get out of hand pretty quickly. But there’s also the reality that this holiday season isn’t like the holiday seasons of 2019 and the years prior — but thankfully it’s much closer to a sense of normalcy than 2020! But things are still in a state of flux, which means it can be difficult to know how and where to spend our money in a way that makes the most sense, and gets the best value.

“Due to COVID, there are shipping delays and shortages for women to navigate,” says Jessica Weaver, a financial expert for women, and author of Confessions of a Money Queen. Getting your holiday shopping list together sooner than ever will be your biggest help.  “When overseas shipments come in, there are 10-day delays of the cargo sitting there untouched. There isn’t enough staff at places like Walmart and Amazon to get products out, which is also causing delays,” says Weaver.

Weaver sees more trips than gifts being bought this year. “Personally, my husband and I are surprising our kids with a trip for their Christmas gift rather than buying more toys for them,” she says. As a society, we also seem to be embracing more quality time together over the quantity of goods being given. “As well as a minimalist lifestyle with so many downsizing or reserving money to pay down debt, bump up savings, and travel more,” says Weaver.

Gifting Investments

Weaver is also seeing more of her clients buying stocks or even cryptocurrency for their children or grandchildren. “As a mother of young children, our kids get overwhelmed with so much stuff they receive for the holidays. We’ve always given money and invested it for our children,” says Weaver.

Gifts For Returning To “Normal” 

Of course shopping for traditional gifts that will be used and enjoyed is still very much at the forefront of many people’s holiday lists. “According to a survey in May 2021 from NPD, clothing, footwear and beauty were the top categories that consumers planned to purchase in the next 60-90 days,” says Trae Bodge, a smart shopping expert at, who expects to see this trend continue throughout 2021 as we emerge from our caves and start going places again.

The Gift Of Experiences 

We’re re-entering the world and exploring again, and the gift of travel and experience will very much be present in people’s holiday season budgets. “I also expect to see increased spending on travel for the same reason,” says Bodge, who finds gift cards to be another category that will be strong. “Shoppers will likely encounter a lot of shipping delays and stock issues as the holidays approach. I think gift cards are going to save the holidays,” says Bodge.

Shop Early, And Have items Shipped Directly 

Between supply chain disruptions and USPS delays, there’s a lot more uncertainty around deliveries and product availability this year. “Don’t get stuck waiting until the last minute or you might end up overpaying for shipping or not get your gifts in time for the holidays,” says Quist. On a similar note, if you see a really great deal on something you are looking for, snag it right away! If you wait, you might miss out on the item entirely.

To avoid having to pay for expedited shipping due to extended shipping times, also try to consider shopping earlier than usual to allow plenty of time for items to arrive. “If you realize that you can’t get something on time, plan to give a gift card or digital gift instead,” says Bodge. “You can get customized gift cards that ship the next day from* or purchase any number of fantastic subscription boxes, from food & beverage boxes, to apparel or crafts,” says Bodge.

Also, if you have items shipped directly to their recipients, this will save you time AND money on shipping so you’re not paying (or waiting for it) twice. “Check for gift receipt and gift wrapping options at checkout and have your items shipped directly to their recipients,” says Quist.

Beware Of Advertised Sale Items 

The first rule of holiday shopping 2021 is: Don’t assume every advertised sale item is a good deal “Track the price history of a product to see what the lowest price has typically been, as well as when that price has typically been offered,” says Quist. This can help you decide whether to buy now or keep looking for a better deal. 

While you’re at it, before you click “add to cart,” take a moment to check reviews of the product you’re buying. It’s not really a good deal if you get a product that doesn’t meet your needs or work as it should. “You’re better off paying a little bit more for an item that works better and lasts longer instead of just grabbing the cheapest one,” says Quist. Check the reviews to make sure you’re getting what you pay for.

Always Compare Prices

Amazon has good prices, but people mistakenly assume they always have the best prices. In fact: “More than half of the time, there is a lower price available from another online store,” says Karl Quist is an online shopping expert and the President/CEO of InvisibleHand, “Use a price comparison tool like InvisibleHand or PriceBlink that automatically checks for lower prices and lets you know if there’s a cheaper option available elsewhere so you’ll never overpay,” says Quist.

For online shopping, Bodge advises shoppers should plan to install at least one browser extension.” I like Cently from Couponfollow* because it not only alerts you to coupons and cashback opportunities as you browse online, it will even run coupons for you at checkout,” says Bodge.

The Impact of COVID Remains

“We saw a huge increase in holiday spending in 2020 vs 2019, with retail sales increasing 8.3%, which was well above the NRF’s prediction of 3.6-5.2%,” says Bodge.  As the economy continues to right itself, Bodge expects to see another comparable jump. “According to Deloitte, holiday sales this year are expected to grow 7-9% compared with last year,” says Bodge.

There’s a lot of change afoot in the world, and there’s no escaping that this will be a tricky season. “I’m expecting to see fewer sales, so consumers should be prepared to use whatever tools they have at their disposal to stay on budget,” says Bodge. 


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