The Christmas season is magical, especially if you have a family. However, it can be incredibly expensive! You never want to go into debt or suffer financial hardship to give a gift. Here are some tips and tricks you can use to create a wonderful holiday season without breaking the bank.
Set a Christmas Budget… and Stick to it!
Most people spend way more than they anticipate during the holidays, ending up in a huge credit card bill in January. Before you begin shopping, sit down and write down everything you plan on purchasing during the season. This does not only include gifts. It’s clothing for parties, kids’ events, and church. Holiday cards and stamps. Travel expenses if you are going to visit family. Hostess gifts. Christmas treats and cookies. A Christmas tree and other holiday decor. Shipping expenses related to mailing gifts to friends and family that you won’t see. Break it all down, set a holiday budget and reverse-engineer it. Decide what’s truly important to you, and eliminate what isn’t. In the past, I’ve created a holiday spending spreadsheet to keep track of holiday expenditures as I go along. It’s a great tool for budgeting and making sure there are no unpleasant surprises in January when the bills start rolling in.
Challenge yourself to stick to an all-cash Christmas. It’s all too easy to mindlessly put everything on a credit card, which is what most people do. Or, get a pre-paid credit card in the amount of your entire holiday budget, and commit to only using that form of payment for holiday expenditures. You will spend less, guaranteed – if you know your spending is limited to a certain amount.
Shrink Your Christmas Buying List
Instead of buying gifts for everyone in your family, consider giving group gifts or drawing names. When you do that, you not only reduce your overall expenses, you can take more time to focus on selecting and buying something that’s truly meaningful for the recipient. Sites like SecretSanta.com or Elfster will help you assign names anonymously so everyone gets to enjoy the element of surprise.
Suggest a yankee swap or white elephant gift exchange instead of buying new items for everyone. Not only does this save money, it’s highly entertaining to see what people give and get.
Saving Money on Christmas Presents
Start shopping early, and look for deals. Some people start holiday shopping for the next year on December 26th when the Christmas markdowns start. While that may be extreme for you, you can definitely save money and stress by looking for deals on gifts all year long, then stashing them away for later.
Leverage Black Friday sales. You can find a lot of the hot holiday gift items listed as loss leaders at big box retailers the day after Thanksgiving (check them out on blackfriday.com). However, there’s a caveat: most people who go shopping on Black Friday end up buying a lot more than they need. To truly save, you’ll need to resist the urge to buy items for yourself. That’s where most people go wrong. So much is on sale, it’s easy to find things you have wanted for yourself on sale, but hard to resist them. When it comes to gift-shopping, put on your blinders and commit to only buying for people on your list.
Pay attention to online sales. They’re not just on Cyber Monday anymore. Some retailers like Amazon, Target and Walmart are even offering sales before Black Friday, to beat their competition to the punch. Start looking for deals online a week or two before Thanksgiving. Perhaps the best advantage of online shopping is the ability to resist temptation.
Before you purchase something online, make sure you look for coupon codes to apply to your purchase. Retailers will sometimes offer a discount for email newsletter signup. You may also receive a coupon code if you are already signed up as a website user, and leave items in your cart for more than a certain number of hours. If you can afford to wait on your purchase, it can be worthwhile to wait and see. You can use sites like retailmenot.com or browser plugins like Honey to help alert you to online coupon codes.
Sign up for email newsletters of your favorite online retailers. They’ll email you with deal alerts. Also, it can pay to leave items in your online shopping cart for a few hours before checking out. As long as you’re logged in with your customer account, some sites will email you with coupon codes to encourage you to finish the checkout process.
Consider giving a used or secondhand gift when appropriate. These gifts are usually the most effective when they’re highly personal, something that has deep meaning – such as an antique toy that will remind your mom of her childhood, a part of a collection, or memorabilia. Look on eBay for deals, and check out garage sales and thrift stores.
Give Homemade Gifts
Christmas cookies and treat are great to give friends and neighbors. You can make them in bulk and package them creatively. Here are ten Christmas treat bag ideas you can use to make them even more special!
Consider giving of your time and talent instead of a material gift. Offer to give friends your babysitting services, or offer to cook them a nice meal. You can create coupons for these things too, making them a little bit more personal.
We have dozens of other tips for frugal gift ideas that you don’t have to be especially creative to make.
Finding Extra Cash for Presents
Do you have unused or partially used gift cards? Most of have some in our wallets and our drawers at home. If you’re a Target shopper, you probably also have some $5 gift cards that you ‘earned’ making certain purchases. Gather all the gift cards you currently have, and think about using them for gift-buying.
Have any items at home you need to get rid of? Now it a great time to clear the clutter, sell unwanted items and put that money towards your holiday expenses. Stores like Once Upon a Child, Plato’s Closet and Clothes Mentor will give you cash for clothing. Play it Again Sports will give you cash for sporting equipment. Or, try Facebook Marketplace.
Read about more Ways to Find Extra Cash for Christmas
Save Money at Retailers During the Christmas Season
Knowing the tips and tricks to finding deals at your favorite stores is important during the holidays, too. Here is a roundup of other posts we’ve done to help you navigate our favorite retailers and score some great deals:
- 13 Ways to Save Money on Amazon.com.
- 10 Ways to Save Money at Kohl’s
- Ways to Save Money at Costco
- 25 Ways to Save Money at Target
- 13 Ways to Save Money at Walmart
- 12 Ways to Save Money at Old Navy
- 13 Ways to Save Money at Michael’s
Buying gift cards is another way to grab a gift for someone this holiday season. You can also use gift cards to purchase the gifts you need. Check out these 10 Ways to Save on Gift Cards.
Save Money on Shipping Christmas Gifts
Christmas is expensive enough; so don’t let the cost of mailing gifts break your holiday budget! Here are some tips for saving on shipping costs when mailing gifts to friends and family.
- Consider the item’s size and weight if you know you’ll be mailing it to friend and family. Opt for things that are light, and fit easily into an envelope or box. (You can even opt for things like gift cards, magazine subscriptions, or Netflix subscriptions).
- Use flat-rate boxes that are free from the post office if you have heavier things to mail. Flat-rate boxes can be especially economical if you’re mailing heavy things (such as books).
- Purchase items online and have them sent directly to the recipient. Even if you have to pay extra for gift wrap, it’s usually less expensive than doing it yourself and paying to ship from your home. Amazon Prime is a great option, you can ship many items in two days or less! More Amazon Prime Perks
- When shipping things overseas, opt for the “slow boat” option – just make sure you give your package plenty of time to arrive. Or, look for merchants (such as Amazon.co.uk) to order from that will ship within the recipient’s country.
- Send your gifts along with a friend or family member who is going that way and can hand-deliver it for you.