24 Best Ways to Save Money During the Holidays

December 11, 2019

Americans reported accumulating an average of more than $1,200 in holiday debt at the end of last year. Nearly half were still paying for it five months later and living paycheck to paycheck. Continuing this trend, 1 in 5 LendingClub members plan to spend about the same amount this year. From lavish gifts and parties to large family meals and travel, it’s easy to get carried away at this wonderfully cheerful time of the year.

To help you avoid giving yourself the gift of debt, we’re sharing 24 holiday money saving tips that won’t make you feel like you’re missing out on what makes the season special.

24 Ways to Save Money During the Holiday Season

1. Create a holiday budget.

Instead of thinking of up list of people to buy for, first decide how much you can spend. Add up the potential costs for not only gifts, but what you’ll need for travel, pet boarding, home decorations, groceries, flowers, etc. Set a limit that doesn’t make you feel deprived, but won’t leave you with a debt hangover when January rolls around.

2. Pay cash.

If you’re not able to pay your card balances in full each month, use this credit score hack and simply leave the credit cards at home. When you take away temptation to spend more than what’s in your bank account, you’ll avoid the guilt of poor financial health decision like adding to debt you may already have.

3. Stick to a shopping list.

Impulse buying—be gone. Before you open your wallet, a well thought out list made ahead of time can help you more easily comparison shop, take advantage of sales, and avoid rush shipping charges.

4. Stay home for the holidays.

If you traditionally travel to visit relatives over the holidays, consider staying put and creating holiday traditions in your own home. By visiting family after the holiday, you can start saving money and still share quality time without the added expense or the hassle and instead feel more financially secure.

5. Be flexible about when you fly.

Airfares tend to increase in the last six weeks of the year. So book early, and be flexible about what days you choose to fly. If you’re committed to avoiding high-season costs and crowds, book your flight on the holiday itself, or other less-popular travel days: November 25, 28, 29, and December 24, 25, 28.

6. Set boundaries around gift giving.

Rather than exchanging multiple gifts with everyone in the entire clan, open up the family group chat and suggest switching it up this year. Put names in a hat and draw the one family member to gift (kids, included) at a set dollar amount. Gift only the grandkids, or kids 18 and under. Chip in on one big ticket gift everyone can enjoy, or go full throttle and give up on gift giving completely.
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7. Give your time.

Wrap up a gift from the heart inside a cheery notecard and envelope. Thoughtful offers to rake leaves, clean out the garage, organize a closet, deliver a home cooked meal, babysit, or massage tired feet will always be welcomed. Especially to someone over 50, who often find the lust for more stuff has less meaning than a kind gesture or time together.

8. Find (and use) those old gift cards.

$1 billion in gift cards go unredeemed each year. So dig them out of your wallet or desk drawer and use them to keep your holiday spending in check. Unless the card indicates otherwise, be sure they’re used before the expiration date (usually, after 5 years), or you start incurring inactivity fees (typically, after 12 months).

9. Reduce, reuse, and regift.

Aside from last year’s fruit cake from Aunt Lois, there are ways to be generous (and careful) about regifting those well-intentioned (but unused or unwanted) items in storage. Family heirlooms, new or gently-used books, jewelry, clothing, kitchen gadgets, and electronics are all good options for regifting.

10. Make it a potluck.

Holiday parties or meals where guests are invited to contribute their favorite side dishes and desserts (and show off their culinary skills) mean less work, and significantly lower grocery bills for you.

11. Thrift (or share) your holiday style.

From ugly sweaters for the holiday office party, to sequined cocktail dresses and tuxedos, you can create a whole new look on a dime at the thrift store. For unusual and higher quality items, research the ones with the best reviews in your town, nearby city or resort area. No good thrifting near you? Raid your best friend’s closet.

12. Send e-cards.

Creative, sometimes musical, and usually always free—sending e-cards instead of the expensive paper version are a fun, easy way to stay in touch with distant friends and family. Punchbowl and Blue Mountain offer free greeting cards, as well as fancier ones with an annual subscription.

13. Abandon your cart.

December 14, 2019 is Free Shipping Day. Visit the site to find dozens of merchants that promise that items shipped that day will reach your recipient by December 24. Some participating stores offer additional discounts.

14. Skip Black Friday.

On Black Friday (and Cyber Monday) hundreds of thousands of people, hoping for great deals, cut their holiday celebrations and quality time with family short. But the deals often aren’t all they’re cracked up to be. And once you’re in the store or shopping online, all the hype makes it even more tempting to stuff your cart with impulse buys. This year, consider opting out altogether.

15. Upcycle holiday decor.

Shop your home to turn what you already have into holiday decorations. Get crafty and turn cookie cutters and tin cans into tree ornaments, mason jars into outdoor luminaries, wine corks into table decorations. Save paper or tinsel garland and used wrapping paper for shipping gifts and returns.

16. Enjoy a harvest.

Take a neighborhood walk or hike with the kids and gather natural materials like leaves, evergreen branches, and pinecones. Match them with inexpensive supplies like candles, cinnamon sticks, and ribbons to adorn your tabletops, mantle, and front door.

17. If you must have one, go for the real tree.

While it’s true that an artificial tree costs less over time than a real tree, the environmental price we pay for plastic is much too high. In addition to supporting local economies, nothing beats the shared experience of visiting a farm to choose and cut your own tree with family or friends. Afterward, recycled trees are used in public parks to enrich soil, prevent erosion, and create fish habitats.

18. Protect yourself from porch pirates.

Don’t let a package thief ruin your holiday. Sign up for UPS My Choice, USPS Informed Delivery, or FedEx Delivery Manager—free services that let you know when your packages are scheduled to arrive. Have Amazon orders delivered to an Amazon Hub Locker in a local business near you.
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19. Do-It-Yourself.

If you practice a craft like knitting, carving, drawing, pottery making, calligraphy, landscape or jewelry design, scrapbooking, or baking, there’s a good chance someone in your life might appreciate receiving your handiwork instead of anything store bought.

20. Choose practical, sustainable gifts.

Budgets can be tight throughout the year, and expenses don’t stop. Why not make a holiday gift of something useful and built to last? Items like reusable bowl covers, glass meal prep containers, and metal straws for the kitchen. And for the home, try bamboo toothbrushes, or a cloth diaper service for the bath.

21. Be careful not to #treatyoself too much.

A few years ago shoppers were spending an average of $130 on themselves when out shopping for others. With the rise of social hashtags like #sorrynotsorry #merrychristmastome and #treatyoself, it’s worth tracking what might be tempting you—refocusing on your shopping list (see #3) and adding it to your wish list instead.

22. Say “no” to toy trends and useless kitchen gadgets.

Why waste money on what retailers promote as the season’s hottest, most “anticipated” toys, games, or accessories. Featuring characters from popular TV shows and video games, or trendy household inventions (think, butter spreaders, strawberry stem pickers, or blankets with sleeves), these gifts usually end up being thrown into the back of a drawer or closet and simply…forgotten.

23. Agree to joyfully give no gifts.

More and more families are choosing to simply not exchange gifts at all. Reasons range from the desire to defy a consumeristic culture, refocus on the religious aspect of the season, and/or do no harm to the environment. No matter what, spending less money on things, and more time with each other also makes a lot of financial sense.

24. Remember the reason you’re celebrating.

Take a moment to focus on the true spirit of the holidays, and what that means to you. Whether it’s reaffirming your faith, reconnecting with loved ones, giving back to your community, or something else entirely, gaining some perspective on what and why you’re celebrating can provide the comfort and strength you need to stick to your financial goals.

The Bottom Line

When you take time to budget wisely and plan ahead for your holiday spending—you’ll feel more in control of your money and your life. If you’re still paying off last year’s holiday debt, don’t feel bad. Maybe it’s time to check your rate for a personal loan through LendingClub and take back control.

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