Last year, each of us spent an average of $800 buying holiday gifts for our friends and family members. Doesn’t sound like too much?
Maybe not, but consider that during the holiday season, we tend to pile as much as 40% of this total on credit cards, leading to a “financial hangover” once all the yuletide cheer has passed and we make our way into the new year.
But how in the world can you reduce your holiday spending? After all, you’re blessed with a lot of cherished friends and deeply loved family, and you don’t want to scrimp on their gifts.
As it turns out, saving money during the holidays doesn’t have to be difficult or stressful. In fact, it can be as easy as implementing these 28 simple tips! Let’s begin, shall we?
1. Save More to Spend on Others
Before your shopping even begins, try cutting back on extra expenses and adding this money to your holiday fund. You’d be amazed at how quickly it adds up!
For example: Making your own coffee before heading out the door (instead of buying a $5 cup from the shop by your office) could save you $100 over the course of a month!
2. Separate Your Savings
To make sure you don’t accidentally dip into your holiday funds, trying putting the money in your savings account, or even a separate account altogether.
3. Break Out the Spreadsheet
Using a spreadsheet, set your budget long before you step foot in a store. But be sure it’s thorough and includes all of you shopping-related expenses, such as cards, postage and shipping charges, decorations and party favors, and even boarding services if you own a pet and are planning to travel.
4. Keep Your Budget Realistic
When making your budget, be realistic. You won’t be doing anyone any favors by being too tight. In fact, if you quickly exceed your unrealistic budget, it might cause you to throw it out the window altogether. Also, be sure to leave a little wiggle room for unexpected expenses.
5. Make Your List & Check It Twice
After you’ve made your budget, make a complete list of everyone you’ll be shopping for and decide on how much you’ll spend on each. Have an especially big family? Try making your list with other relatives. That way, you won’t have to purchase something for everyone, but each family member will receive a gift.
6. Trim Your Gift List
Now, is your gift list too long?
We know you’re still thankful to your second-grade teacher for all the wonderful advice she offered. But it might be time to prioritize, starting with your spouse and children, immediate family, and so on.
Anyone you need to cut will probably be just as happy to receive a heartfelt card (more about this in a second) from you instead of some random gift you purchased just to remain within budget.
7. Quick: Follow that Budget!
In the middle of a shopping spree, it can be easy to lose track of your budget. To avoid this, print out your original spreadsheet and carry it with you. After each purchase, simply mark off each person and indicate how much you spent on their gift. Or, there are dozens of smartphone apps you can use as well.
8. Savings Apps Galore
In fact, there are tons of apps you can use to save money when holiday shopping, including ShopSavvy, RedLaser, CouponSherpa, BeFrugal, and more.
9. Are You Really Getting a Good Deal?
Remember: Not all holiday deals are what they appear. If you’re thinking about purchasing a big-ticket item, do your research before stepping foot in a store. Otherwise, you might end up with a lower-quality model with fewer features than you wanted.
ThePennyHoarder.com also recommends:
“Sign up for store email lists. They send exclusive coupons that are only valid for subscribers. And often times they can be stacked on top of sales/clearance items for even bigger savings.”
10. Shopping Online? Look for Freebies
If you’ll be doing most of your shopping online, focus on retailers offering free shipping. Better yet, look for ones that also offer free gift-wrapping.
But be careful not to overspend just to get free shipping! Other online stores may have the item for less, even without including free shipping.
11. Thinking About Gift Cards? Think Again
While it might seem like a good idea to get a gift card for that picky person on your list, the reality is that 40% of gift cards aren’t fully used each year (some kind of balance remains), and a whopping $750 million worth of gift cards went unused in 2014.
In the end, your money is almost certainly better spent (and received) by giving cash instead.
12. Use Discounted Gift Cards
Because so many people don’t use their gift cards, they’ll often sell them to third-party websites in order to turn them into quick cash. Again, ThePennyHoarder.com recommends taking advantage of the situation:
“Pay for your Christmas shopping with discounted gift cards. We love sites like Raise.com and Cardpool.com, because not only do they offer consumers a way to sell unwanted gift cards, but these sites can be used by shoppers to score some pretty incredible discounts.”
13. A Secret Santa Might Be Your Secret for Saving Money
If you have an especially large family, as long as everyone agrees, a Secret Santa gathering could save everyone a lot of money (not to mention stress). This way, everyone will get a gift, you’ll get to spend time with everyone under the same roof, and you’ll have a blast in the process!
14. Avoid Last-Minute Purchases
Shop smart, and shop early. If you forget something and are forced to go out shopping at the last minute, you could end up paying top dollar. Or, if you forgot to ship an important gift, overnighting it across the country could dig deeply into your budget. Be sure to plan ahead.
If you do find yourself in a pickle and in need of a last minute gift, don’t scoff at thrift stores. Specifically, ThePennyHoarder.com suggests:
“Don't forget about the thrift store. There are plenty of bargains to be had at the thrift store. In fact, many Target stores will send their unsold clearance merchandise to Goodwill.”
15. Cash is King
When you’re out shopping, pay with cash. This makes it much easier to stay within budget, because when the money’s gone, it’s gone.
But remember: Cash is the least secure method of spending (compared to credit and debit cards), so make sure you keep cash in your front pocket while shopping, or in a zipped purse hanging securely on your shoulder, one hand grasping both straps.
16. Choose Credit Cards Carefully
If you must pull out a credit card, at least use the one with the lowest interest rate. Or, use the one that provides extra points or rewards.
17. You’re Gift-Worthy Too!
But don’t forget yourself! It’s perfectly acceptable to splurge on a gift for you while you’re out shopping. Just don’t go overboard and blow your budget.
18. Finished Shopping? Walk It Out
Once you’ve purchased something for everyone on your list, stop. Leave the mall and don’t hang around just to window shop. You’ve done well so far, and doing so will only adding to the temptation to blow your budget. You can even set a time limit for each store before walking in!
19. To Wrap Or Not to Wrap
Store-bought wrapping paper can get expensive. Instead, purchase a roll of blank drawing paper and use it to wrap your gifts.
Then, you and your kids can decorate it however you wish. This will make your gift that much more personal while saving a decent amount of money.
20. Purposeful Payment Plans
Did you dip into your credit cards a lot more than you expected? Check out these strategies for paying it off as quickly as possible.
21. More Family Time
At home, you can save money by coming up with creative ways to celebrate the season that cost very little. This includes making chains out of construction paper, threading popcorn for a tree decoration, making your own gingerbread house instead of buying a kit, and more.
22. Meaning, Not Money
Often times, it’s the gifts that cost the least (or nothing at all) that are the most meaningful. A hand-written card, a fresh batch of cookies, or just spending a couple hours with someone might mean more than anything you could find at a store.
23. What’s the Season All About?
Another way to save a ton of money is by refocusing your holiday traditions to be more in line with the “reason for the season.”
Instead of buying extravagant gifts, you can spend more time with your family doing inexpensive (or completely free) activities like caroling, touring a neighborhood’s light displays, sledding, making your own decorations or baking together, or even volunteering to serve those less fortunate.
24. Watch Your Decorating Expenses
Speaking of decorating, don’t go overboard. If you do, this could cut into the money you have available for gifts. Instead, pick three focal areas in your home (such as the front door, dining room table, and stairway) to decorate.
See Also: How to Save on Holiday Decorations
25. … Including Your Christmas Tree
Of all the holiday decorations, though, Christmas trees are arguably the biggest single expense. This year, try scaling down the size of your tree (do you really need that 18-footer?). Or, if you live near a forest, you can even cut one down yourself—just be sure to check with the landowner first!
For the ultimate in money savings, you might want to purchase an artificial tree. No, it won’t have that piney aroma and it might be more expensive upfront, but you’ll save money every year from here on out.
26. E-Cards to the Rescue
Want to save a ton of money on postage for holiday cards? Send e-cards instead of traditional ones! They’re instantaneous and can often be personalized to suit your (or your recipient’s) taste.
27. Make It Easy With Potlucks
Are you hosting Thanksgiving dinner this year? You can greatly reduce your expenses (not to mention your stress levels) by making it a potluck. This way, everyone can feel like they were involved, and your dinner will be filled with a variety of delicious recipes.
More Thanksgiving Dinner Tips: Give Yourself a Break: 46 Hacks for a More Enjoyable Thanksgiving
28. Holiday Travel Savings
Sure, it might seem non-traditional, but taking a family vacation during the holidays could save you a huge chunk of change. Why?
Whether you’re talking about hotels, cruise lines, or resorts, they’re all feeling a pinch this time of year, making it an ideal time to cash in on the savings (be sure to read Getting the Best Deal When Booking Your Next Hotel).
Even if you’re just visiting grandma’s house for the holidays, if you’re planning on flying, try doing so on a holiday (e.g. December 25th or January 1st). You could score some great savings on your tickets.
And if you’re driving, be sure to make sure your tires are properly inflated, or you could spend a lot more than needed on gas!
You Can Help Others Save Money Too!
Finally, what’s better than helping others save money on their holiday shopping, too? But how?
It’s simple! All you need to do is share this article with your friends and family. Also, be sure to leave a comment below if you have any more money saving tips that others can put to use!
For more holiday resources, head to our 2016 Holiday Shopping and Travel Guide.
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