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24 Best Ways to Save Money During the Holidays

November 3, 2021

The COVID-19 pandemic has caused financial stress for many and reshaped the way most people save and spend money. This year, for example,  Americans plan to spend $997.79 on holiday gifts, travel and entertainment. That’s down from last year’s $1,047. But now that lockdowns are mostly behind us, and the job market is on the rise, Americans may find themselves deviating from their plan to make up for lost time. 

Before you let your holiday joy lead to New Year’s debt, take some time to plan your spending. This not only allows you to save money, but it can also help get you into the Christmas spirit, without the financial stress.

24 Ways to Save Money During the Holiday Season

1. Create a holiday budget.

First, decide how much you can spend. Create a full holiday budget, and include any cost you anticipate outside your normal spending—like gifts, travel, pet boarding, more lavish groceries, and decorations. Laying out a budget in advance can show you what you can afford and can help guide your choices.

2. Pay cash.

If you’re not able to pay your card balances in full each month, leave your credit cards at home. Bring the amount of cash you intend to spend, and then choose items accordingly. When you take away the temptation to spend more than what’s in your bank account, you’ll be forced to stay within your means.

3. Shop early.

With shipping companies facing major delays and increased online spending, shopping early will prevent gifts from not arriving and give you time to take advantage of sales and free shipping deals. 

4. Stick to a shopping list.

Aside from preventing impulse buying, a well thought out list can help you more easily comparison shop and stay on budget. 

5. Stay home for the holidays.

If you traditionally travel to visit relatives over the holidays, consider staying where you are and creating holiday traditions in your own home. By visiting family after the holiday, you can save money and still share quality time without the added expense or hassle of high-season travel. 

6. 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. In some cases, it’s less expensive to fly on the holiday itself instead of the days leading up to it—for example, traveling on Christmas Day as opposed to Christmas Eve. 

7. Set boundaries around gift giving.

Rather than exchanging multiple gifts with everyone in the entire clan, consider an alternative like Secret Santa where every family member has one person to buy a gift for at a set spending limit. Another idea is to plan to gift only the grandkids, or kids 18 and under. Or, chip in on one big ticket gift everyone can enjoy. You can also decide to pull funds together for a family experience, or opt to forgo gifting entirely and focus on togetherness. 

8. Give your time.

Thoughtful offers to rake leaves, clean out the garage, organize a closet, deliver a home cooked meal, babysit, or massage tired feet are sweet ways to give to someone you love without the financial burden.

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

An estimated $3 billion in gift cards go unused each year. If you have a few of these hiding in a dusty drawer, dig them out and put them to good use.

10. 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.

11. Make it a potluck.

Holiday parties or meals where guests are invited to contribute their favorite side dishes and desserts not only means less work, but can significantly lower grocery bills. Plus, it gives guests the opportunity to show off their culinary skills. 

12. 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. If there’s no convenient store nearby, look online. Many flagship locations have gone virtual amid the pandemic, making it easier than ever to thrift. If you aren’t an online shopper, try swapping closets with a friend so you both can wear something new-for-you. 

13. 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.

14. Plan ahead for free shipping.

December 14, 2021 is Free Shipping Day for many online retailers. 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.

15. 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.

16. 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.

17. Enjoy the harvest.

Instead of spending money on plastic decorations, 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.

18. 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.

19. 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.

20. Do it yourself.

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

21. 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.

22. Resist the urge to over indulge.

In the rush of gifting, it’s tempting to throw a present for yourself in your cart. And though giving to yourself is important, if you find yourself overspending, it may be worth revisiting your budget and shopping list. Remind yourself to stay on track, and add your wants to your wishlist, instead. 

23. 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 when you know they’ll lose their flare? Toys featuring characters from popular TV shows and video games, or trendy household inventions—butter spreaders, strawberry stem pickers, or blankets with sleeves— often end up being thrown into the back of a drawer or closet and simply…forgotten.

24. Embrace the joy of giving no gifts.

More and more families are choosing to simply not exchange gifts at all. Reasons range from the desire to defy a consumerist culture, refocus on the religious aspect of the season, 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. Take a moment to focus on the true spirit of the holidays and reflect on 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. And if you’re still paying off last year’s holiday debt, don’t let it get you down. There are solutions available that can help you regain control of your finances and still have a festive holiday season.

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