Think back to the holiday season last year.
How was it?
Busy? Fun, stressful or relaxing? A little bit of everything?
The end of the year is always full of activities, shopping & visiting family. All of which can cost money.
It adds up.
But here’s the deal:
There are a lot of ways that you can save money or make extra money during the holidays that will keep that stress to a minimum.
Save Money on Holiday Shopping & Plan Ahead
- Create a specific holiday budget. While I would recommend creating this after you determine your normal monthly budget so you can see how much you have left for holiday spending, I understand there are holiday expenses that simply come up that are necessary. Regardless, think about what areas you can reduce your spending to give you more flexibility for the month.
- In the months leading up to November and December, reduce your budget and use that savings as a special “holiday fund” to cover the extras that come up later in the year.
- Plan and prioritize what gifts you need to give. Depending on your budget, you may not have enough to cover gifts for everyone you want. Prioritize the people you absolutely need to give something to and take others further down the list out of your plan. If it makes you feel uncomfortable, you can always talk to that person and suggest that you want to come up with another plan instead of giving gifts this year (perhaps you go take part in a free activity together, like hiking). With families, another great way is to talk to your siblings with children and suggest that you skip the gifts for each other this year so you can focus on the kids in the family.
- Once you have a list of the people you are buying for, create a gift budget for each person.
- Pay with cash so you have a more tangible idea of how much money you’re spending. While this won’t directly help you save money, there is a psychological affect when you’re more aware of what is coming out of your pocket.
- Try to avoid credit cards. You don’t want to risk carrying a balance over a few months and wasting money on paying interest. Not using cards can also help give you a better idea as to how much you are spending.
- On the flip side, if you consistently have flexibility in your budget, it may be a good idea to use credit cards if you already have a rewards card and know you can pay off the balance next month.
- Plan your gifts ahead of time so you aren’t left making purchases at the last minute. This lets you take advantage of deals that may happen before the holiday season.
- Shop online early so you don’t have to pay for rush shipping to get your items in time.
- Once you cross someone of your list, avoid buying any last minute impulse purchases for them.
- Track your spending as you go. Not just for gifts, but for baking items, holiday activities, travel & more. This way you know quickly how you are trending and can adjust your spending accordingly.
- Cut back on some of your typical discretionary purchases during the end of the year. Instead of buying that extra cup of coffee or going out to dinner as often, cut back so you can use that extra money for holiday-related expenses.
- Log onto your online banking site if you can and download your expenses from last year’s holiday season. See how much you spent in different categories and challenge yourself to not let as much money out the door this year.
- In months leading up the holidays, visit yard sales to see if there are any inexpensive decorations or even gifts that you might be able to purchase and save money on.
- Use a budget tracking app like Mint to track your holiday-related expenses automatically
Save Money on Holiday Gifts
- Think outside the box and search on Pinterest for some DIY crafts you can make for others. If you are buying craft items at a store like Michaels, make sure to search online for store coupons. They always seem to have discounts available that you can pull up on your phone at the register.
- Give the gift of your time. This could be something like a certificate to older family members to clean their house, to others to watch their kids for a night so they can go out on a date night, cooking a romantic dinner in for your significant other, etc.
- Bake treats or cook some gift-able items that are easy to make into a basket or share with others.
- Chocolate and a good, inexpensive bottle of wine can go a long way as a gift. Suggest that they’re paired with a relaxed night in and a movie. Added plus, include a free Redbox rental code on the wrapping or the card. You can easily search for them on Google to find ones that work.
- You want to make a child’s holiday as special as possible, but that doesn’t mean you can’t temper their expectations for gifts. Instead of having them make a long list of what they want, suggest your children keep their list to 5-or-so items so there is some surprise about what they’re getting but they don’t expect lots of presents. This helps keep your expenses lower.
- Instead of buying expensive wrapping paper, buy rolls at a dollar store or use old newspapers or magazines to cover your gifts.
- Black Friday is well known for people not only getting gifts for others, but particularly for yourself. (Are you really going to get a family member a brand new $400 TV?). Don’t splurge on yourself this holiday season.
- For families or big groups of friends, suggest you do Secret Santa so everyone only has to buy one gift instead of many.
- Don’t buy something just because it’s on sale. It may be $20 off, but if you don’t really need it, you’re still spending money on the item that you wouldn’t have been otherwise.
- Instead of buying or printing expensive holiday cards, send free e-cards, a well-written email that includes pictures, or even print out a holiday letter that you’ve written on your computer.
- If you don’t want to spend the money on printing, you could also give your potential recipients a phone call or talk to them on Skype.
- Download a coupon app on your phone. Before making a purchase, always search for the name of the retailer you are using to see if they have any applicable deals.
- Don’t buy that holiday CD you have your eye on. Everyone seems to release a Christmas CD, but instead turn on a holiday radio station or use the free version of Pandora.
- Instead of having professional photos taken, have a family member or friend come over or meet you at a great outdoor location and spend 30 minutes taking pictures for free.
- Find online retailers that offer free shipping deals so you don’t have to pay extra to get your items.
- Don’t take up store’s offers to gift wrap items for you and instead use inexpensive gift wrap at home.
- Thinking of buying a new tech item this year? Consider last year’s model and see if it fits your needs. It can save you a lot of money.
- Buying online? Search for coupon codes to see if there is anything applicable out there. Many shoppers share what works for them on coupon websites.
- Buy couples a single gift that they can share instead of buying a holiday gift for each person.
- If you’re married or have a significant other, discuss your gift plans together. Do you have a spending limit? Perhaps you don’t give each other gifts and instead buy one thing together that you would both enjoy. For example, my wife and I had our wedding rings engraved last year. You could even avoid gifts all together to put more money towards savings or to gifts for kids in the family.
- Receiving a holiday bonus this year from your employer? Don’t splurge with it or use it for excess holiday spending. Save the bonus or put it towards a financial goal you have like debt or retirement savings.
- Compare prices for items you are planning on getting online. https://www.google.com/shopping is a great way to compare.
- Don’t sign up for store credit cards just to save a percentage on a single transaction. Another credit card isn’t the way to start saving.
- Re-gifting doesn’t have a great connotation, but it really isn’t a bad practice. If you have something you think someone else would find more useful, it would be an inexpensive option for a gift.
- Don’t buy gift tags and simply write who the gift is to on the wrapping.
- Research your potential purchase online to see if there are cheaper options out there.
- Know a reader? Visit a used book store and buy some previously read books for gifts. It will be significantly cheaper than buying newer, unread books from retailers.
- Long shopping day ahead? Pack some snacks so you don’t have to buy expensive holiday treats while you’re out.
- Buy gift cards at a discount. Gift Card Granny and Card Pool are two options to consider.
- Keep an eye out for gift card deals from retailers or restaurants. For example, often they’ll offer a deal of a free $10 gift card if you buy $50 worth. As long as you go to that store or restaurant regularly, you’re essentially getting a free $10.
- Warehouse stores like Costco offer good deals on gift cards as well as long as you’re willing to by a high enough value of them.
- Have stores on your radar for buying gifts? Sign up for their email programs so you can get alerted to when they have deals.
- If you’re not going to see a family member or friend until after the holidays, wait until after Christmas to buy a gift and try to take advantage of any post-holiday sales.
Save Money on Holiday Decorations
- Just like the Pinterest gifts that were suggested earlier, create DIY decorations instead of going out and spending money on marked up festivities.
- Focus your decorating on a few areas of the house instead of the whole thing. For example, decorate outside, your living room, and the entry way or kitchen. This way you aren’t buying more decorations than you actually need.
- Consider a dollar store for DIY materials or inexpensive Christmas decorations
- Before going out and buying new decorations or holiday items, search and clean out your house before decorating so you know what you have from years past.
- Buy a fake Christmas tree so you can save money in years following. If you can manage, purchase one after Christmas so it’s on sale.
- Buy other holiday decorations after Christmas as well so you get them at marked down prices.
- Make a DIY craft an event with your kids so you can all participate and make something like paper chains to hang on the tree or around the house.
- Slowly build up your collection of decorations and ornaments over the years instead of buying everything at one time. This will allow you to buy things on sale once the holidays are over.
- Holiday lights can use quite a bit of energy over the entire month, so either reduce the amount of time lights are on or find good deals on energy-efficient LED lights. In 2015, Home Depot is offering a deal of up to $5 off if you trade in old lights for LED options.
- Do you have a fake Christmas tree that just isn’t as full as you would like it to be? Use some green garland to fill the inside of the tree.
- Use plastic cups, egg cartons, or old newspaper to help cushion ornaments from year to year. This will help prevent them from breaking and, in turn, prevent you from having to go out and buy new ones each year.
Save Money on Holiday Activities
- Look for free activities in your city’s paper or holiday movie viewings that may be going on nearby.
- Instead of going to holiday light setups at a zoo or other area in the city that you have to pay for, drive around to big neighborhoods and look at lights for free instead.
- Have a snow day outside. Make snow angels, snowmen or have a snowball fight.
- Find a free Santa at a mall and take your kids to tell him what they want for Christmas. As long as you don’t buy pictures, this is a great cheap activity for kids.
- Bake holiday treats as a family instead of doing another activity that you have to pay for. This can also substitute for a night of eating out.
- Have a night in watching a Christmas movie that you can find on a site like Netflix or that you can stream online from various sites.
- Instead of going out shopping, spend time with family or friends.
- Don’t go out to the mall just because. It makes it that much easier to make impulse purchases as you walk by advertisements and sales.
- Instead of hosting a huge dinner or party for your friends and family and making the food yourself, go potluck style so everyone can contribute.
- Don’t overwhelm yourself with activities. Many times it’s cheaper and less stressful to just relax.
- Having to drive a lot to activities and family’s houses? Use the Gas Buddy app to find the cheapest gas stations near you. It may not add up to much savings immediately, but it can save you money over November & December if you drive a lot.
- Instead of buying hot cocoa or coffee when you’re out for your holiday activities, make your drink at home and take it with you.
- Volunteer your time or go through old clothes & toys that aren’t being used anymore. This can take the place of an activity that may cost money and it can help give back to those who aren’t as fortunate.
- Find a dollar movie theater nearby to watch Christmas classics
- Do you have a work party or family party you have to attend that requires you to dress up? Visit Goodwill or another discount store to avoid paying huge prices for more formal clothes. Better yet, borrow something from someone you know.
Save Money on Holiday Baking
- When shopping for holiday baking items or food for holiday meals, make a list so you don’t buy things you don’t need.
- Pick up your grocery store’s ad each week and plan your meals based on what’s on sale.
- If you have guests over, try to use as much actual dinnerware as possible. Avoid disposable silverware and plates that essentially have a fixed cost-per-use.
- Freeze your leftovers. You’re bound to have them, so make sure you’re not wasting tasty holiday food.
- Keep the alcohol to a minimum. With all of the celebrations, it can get expensive. Always make sure to drink responsibly, don’t buy expensive bottles and keep your consumption low.One thing to never compromise on is calling for a taxi or Uber ride home if you can’t drive because you have had too much. That’s a necessary expense, so don’t skip it to save money. If you want to save money, a better option would simply be to not drink.
- Buy store-brand food and ingredients instead of brand-name goods. You and your guests won’t be able to tell a difference.
- Adjust your meals during the holidays so they don’t include as many expensive foods or ingredients. You can always cut back on your meat consumption, for example, since that adds up.
- Exchange cookies with friends and family. Have each house or person make a type of cookie and then trade with one another. That way you don’t have to buy ingredients for multiple types of treats but you still get the variety.
- Download your grocery store’s app if they have one. This is a great option year-round. Often they’ll offer exclusive deals just for you and at the very least you can easily see what is discounted at the moment.
- Big fan of peppermint this time of year? Buy your own peppermint syrup from the store and add it to cocoa, coffee or another treat that you can make at home.
- Buy any baking or cooking supplies in bulk if you know you’re going to use a lot of a specific ingredient.
Other Ways to Save Money During the Holidays
- Turn your thermostat down a few degrees if you can so your heater doesn’t have to stay on as much. Space heating is the biggest energy cost for residential homes.
- When you leave the house, turn the thermostat down even more so it’s not working as hard when you are not home.
- Clean your car out so you’re not adding excess weight. Excess weight can reduce your gas mileage.
- Keep your tires properly inflated. Not only does this affect your gas mileage, but it’s also a safety issue.
- Go the library to borrow Christmas books for your kids instead of buying them. You could always buy a copy of one or two classics, but for extras borrowing is just as good.
- Traveling? Avoid peak days if you can. This would be the days leading up to Thanksgiving, the Sunday after, and the days leading up to Christmas. With turkey day in particular, if you can travel early in the morning that day, it can potentially save you hundreds.
- Instead of spending money on a hotel, stay with friends or family so you don’t pay inflated hotel costs.
- Instead of traveling for Christmas, do a short stay-cation so you don’t have to spend on transportation costs. This way you can still break up your routine without it breaking the bank.
- New Years is a holiday, right? Gym membership sign ups peak because of New Years’ resolutions, but avoid signing up for the gym if you can. The outdoors is free, so try to exercise by walking, running or hiking outside. If you already have a bike, go on a ride or get creative with your different exercises. This is going to be easier in more mild climates, so consider what works best for you.
- Stay healthy. Wash your heads, get plenty of sleep and eat well. The more you take care of your body, the less likely you will be to get sick or pass an ailment onto someone else in your family. If you don’t get sick, you don’t miss work or spend money on things to manage or fight your illness.
- If you can’t afford to make a monetary donation, donate your time by volunteering at a charity of food bank.
How to Make Money During the Holidays
- If you have a lot of old books, go to a used book store and sell the ones you don’t read anymore. You can also trade them in for other books you can use as gifts.
- Many businesses, like retailers or shipping companies (Ex. UPS or FedEx), need seasonal employment. If you have the time, apply for another position to pick up extra hours. Spending extra time working during the holidays isn’t ideal obviously, but rarely do you have the opportunity to have so many companies hiring at one time.
- If you like to, or are good at, putting up holiday lights & decorations, offer to do it for others in exchange for a fee.
- If you can’t pick up a second job and are currently paid by the hour, offer to put in overtime, pick up extra shifts, or cover someone else if you can. If others are trying to get out of work, take advantage of it.
- Crafty? Sell some of your DIY holiday decorations on sites like Etsy or Amazon’s new site, Handmade.
- If you live in a popular area, think about whether or not it would make sense to rent out a room in your home to travelers for the holidays through Airbnb.
- With kids out of school and many parents at work, offer to babysit or watch kids during the day. You can reach out on a site like Care.com or ask people you know.
- See if there are any services in your area like Amazon Flex that will allow you to deliver packages on your schedule for money. There are an increasing amount of Uber-like delivery services out there that will allow you to earn some extra cash.
- Is anyone nearby going out of town? Offer to pet or house sit for them for a small fee.
- Consider driving for Uber. With holiday parties, celebrations and more, you could earn a good amount of money this season. If you pick your spots and hours right, there is a lot of opportunity here.
- Does it snow a lot where you live? Walk around your neighborhood and offer to shovel snow for a fee.
- Have some skill with Photoshop or another graphics program? Offer to make holiday cards for people you know or post the offer on Craigslist or a freelancing website.
- What about musical talents? Make some extra money by talking to offices or families in your area about performing at a holiday party.
A final, merry word
Holidays are meant to be happy times, but if you are spending more money than you have or not earning enough, it can be stressful.
When you’re only talking about a month or two, it’s hard to come up with huge adjustments.
This is why it’s so important to understand that the little things add up.
Some of these tips apply year-round.
What do you do during the holiday season to save money? I’d love for you to share in the comments or shoot me an email.