All of us, I’m sure, are busy shopping and planning for gifts for all the people we care about. In the process, though, we need to take some precautions. We don’t want to end up in a situation where we are happy for a month, but are left paying December’s credit card bill throughout the next year.
So, here is my list of money-saving tips for the holidays. A lot of us have smart phones and there is an app for pretty much everything. With a little planning, you can save money, reduce stress, and have a fun-filled holiday.
- Make a budget and stick to it: If you have already made a holiday budget and been saving for it throughout the year, excellent! If not, make a budget now and include everything. While this tip is obvious, it’s amazing how many people end up in credit card debt every January. If you are new to budgeting, check out our guide to budgets for those who hating budgeting.
- Make a gift plan: Create a gift plan with the list of all recipients and ideas for gifts. If you don’t have ideas, write down their interests, which might lead you to find something. Include a maximum dollar amount. As with everything these days, there are many apps for creating and tracking a gift list. One of our favorites is the Wunderlist.
- Give gifts only for the kids in the family. This may require a frank conversation with friends and family, but it accomplishes two important things. First, it helps you reign in spending during the holidays. Second, it makes the holidays a lot less frantic as you reduce the time you spend shopping.
- Comparison shop: Know prices before you get out of the house. If you have to go on a “pre-shopping” trip, so be it. Don’t buy anything on this pre-shopping trip. Just note down the prices for all the gifts in your list and go home. There, you can check the prices online, along with how much it costs for shipping. This will give you a better idea of the price range and the best place to buy. There are several websites that allow you to track the price for the items on your list. I use Camel Camel Camel to track Amazon prices. Don’t forget to get points either using your credit card, or using an app like Checkpoints that offers points for just checking in.
- Look for deals and sales: If you are buying online, Google [store name + “coupon”]. You will almost always end up with some coupons for online or in-store purchases. Even if it is just for free shipping, you are saving money. Shop on Free Shipping Day or plan your purchases to meet any minimum order requirements to get free shipping. Make use of the holiday events like the Babys’R’Us first Christmas, to score some free stuff for yourself or to gift. And if you do buy online, use Ebates to get cash back on just about every purchase.
- Buy in bulk: For commonly used items like holiday treats or baking supplies, try to buy in bulk along with a neighbor, family member, or a friend.
- Homemade gifts: Instead of buying gifts, make your own.
- Don’t be afraid to re-gift: This is a very personal decision. If you feel comfortable with the idea and you have a perfectly good gift that is just not for you, consider gifting it to someone who will make use of it. Save all your receipts in one place in case you have to return something. Apps like Shoeboxed can help you keep your receipts organized.
- Give time: Give your time instead of money or a gift. This can be ideal for teenagers and college students who are short on money but can offer elderly relatives much-needed help around the house.
- Get a part time job: If you can spare some time, consider getting a part-time job in a department store. You could make some money for the holidays and also make use of the employee discounts for all your gifts.
- Wrapping paper: Instead of buying wrapping paper, make your own with your kid’s artwork.
- Make ornaments: Similar to wrapping paper, instead of buying expensive ornaments, make ornaments from your kid’s artwork or with some meaningful photos.
- Food drives: Instead of office gift exchanges, suggest a food drive where you can bring canned and non-perishable food for the local food bank. This won’t save much money, but at least you are not stuck with buying a lame gift for a coworker you don’t even know very well.
- Potluck: For parties (whether you are attending or hosting) suggest potluck instead of one person doing all the cooking and cleaning. It can save serious time and money.
- Pick your parties: Attend only the parties that are more meaningful to you. Skip the ones from an acquaintance or coworker you don’t know well. This will save you time as well as money for a hostess gift or bring-along dish.
- Plan your vacations: Traveling a day earlier or later can save a lot of money. If you fly, use Google Flights to find the best deals and to be alerted when fares go up or down.
- Skimp on outdoor lighting: Consider going easy with the holiday lighting. You can also use LED lights which have significantly lower energy consumption. That way, you won’t get stuck with a humongous power bill in January. You could also change regular bulbs to colored ones to add a festive effect and leave it at that.
- Don’t replicate your parents’ festiveness: This is one of the mistakes I make — not with just holidays, but in general. I forget that it took my parents probably 50 years to collect all the stuff they have. I am just starting out, so there is no need to have every conceivable holiday decoration the first time.
- Buy throughout the year: It is not possible to do this for this year, but the best time to shop for Christmas is the week after Christmas. That’s when everything Christmas-related goes on clearance. Stock up on stuff that won’t get spoiled — decorations, ornaments, gift wrapping, and even gifts.
- Buy gift cards using the holiday deals and give yourself a gift, too: Holidays are a great time to buy gift cards at a discount. I stock up on gift cards for myself during this time, to use the following year. Two great options for discounted cards are Gift Card Granny and My Gift Card Plus.
What are your favorite money-saving tips? Do you have a weakness or do you always plan well?