My Step-By-Step Guide to the Holiday Budget

Holiday Budget Template

The holidays are here! Whether you’re an avid caroller or prefer to shout “bah, humbug” at everyone around you, there’s one thing we can all agree on: the holidays cost money. One way I ensure I’m not broke come January 1st is by creating (and sticking to) a holiday budget.

Having a holiday budget lets you take a look at exactly how much money you need to cover all your estimated expenses. It also gives you a quick and easy way to track your spending. If you start going over, you’ll know right away and can curb your spending. If you’re under (which I admit, is rare for me) you can splurge a little more on whatever you have left to buy.

I’ve used a holiday budget since 2015. In fact, because I had four years of budgets, I was able to save money throughout 2019 specifically for the holidays. Without further ado, here is my step-by-step process for how I create a holiday budget.

I realize it’s practically the middle of December, so I may be a little late to the party on this one. But that’s ok. You can create a budget at any time, and fill it out with what you’ve spent so far to help keep you in the black for the rest of the month.

Step 1: Open a blank spreadsheet

Pick whichever spreadsheet program works for you and your devices. I make mine with Google Sheets and keep them in a Google Drive folder called “Christmas Finances”. Having it in my Google Drive lets me access the budget from any device, so that makes it pretty easy to keep it up-to-date. And stay on top of my spending.

Step 2: Make a list everything

Holiday Budget Step 1First, create a list of everything you will need to buy or requires spending money. I do mean everything: people who will get a gift from you, the items you need to wrap said gifts, party supplies (if you’re hosting a party), office gifts, gas for your car. Anything and everything you’re

Don’t worry about making the spreadsheet look good or make sense just yet. Just get everything down in a single list.

Step 3: Sort that list

Take the list you’ve made and sort it into whatever categories make you happy. Some category ideas are:

  • Family
  • Food
  • Decor
  • Food
  • Other

Step 4: Decide on layout

Take a moment now to decide how you like to read spreadsheets. There are a few different ways you can go from here:

  1. You could put your categories across the page horizontally.
  2. You could put them all vertically, with visual divider between each category.
  3. You could put them all on different tabs in the sheet.
  4. Any other layout variation!

Do you like scrolling to the right or left to find all your content? Pick option 1. Do you prefer to scroll down as you work? Pick option 2. Do you want to see each category on its own? Go for option 3. Play around with this. It’s for you and you alone, so the most important thing is that you set it up in the way that gives you joy (and reduces your stress).

Step 5: Start formatting

Holiday Budget ExampleOnce you’ve split your categories up in whatever way brings you joy, give yourself the following cells/space for the following sections:

  • One column for the name.
  • One column for notes/gift idea/item/what have you.
  • One column for your budget amount.
  • One column to record your actual spend.

I find the notes section very helpful, especially when I’m researching gift ideas.

Next, decide where you want the category totals to go:

  • At the top under the category name. (This is my preferred place.)
  • At the bottom under the table.
  • Somewhere else?

Finally, make some room at the very top (or very bottom, whichever you prefer) for your “summary” or “overview” or whatever you want to call it. The final numbers. Include a cell for “Budget Total”, “Actual Spend” and “Difference”. (The difference will total up how much you have left in your budget OR by how much you’ve gone over, so you don’t need to constantly do mental math).

Step 6: Add some functions

Here’s where we get into the spreadsheet-program-specific stuff. I’m going to make these instructions using Google Sheets functions. These might change if you’re using Microsoft Excel or Mac’s Sheets.

Here we go!

Create your category budget totals:
  1. Highlight the cell for the “Budget”
  2. Type =sum(
  3. Click on the appropriate cells to include them in the sum.
  4. Press enter.
  5. Repeat for each category.
Create your category actual totals:

Essentially, do the same thing as above, only for the “Actual” cells.

Pro tip: if you have your spreadsheet set up vertically, like in the photos, you can just “drag” the content from your category budget total cell into the category actual total cell. Double check your work when you’re done… always double check your work.

Create your total budget:
  1. Highlight the cell where you want the total budget to appear.
  2. Type =sum(
  3. Click on the cell for your first category (the cell number should appear in total budget cell.
  4. Add a comma.
  5. Click on the cell for your second category.
  6. Add a comma.
  7. Repeat for each category.
Create your total actual spend:

Again, do exactly the same thing as for the total budget, only select the appropriate cells.

Pro tip: if you have your spreadsheet set up vertically, like in the photos, you can just “drag” the content from your budget total cell into the actual total cell. Double check your work when you’re done… always double check your work.

Create your difference function:
  1. Highlight the cell for the “Difference”.
  2. Type =
  3. Click on the “Total Budget” cell.
  4. Type –
  5. Click on the “Total Actual Spend” cell.
  6. Press Enter.

Holiday Budget - Difference Function

Now you’ll have a constant calculator on hand to let you know how much you’ve got left in that budget.

Step 7: Add some numbers

Holiday Budget Final TemplateThis is your moment! Where you can see exactly what the damage is estimated to be. With all those sum functions in place, you will see it update in real time as you add the numbers in.

If you’ve already started shopping (and who hasn’t at this point?) I suggest starting with your budget numbers even though you have some actual numbers. So jump in and add some numbers.

Once you’ve got a total budget, it’s time to adjust until you have a number that fits with your actual real financial budget.

Then, and only then, do I suggest adding your actual spend so far.

Pro tip: Save ALL your receipts. Put the physical ones in an envelope marked “Holidays 2019” and electronic ones in a special mail folder with the same name. Or print out electronic ones. Whichever method works for you. Having the receipts in one place makes it easy to a) fill in your budget; and b) return items that may not be … er… appreciated to their fullest by your recipients.

Step 8: Make it pretty

Add some colour. Make those borders. Give your fonts some pizazz. Make this spreadsheet look as aesthetically pleasing or not as you want. Go crazy, my friends! I’ve added the traditional green and red to mine, and gave it a fun font, because… why not?!

Actually, if you want to use my Holiday Budget Template, you can grab it here. To use it, I believe you’ll have to download it or save a copy to your Google Drive.

Step 9: Keep it up-to-date

Budgets only really work as well as the people who use them. Which kind of sounds bad, but I hope you all know what I mean by that. You need to keep it up-to-date. As you purchase items, add the cost into the spreadsheet (don’t forget the taxes!).

I like to sit down for a couple of minutes after every shopping excursion to go over my receipts and add the numbers in. Then I can immediately assess what needs doing.

Anyway! That’s it. The Holiday Budget set up.

Happy Holidays, everyone! I hope your holiday season is stress-free, fat-free, and filled with lots of love and cheer.

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