Tips + Tricks to Help You Save Hundreds of Dollars This Holiday Season
By: Aly Hess
Posted on Wednesday, November 18, 2015
Thanksgiving is next week. Next week. From there, it's complete chaos. The holiday rush. The songs, the shopping, the sweets... the stress. And to top it all off, Americans predict that they'll spend an average of $830 on gifts alone this holiday season. That doesn't include the decor, food, and party expenses that pile up, too.
But you already know all of this. So, what can you do to cut back on holiday spending and, in turn, cut out some of the stress that comes with the most wonderful time of the year?
The bulk of your holiday spending will likely go toward gift-giving, but this is also the area where you can work to save the most money overall.
- Make a List: And check it twice. Jot down each and every person you plan to buy a gift for. Then, set a price limit for each person on that list. Total those dollar amounts up and if you're already cringing, then go back and make a few edits. Perhaps you don't need to buy an individual gift for each of your co-workers. Would a batch of homemade cookies suffice? Do you really need to buy something for your best-friend's-mom's-aunt's-second-cousin that you've only met once? Probably not. Adjust your price limits and cross off the people that don't require a gift. You can always send a thoughtful (and affordable) card instead. Bonus points: Jot down a specific gift idea next to each name.
- Set a Budget: Take a look at your regular monthly budget and determine how much you feel comfortable spending on holiday gifts. Once you've estimated a number, do the math to figure out if you'll still be able to pay your bills, afford the standard monthly necessities, and cover the cost of an emergency should one arise after spending that much on holiday gifts. If you're coming up short, then adjust your holiday spending budget to a more realistic amount.
- Do Your Research: Try to have specific gifts in mind for each person on your list before you start shopping, instead of perusing store aisles hoping that the right gift will just "jump out" at you. Having a solid idea will allow you the opportunity to do your research and determine which store or online retailer has the gift at the most affordable price. Also take some time to investigate whether or not you can use price-matching options or coupons at the retailers you'll be visiting, and what their return policies are for holiday gifts.
- Shop Sales + Clearance: Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales are great and they are definitely one of the top ways to save on holiday gifts, but most stores are slashing prices and promoting great deals long before and long after these two popular shopping days. Keep a close eye on the ads you receive in the mail and via e-mail, and make sure you're following your favorite retailers on social media to stay up-to-date with their promotions. In addition, visit clearance aisles first. You might just find a major treasure, like a largely discounted electronic, or score several little stocking stuffers for pennies a piece.
- Visit Secondhand Shops + Dollar Stores: Especially when it comes to wrapping up your gifts! Wrapping paper, ribbon, and gift bags can be incredibly overpriced. Stock up when you see these items at thrift shops and discount stores. It's also worth looking around these establishments for the gifts themselves, since you can often stumble upon great finds for great prices. Visit on a 50% off day and you might just leave feeling better than Santa. Some of our favorite secondhand shops in the area are: Half Price Books, Plato's Closet, Mega Replay, Hyde Brothers Books, Goodwill, and Salvation Army. Check out our tips for making the most of your thrift shopping experience.
- DIY: Making your own gifts doesn't just save you money, it adds a little extra meaning for the person receiving it. And you don't have to be an ultimate crafter or engineer to make something really special. Browse Pinterest for a little inspiration, or try a simple Google search if you have a specific idea in mind. We've rounded up several easy and budget-friendly (all under $20) DIY gift ideas to get you started!
Home never feels more cozy than during the holiday season. Twinkling lights, greenery, the sweet smell of cinnamon and spice... but it can also get quite costly.
- Use What You've Got: Chances are, you really don't need to stock up on brand new holiday decorations because you've already accumulated plenty. Before you toss those overpriced ornaments and singing snowmen into your cart, try shopping your own attic, basement, or garage. Pull out every holiday box and bag you can find and start digging through them. Toss out anything that's gotten gross over the years, and hang onto the rest. Set it all up and then determine what you really "need" to invest in. If you just can't stop thinking about new decor, consider doing with what you've got this year, and stocking up on new, high quality items after Christmas, when retailers will slash the prices by major bucks - sometimes 50-80% - to make way for Valentine's Day merchandise.
- Get Creative: In addition, consider that the most minor adjustment may help set the mood for the holidays in your home. Round up all of the candles you own and place them all on the mantle together for a bright, warm glow. Craft bows out of extra gift ribbon and place them throughout the house. Pour red and green candies into your clear kitchen or glassware storage and you've got an instant holiday display. Go for a walk and collect fallen pinecones to string as garland, toss in a bowl with cinnamon sticks, or spray paint silver and gold.
- Buy Used: Many thrift stores save all of the holiday items that have been donated throughout the year to display until November and once it's out, continue filling their shelves with it through Christmas. Most of these are decorations. It's not uncommon to come across unopened boxes of ornaments, unused string lights, and like-new wreaths, wall art, and little holiday knick-knacks.
- Choose on a Theme: One reason it's so easy for us to overspend on holiday decor is that it's all so different! One day we may feel red and green vibes and the next we want our homes to shine in silvers and golds. One year we may be slightly obsessed with snowmen and the next reindeer. It won't be easy, but create a vision board to help you decide exactly what look and feel you're going for when it comes to decorating for the holidays. Then stick to it. This will help you pass up anything that doesn't fit your holiday decor theme while you're out and about.
Holiday food is the best food. Casseroles and breads, savory treats and warm drinks have the power to bring family and friends together around one, happy table. But many of the ingredients that go into these feasts come with price-tags that aren't so sweet.
- Buy in Bulk: Will you be needing a lot of cheese, a lot of bread, and a lot of eggnog for your holiday gatherings? It's probably in your best interest to purchase these items in bulk. If you don't have a Costco or Sam's Club membership, try an establishment like GFS. If you're buying perishable foods, make sure you can either buy them just before an event or that the food you're buying can be frozen until they're ready to be used.
- Use Member Rewards: Most grocery stores offer member rewards programs - whether a card or an app - that offer major deals. But only so long as you make use of them! Make sure you scan your rewards card every time you make a purchase and see what kind of offers are printed on your receipt. Also, watch out for e-mail updates and download any available apps to stay in-the-know about the best deals.
- Go Halfway Homemade: We know, we know. One of the best elements of the holidays is all of the homemade food. But sometimes, it's cheaper - and less stressful - to go halfway. When making pie, for example, you may end up saving time and money by focusing all of your attention on the filling and buying a pre-made pie crust. If you're making a casserole, it might be tempting to make your own noodles, but save you time and money to buy them boxed. Crafting a dessert platter? Go ahead and make the cookies and brownies, but we won't tell if you sneak a few store-bought truffles and cupcakes onto the tray.
- Use a Slow-Cooker: Crock pot meals are often incredibly affordable and they'll save you time in the kitchen, too. Let the slow-cooker make the mac and cheese while you focus on the turkey and potatoes. We rounded up several crock pot recipes you'll want to try!
It's both an honor and a curse to be the primary host or hostess of all family gatherings. It's totally worth it to have everyone under one roof, creating memories that will last a lifetime. But the stress and dollars that go into it can easily zap some of the joy out of preparing for guests.
- Make it a Potluck: Request that your guests bring along a side dish and a drink so that you're only spending money on the main dishes and decor. This will save you both time and money. Besides, in most cases, people already plan to bring along something to share, regardless of whether you ask.
- Host After Dinner: Skip having your party revolve around a meal and host it at an off-time - after lunch or dinner. Let your guests know that there will be finger foods and desserts provided, but no main course, so they know to eat before arriving.
- Go for 2-in-1: Is your home the go-to for all family gatherings? Knock out a few occasions in one go by celebrating multiple holidays (and birthdays, anniversaries, etc.) that fall close to each other all in one big party so you don't have to host multiple pricy get-togethers. Celebrate Christmas, Aunt Edna's birthday, and New Year's all in the same night. This may mean you'll be hosting your party before or after the actual holiday or special occasion date, but no one will mind. Everyone loves a good party, no matter when it takes place.
- Shop Frugally: Use some of the tips above for decorating and preparing food on a budget. Visit the dollar store for items like paper plates, napkins, plastic silverware, and cheap tablecloths, balloons, and streamers. Shop at warehouse stores to stock up on party food for cheap.