Photo of Lizann and her family at Christmas.

Planning Your Holiday Gift Budget as a Military Spouse


After limited celebrations and restricted travel in 2020, we all have a lot to make up for in the 2021 holiday season! There are people we want to see, parties we can’t wait to attend, gifts to exchange and favorite meals to enjoy. Military families look forward to holiday celebrations as much as anyone else, but sometimes being stationed far from family means extra costs and expenses during this season. If you and your spouse don’t discuss holiday plans and prepare in advance for your end-of-year spending, then you can easily get caught by surprise with a very high credit card bill in the new year.

Follow these guidelines when planning your holiday gift-giving:

  1. Discuss travel options. Traveling “home” to see family can be one of the biggest holiday expenses for a military family. Even with military discounts, most airlines have increased ticket prices close to the holidays. Do you and your spouse have the funds to fly home with the kids this year? Or might it be better to pay for one or two tickets and fly someone out to visit you? Does it make sense to drive home instead of flying? Perhaps your service member could take extended leave to allow for longer travel days.
  2. Know your spouse’s expectations. Does your spouse expect to exchange gifts with every member of their family? Or maybe just their best friend? And what kind of gifts will you get each other? Some people save up for a large home purchase at the end of the year. Others expect an expensive gift from their spouse. And still others don’t really get in the gift-giving spirit and don’t expect extravagant gifts in their relationship. Which category describes you? Is it the same for your spouse? Be sure to talk to them about what you expect from them and what price range you want to gift to them. Surprise gifts can be fun, but not if the other person gets upset by the price tag! If you share a gift budget and your expectations with each other, then everyone is more likely to enjoy the season.
  3. Coordinate with relatives. When planning your holiday gift budget, you first need to know how many gifts you are purchasing, and for whom. Make a list of who you will be giving gifts to this year. Decide whether you are including non-family members like co-workers, your child’s teachers, your landlord, etc. Then brainstorm ways that family members can get involved and help. If your service member is deployed, there are likely many people who want to contribute to a holiday care package. If your kids live far from grandparents, tell the grandparents what special gift your kids truly need this year. If your parents want to send something and you don’t know what to ask for, they can get gift cards that you’ll give to your child’s teachers. Getting other people to contribute to your holiday gift budget means less you spend out of pocket.
  4. Plan your gift budget. When you live far from family, it can sometimes feel like the only way to make up for missing a holiday celebration is by sending a lot of gifts. This can also be true for deployed service members, who may try to compensate for missing their kids by ordering every toy sold on Amazon. It’s a natural reaction to missing your loved ones, but it isn’t healthy for your bank account balance. Now is the time to discuss gift-giving expectations with your spouse. Look at the gift list you created and discussed with family. Whether you plan to give gift cards or personalized gifts, estimate the gift price for each name on the list, then add up your total.
  5. Balance your expenses. Your holiday gift budget may end up being a whole paycheck, or more than you usually spend in a month, so start thinking now about ways to break up the spending and buff up your savings. If you cut back on some household spending in September and October, you will have more available for gifts near the end of the year. Another strategy is to start buying gifts early in the fall so you can spread out your gift spending over multiple billing cycles. Either method can work for your family, but you and your spouse need to discuss it and get on the same page.
  6. Allow for extra shipping time. If you are stationed overseas, you probably already know that it can take weeks for a package to reach the States. Similarly, remind anyone who is sending gifts to you or the kids that the post office has holiday deadlines for delivery to different parts of the world. These are posted on their website. Pay attention to these deadlines, especially when shipping gifts or care packages to a deployed service member.

With these budget guidelines in mind, your family can smoothly navigate the common challenges of holiday gift-giving.

Lizann Lightfoot
Written By Lizann Lightfoot
Marine Corps Spouse

Lizann is the Seasoned Spouse – a Marine Corps wife, mom of four and published author. She loves writing, exploring new duty stations and chocolate!

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