Of all of the five love languages, I connect most with gifts. I absolutely adore giving people gifts! Somehow the lights and shimmer of the Christmas season put me under a spell that doesn’t wear off until sometime in mid-January.

So it should come as no surprise that I have trouble keeping my holiday spending under control!

A few years ago I found a way to really help reign in those costs. One word: Spreadsheets! I know it’s not the most glamorous word in the world, and certainly not the only way to help watch your spending, but it’s really worked for me.

I start crafting my record-keeping system before I’ve purchased the first gift. I make a list of all of the people I need to shop for. Every year I tend to forget my children’s teachers and coaches, so it takes extra effort on my part. I also try to put people into groups. All the family on my husband’s side in one area, my family in another. Doing this helps me compare the size of the gifts going to each group so that I don’t accidentally purchase something too large for one niece or too small for another.

Once I’ve got my list made, I try to think of what I’d like to get each person. For my kids I’ve been trying to keep a three-gift limit. So I start by writing Gift 1, Gift 2, and Gift 3 at the top, making space for the cost of each item. Making only a certain amount of spaces will hopefully ensure that I don’t keep adding to the list. For some reason, each year there is always one kid that I tend to find the most deals for. It can be really easy to buy way too many presents for that kid versus another, which could lead to some major Christmas morning arguments.

Then I start filling in spaces with what I think I might get them, or the things that they’ve included on their wish lists. If I make this list early enough, I give myself time to find things on sale or clearance. I love making my dollar stretch even farther by finding the things people ask for at really great prices! I also include the price that I’m willing to spend on the item right next to it. This way I’ve given myself an idea of how much the whole shopping season might cost me and I can start looking for ways to cut it down.

As soon as I’ve purchased an item on the list I highlight it, otherwise with my memory, someone could end up with the same item twice! I also write in what I actually paid. Sometimes I’m able to find an item cheaper than expected and other times I’m stuck paying more than I had hoped for. Either way, I’m able to see how much I’ve shelled out in reality.

Some years I’ve even gone so far as to double highlight. After I purchase the item it gets one color, and after I’ve wrapped it it gets yet another color. It can be especially helpful if you have a lot of parties to bring presents to and limited space to store wrapped gifts.

Once all the gift giving is down, I store my list for review the next year. It’s amazing how fast I forget what I’ve given people from year to year! It’s also nice to be able to see how much I’ve spent from year to year. While some years we’ve had the ability to spend more, it’s a good reminder that we have the ability to spend less.

Hopefully you’re inspired to give with better control this year and maybe you’ll find that by keeping track of your spending, you’ll be able to give meaningful gifts without stretching your budget to the limit.