Raise your hand if your wallet feels personally victimized by the holiday season. Trust me, as a former shopping addict, I get how hard it is to stay on budget during the holiday season. Everyone is out decking the halls, drinking eggnog, and spending too much on gifts because they didn’t have a game plan beforehand. It’s so easy to go overboard when you’re getting things for friends and family, and while you may think that being broke is just something that happens during the holidays, I promise this doesn’t have to be the case.
Yes, I know what you're thinking. I do refresh this post every, single, holiday season (it originally appeared in 2015.) BUT I do it for two main reasons: a) I love the piece and b) I find myself using these tips year after year. Thankfully, these tips keep me from overspending and I usually clock in the holiday season at less than $400 each year.
The Smartest Ways to Save Money on the Holidays this Year
Make a List and Check it Twice
It’s important to prioritize your shopping duties. If you’re going to wade through mall traffic (although seriously, who does this? ew.) it should be for a good reason! Make a list of the people who you want to give gifts and set a reasonable budget for each one. That way you have a ballpark estimate of how much you’ll be spending for all of your gifts, and if the budget crunch hits you can make cuts or adjustments.
Pro Tip: I use my catch-all planning tool to create a list and a tentative budget, so all I have to do is look at my phone to see what I was thinking!
Pay with Cash When You Can
It is so easy to lose track of your spending when all you do is swipe your card. During the holidays that credit card temptation hits even harder. This is why I suggest using cash to purchase all of your gifts. You feel the hit more immediately and when it’s gone, it’s gone. It’ll keep you from spending $20 on something frivolous because it means you’ll have to sacrifice something else.
Pro Tip: This (2017) is the first Christmas I haven't paid with cash. I'm instead trying to stack spending on one of my new credit cards for travel miles. You can do this – see here for more travel hacking resources, or you can get “cash back” on money you're already spending by using money-saving apps. There's also Honey, Ebates, and Swagbucks which reward spending you were already going to do.
Two Words: Christmas Cards
Do you have family all over the country? Christmas cards. Do you have family you won’t be seeing in person and you don’t know what to get them? Christmas cards. Just want to show off your family? Christmas cards. These are a holiday staple and for good reason. They’re cheap, easy, and still personalized enough to show you care.
Pro Tip: Below is a photo of my holiday card. I do spend some time each year brainstorming new ways to present this information and I do have them custom made. It's a bit more expensive, but it goes out to everyone I know, and it feels more like a personalized connection and “hello” than buying a card at a store and mailing it. While it's more expensive to produce (because I'm not crafty and have to pay my longtime graphic designer, Colleen, to do it) it's still less expensive than buying individual gifts.
“Batch” Your Gifts
Want to get your co-workers or friend group gifts but don’t want to spend a ton? Making cute mugs or jars full of goodies is the way to go. Go to your value store of choice, find little gifts that fit your group, and decorate! My personal favorites are nail polish, coffee or tea cups, and a gift card for Starbucks. Tie it all together with a cute bow and you’ve got a recipe for a relaxing morning (plus an excuse to go on a coffee date!)
Pinterest is your friend this holiday season. There are so many unique ideas that you can make your own, plus your friends will know you went the extra mile to make them something special. If you’ve got something in mind that you’d typically buy, see if you can make it at home! Buying canvases and paint is cheaper than buying wall art pre-made, cups and markers are cheaper than a designer mug, the list goes on and on. So it’s time to get crafty.
At the very least, “batch” order your gifts from the same retailer to save on shipping this holiday season.
Pro Tip: Here's a great “gift in a cup” tutorial that I especially like.
Whatever You Do, Avoid Impulse Buying
Impulse buying is the easiest trap to fall into when shopping for gifts. This year felt especially aggressive between Black Friday promotions, Cyber Monday, and then Giving Tuesday. It felt like the calendar was conspiring against me to part me from my money. The truth is there are flash sales, coupons, and any number of tricks retailers will use to make you think that you have to buy something now.
Many of these tips are designed to help you forget your budget, but being aware of how and why you overspend in the first place will help you resist temptation.
Pro Tip: The Holiday season is a great time to strengthen those willpower muscles. Here are 25 ways to fight the urge to overspend.
Stay strong, friends, and Happy Holidays!