12/21/2012 05:31 EST | Updated 02/20/2013 05:12 EST

Being a Grinch Isn't So Bad for Your Wallet


'Tis the season for giving, but at what cost?

With just a few days remaining the countdown to Christmas has begun. For those of you who haven't even started shopping (you know who you are) the pressure on. So is the temptation to just give in and become a big spender. Sadly, at Christmas time some people seem to feel like they must give and give big at that. Giving has turned into a status statement and it need not become that, especially in our heavily indebted consumer era.

According to a recent Ipsos Reid poll conducted on behalf of the Royal Bank of Canada, Canadians will spend an average of $629 on holiday shopping this year. This figure is down from last year, yet it may still be too much to spend for some Canadians, in particular, Millennials who may be still struggling with student loan debt, trying to establish themselves in their careers, and, well, life in general.

Nobody wants to be labeled as the Grinch or Scrooge. But, hear me out on this -- penny pinching just might be the thing to do this season if you're still working on getting your financial house in order. Besides, the season isn't about all the "stuff" you give or that you get. It's about the experience, family connections and goodwill to mankind. Not convinced?

Recently, I was invited to take part in the Walmart gift card challenge. On a Thursday evening I was given $100 to complete my Christmas shopping list. Was I successful? You bet. To keep things simple my family opted to pull a name out of a hat and buy a gift for just one person, a Kris Kringle, if you will, and pitch in for the family meal.

The key to staying on track for me was having a good idea about what I wanted to buy. I scoured various online and print gift guides in advance. Gift shopping is just like everyday grocery shopping: if you don't have a list you're just going to end up putting junk in your cart because your eyes are bigger than your stomach. Another way to curb your spending is to do your shopping under one roof, if possible. A study found that people could save 60 per cent more if they shop at one location versus schlepping around to several different stores.

Gone are the days when I spend too much on a cool looking hipster present that, in the end, gives someone the creeps and ultimately winds up in the dumpster. When thinking about buying for a particular person, ask yourself what does he or she need right now? Since I was shopping for my younger brother who was moving out of the house, I figured he'd need something for his new apartment. I chose two sets of beer glasses. The cost: $18.

Nothing beats giving the gift of food over the holidays. As such, I'm making a decadent Christmas cheesecake. The ingredients and lovely cake stand to display it on cost me $32. It goes without saying that things need to be pretty so I bought wrapping paper and ornaments, too. Those cost me $10.

I also wanted to give back this time of year, so as part of my gift challenge I bought toys for underprivileged children. I ended up buying some Batman figurines, a Hello Kitty snow globe, plush toys and a tween-friendly nail kit all for $40.

Taking this challenge was a great experience. The time and budget constraints forced me to think critically and creatively about how I would spend my money. It's a lesson that can be extended well into the New Year as well.

How to avoid holiday overspending