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The Christmas Money Debate: What to Do When You Can't Agree

If you’re married, you’ve probably had a few Christmas money fights.

Your spouse thinks your son needs a $100 train set. You think the bicycle, ninja outfit and Lego set he’s getting are more than enough. You’re at a standstill—and it’s not looking pretty.

Who wins?

You both can. But you have to start talking before you start shopping. Don’t let money fights crush your Christmas joy. The only way to bring peace to the situation is to create a spending plan and stick to it.

Budget as Usual

Your Christmas budget is just one part of your monthly cash flow plan. Food, shelter, transportation, giving, and debt repayment are still your top priorities. So before you even talk about Christmas, sit at the kitchen table with your spouse and write down the monthly necessities first.  

You can easily do this on your desktop or iOS device. With EveryDollar, our free budget tool, you can create your first budget online in 10 minutes!

After you note the cost of your essentials, look at your flexible spending categories. If you want some extra cash for Christmas, try temporarily reducing your restaurant or clothing money.

Focus on Christmas

Once your monthly budget is done, pour another cup of coffee and hone in on your holiday budget. If you’ve saved anything extra for Christmas up to this point, include that too. Then take the total and write out your seasonal expenses:

1. Make a general list of everything you’d like to spend money on for Christmas (other than gifts—we’ll cover those in the next point). Include things like: gas to get to Grandma’s house, extra grocery money for potlucks, Christmas cards, and holiday decorations. 

Related: 8 Holiday Traditions You Can Cut, Keep or Totally Rethink

2. Now make a gift list. Write down each and every person you want to buy gifts for. Include teachers, church friends, babysitters, bosses and family. Try not to miss anyone.

3. Write a dollar amount beside each name (or expense) on your lists. As long as the grand total is the same as your Christmas total, you’re ready to go shopping! If you can’t agree, re-caffeinate and keep talking. This doesn’t mean repeating your position until you get what you want. It means acting like an adult and finding some middle ground.

Start by keeping things even. For example: If your side of the family gets $250, her side does too. If one child gets $100, then all the other kids do too. Figure out how to even things up without going over your budget. By the end, you should be able to agree on a few fair compromises that will make you both happy.

Related: Want some extra spending cash? Here are some easy budget cuts to save you up to $700.

Show Your Commitment

Once you and your spouse agree on a Christmas budget, sign it. If you made it online, that means printing it out and putting pen to paper. This isn’t so you can hold it over your spouse’s head. Signing your name is a simple, psychological signal. It means you’re committed to only spending a certain amount of money on a certain amount of people. You can still make reasonable alterations later on, of course, if both of you agree on them.

When you’ve both signed your Christmas budget, it’s a good idea to post it somewhere you can see it (and the kids can’t). This will keep you accountable when the shopping frenzy sets in.

As you stick to your Christmas budget this season, remember to be kind to your spouse. This is a stressful time of year for everyone, so give each other lots of grace. And work together—you’re partners for a reason.

We know it can be hard, but you know what can help? Check out our Marriage Bundle. You'll get the ultimate collection of teaching and tools perfect for any couple. Taking control of your money—as a team—is totally possible. You just need to take the first step—together. And this bundle will show you exactly how!

Ramsey Solutions

About the author

Ramsey Solutions

Ramsey Solutions has been committed to helping people regain control of their money, build wealth, grow their leadership skills, and enhance their lives through personal development since 1992. Millions of people have used our financial advice through 22 books (including 12 national bestsellers) published by Ramsey Press, as well as two syndicated radio shows and 10 podcasts, which have over 17 million weekly listeners.