Presents. Travel. Special meals. Decorations. It’s easy to overspend at the holidays—after all, this is a time of celebration! But you can make the season just as memorable without emptying your wallet. Here are 10 tips for saving money while making merry this year.
1. Start early
It’s beginning to look a lot like an expensive holiday season. Start planning and shopping as soon as you can. Giving yourself extra time lets you wait for the best deals, so you pay less for the same items. It can also help you get presents shipped early enough to arrive by the holidays.
2. Shop with a list
Writing out a list before you visit stores is one of the simplest ways to avoid overspending. Whether you’re buying groceries for a holiday dinner or gifts for family and friends, a list can help you stick to your budget, especially if you’re given to impulse purchases.
3. Set a gift budget
Write down the names of all the people you plan to buy gifts for, and the amount you can reasonably spend on each one. Then add a little extra for unplanned purchases you just can’t resist. Shop smart by making sure you stick to those limits.
4. Cut down on your giving
In this challenging economy, many of us are realizing that it isn’t worth going into debt over gift buying. There may be people on your list who would be just as happy to skip the traditional gift exchange and spend time together instead. Make the suggestion; you might be surprised to see how many people agree that it’s a good idea.
5. Share experiences rather than giving gifts
Charlie Brown’s friend knew it. The Whos in Who-ville knew it. The great philosophers all agree: It isn’t the pile of presents that make a holiday special—it’s the spirit of celebration and sharing.
Create memories by spending time with the people you love. Watch a favorite movie together. Hold a snowman-building contest. Decorate cookies, play board games, join a community sing-along. You may come up with new traditions that everyone enjoys even more than expensive gifts.
6. Visit the dollar store
Take a tip from Santa and make the dollar store your first shopping destination, before you pay high prices somewhere else. Dollar stores fill their shelves with all kinds of inexpensive items that make pretty decorations. They’re also a great place to pick up ornaments, wrapping paper, mailing supplies, and stocking stuffers like candy and small toys.
7. Make your own presents
Homemade salsa, fresh-baked cookies, decorated candles, personalized photo albums, hand-knitted socks—the list of gifts you can create is almost endless. And there are dozens of ways to turn everyday items into decorations like ornaments and wreaths. Check online for DIY suggestions and try the ones that appeal to you.
Not feeling crafty? Write your own coupons—good for a backrub, a car wash, or an evening of babysitting—for the people on your list. Gifts of your time and attention often mean more than what you can buy.
8. Host a potluck
Home for the holidays? Nothing spreads cheer faster than good food, and potlucks are a great way to keep costs low and spirits high. It’s simple: Everyone contributes a favorite dish. People who don’t want to cook can bring beverages or disposable plates. You all have the fun of eating from an informal buffet and sampling lots of different foods.
9. Drive instead of fly
Plane tickets can be very expensive, and prices tend to go up around the holidays. Airports are crowded; tempers get short. If you have the time, driving can be a good alternative. A road trip gives you the freedom to travel at your own pace and stop as much as you like–all while saving money. If friends or family members are joining you, you could ask them to help pay for gas.
10. Start saving for next year
Open a holiday savings account now to put money aside for next year. If you can’t save as much as you’d like, you might consider cutting back on nonessential expenses such as entertainment and dining out. Set a small, realistic goal for next year’s festivities, and enjoy watching your savings grow.
Always merry and bright
Whether you’re celebrating Kwanzaa, Christmas, Hanukkah, the winter solstice, or all of the above, don’t be discouraged by high prices this holiday season. Sometimes the most lasting memories don’t cost anything at all.
GOBankingRates. 50 tips for saving money during the holidays
Attainable Sustainable. 30+ ideas for making memories: How to give experiences instead of gifts
Family Handyman. 13 things to get at the dollar store for the holidays
America Saves. 54 ways to save money
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