Have you turned on the radio, walked into any store anywhere, or started smelling the pumpkin spice lattes wafting out of your nearest Starbucks? Yeah, the holidays are almost upon us.
And, the National Retail Federation is forecasting that U.S. consumers will be spending nearly $720.89 BILLION in 2018 holiday spending, and that’s just between November and December.
I know my wife and I spend a ton during the holidays, something we’re trying to curb, but that spending is still inevitable. I actually do enjoy giving gifts, and I’m now in a pretty decent spot to buy someone a pony if they wanted one. Note to any friends and family reading this: none of you are getting ponies. I was just kidding. I don't know how much ponies actually cost.
Most people, though, aren't buying ponies, but they are generally spending more than they can afford during the holidays. This means credit card debt, being unable to pay current debts, or not adding to retirement funds.
The holidays shouldn’t add that kind of financial stress, and it’s actually easier to save money during the holidays than you think.
To help keep your holidays happy and financially stress-free, I’ve got a list of 16 ways you can save money during the holidays.
1. Set a budget
I’m going to get this obvious one out of the way because, well, it’s obvious.
We all know how powerful budgets are when it comes to spending, and if you want to actually save money during the holidays, having a budget in place will make that a reality.
Your budget should include gifts, cards, travel expenses, food costs, entertainment costs, etc. It should basically cover anything you’ll be spending money on because of the holidays, and don’t neglect the little things, like postage or wrapping paper.
Again, I know you all knew that, so let’s move on!
2. Don’t feel the need to shop for everyone
Over the past couple of years, my wife and I have drastically cut back on the amount of people we buy for. We’re not trying to be jerks, we just realize that it really isn’t necessary to buy for everyone.
With all of the hoopla and excitement of the holidays, it’s really easy to just keep adding people to your gifting list, or to not take them off. But, I promise you that your great aunt Betty is going to be okay if you don’t buy her another scarf, and your coworker Dave is going to be fine without a tub of popcorn from the mall.
If you still feel the need to do something for them, send them a card or give them a call to tell them you’re thinking of them– I guarantee you that this means so much more.
3. Use cashback websites like Rakuten
Most millennials like technology, and there are all sorts of ways to use technology to your advantage… probably why we like it so much. “To your advantage” is where Rakuten, formerly known as eBates,comes in, and they make it really easy to save money during the holidays.
Rakuten is essentially an app that you download and install on your browser, and they do have a mobile app too. You basically do your online shopping through Rakuten at online stories you would normally shop at… Amazon, Nordstrom, Kohl’s, etc. Then, they pay you for shopping with them, and that comes in the form of a check or deposit into your PayPal account, which is what I do.
You can read my full Rakuten review here.
4. Be skeptical of the sales
Here’s a hard truth, not everything with that bright red “SALE” sticker is going to be a good deal… bummer, I know. Stores work hard to get you in and buying from them, and they have all sorts of sneaky tactics to make you think you’re going to save money during the holidays.
A lot of the time they are just using a sale to lure you in knowing that you’re going to end up buying more from them. Like, you’re already there, might as well buy other stuff too, and that other stuff might not be what you needed to buy in the first place.
The thing I really hate is when stores mark up the original price only to then discount it for the holidays, which gives you the illusion that your going to save money during the holidays.
Don’t fall for that. Shop around, see if it’s a good quality product, and don’t buy something because you see the word “SALE.”
5. Find new gift-giving methods
When you have a big family like we do, like a bajillion nieces and nephews, it gets really hard to stick to any kind of reasonable holiday budget.
If you’ve got a big family, kids, or just a lot of friends to shop for, there are a couple of things you can do to save money during the holidays, like:
- Draw names– If you’re doing a big holiday get together, have everyone put their names in, and then draw names to see who you’re buying for. This eliminates a lot of shopping time and a lot of extra holiday spending.
- The rule of four– Coral and I don’t have kids yet, but we’re already thinking ahead about how we’ll handle holiday shopping for them. The rule of four is simple: you buy something they want, something they need, something they’ll wear, and something they’ll read.
- Potluck dinners– Instead of doing a big gift exchange, why not just have everyone over, dish in hand, and have a low-key holiday celebration.
- Get crafty– I swear Pinterest was invented to make regular people think they can decoupage frames or whatever. I actually have no idea what “decoupage” is. But, even artistically challenged people like me can throw a baking mix together in a mason jar and call it a day. Point being, get creative and make a gift. I could probably decorate some hubcaps and give them to Coral, but I’m not sure she would like that.
6. Spend time not money
Your time is probably your most valuable resource, and that’s because there is a finite amount of it. I know, I know that time equals money, but that’s why spending time with your friends and family is a more significant gift than some random thing you found online.
Buying gifts is easy, but carving out time in your schedule for those you care about means so much more.
You can host a holiday get together, go ice skating, see a movie, so some volunteer work, there are really endless possibilities.
7. Shop online
I freaking hate stores. I hate shopping. I hate all things that are involved with malls. Knowing that I can just open up my laptop and buy stuff online means I’m not falling for those quick purchases, which usually results in me spending more or buying something I don’t need because I just want to get out of the store as quick as possible.
I can shop like I work, in my gym shorts from the comfort of my home.
8. Give yourself time to shop
One of the best ways to save money during the holidays is to make sure you aren’t rushed.
If you’re one of those super proactive people who holiday shop all year round, cheers to you. I’m not that organized, but I don’t wait to the last minute.
When you shop at the last minute, you’re falling for the sales, you’re unable to focus on your list, and your budget can go out the window.
This might not feel like a way to really save money during the holidays because it still involves spending money, but donating to the causes and charities your loved ones care about means you’re paying attention and doing things for the greater good.
Do your parents love dogs? Donate to an animal shelter. Does your friend feel passionate about ending world hunger? Look into Heifer International.
If you are on the internet reading this article, then you are infinitely better off than the majority of the people on this planet, donating to a cause is a gift that allows you to spread out that wealth, show your loved ones that you care about the same things, and it’s a tax write off.
10. Avoid credit cards
One of the easiest ways to get in over your head with holiday shopping is by using credit cards. I hate needless consumer spending and debt, and credit cards are kind of the epitome of those two things.
If you are using credit cards to fund your holidays' shopping and know you won’t be able to pay that balance when the bill is due, your holiday shopping is going to cost even more. Want to save money during the holidays? If you aren’t careful, credits will do the exact opposite of that.
11. Cash budget
If you aren’t good with credit cards, then just shop with cash during the holidays. Withdraw what you know you can afford and stick to that amount.
I would avoid bringing it all with you as you might be tempted to overspend because… DOLLAR DOLLAR BILLS. But a cash budget lets you see exactly where you’re at with your spending.
12. Cut back on the extras
Going out for coffee in the morning? Doing take-out dinner? Planning to see the new Aquaman movie? Getting your nails done (like wifey, not me)? Don’t.
Those extras add up and can make it so you are unable to save money during the holidays.
Still really want to do those things? That’s cool, just make sure you aren’t adding any unnecessary debt and giving yourself a holiday hangover.
Read more at 7 Ways to Recover from Your Holiday Shopping Hangover.
13. Track your money
It can be really tough to look at your credit card or bank statement during the holiday shopping season, but it’s essential that you do.
And, as technology gets better, keeping track of your money is becoming increasingly simple.
14. Say “no” to some stuff
Actually being able to save money during the holidays is really hard when you RSVP “yes” to every event you’re invited to. When you’re working towards your financial goals, you sometimes have to prioritize yourself by saying “no.”
There are going to be lots of holiday get-togethers, and I’m not saying you have to turn them all down, but cutting back on a few can save you some cash. Coworker Dave will be okay if you don’t go to his whiskey tasting night… that actually sounds fun, maybe do go to that one.
Seriously though, it’s okay to say “no” sometimes.
15. Offset with credit card rewards
You’re probably thinking, “what about #10?” I’m sticking with that one UNLESS you are actually responsible with your credit cards and know how to use them to your advantage.
If you know you’ll be able to pay that bill, in full, when it comes, then use those cards to make some money back. You can get cash points, travel rewards, etc.
16. Pay yourself first
This is an essential principle of basic personal finance. Paying yourself first means you are setting aside money when you get paid. That’s money for retirement, money for bills, whatever. It means you are prioritizing your financial well-being, and that’s the gift that keeps giving.
Paying yourself first means you aren’t just saving on shopping it means you are actually going to continue to save money during the holidays despite all of that shopping.
If you don’t have enough to pay yourself first and shop for the holidays, then it’s never too late to start a side hustle.