The holidays are rough for those of us on a budget and trying to save money. Many of us let this time of year become an excuse to break all our good habits with food, drink, and money.
I’m going to let you worry about your waistline, but as far as your wallet goes, I’ve got some tips for keeping it fat and happy this season so we can all start the new year with enough cash to sign up for those pilates classes we’re going to need.
One of the things I most enjoyed about moving out of my parents’ house was that my roommates and I could host our own parties. There’s something so cozy and happy about hosting parties, especially around the holidays. It makes you feel very adult and gives you a great excuse to clean.
Parties can be deceptively expensive, however. Food for everyone, plus drinks and decorations, can add up quickly. My friends and I quickly jumped on the potluck train. Almost every gathering we have, everyone brings food and drink to chip in. This month, we did a potluck Friendsgiving! It means no one spends way more than they would normally and the person hosting can relax a little more.
There are several other non-financial perks of the potluck method of party hosting: the host isn’t left with tons of food or pots to wash since everyone takes their own dish back, everyone gets to share favorite recipes or traditions with friends, and everyone knows there’s at least one dish or drink at the party that he or she likes!
Pro tip: If you host these types of gatherings a lot, keep a collection of take-out containers you don’t care about that people can use to take leftovers home with them. If you want a stash, Costco & Amazon sell packs of 50 plastic containers.
Speaking of Costco, I think the holidays are when warehouse stores like Costco, BJ’s, and Sam’s Club really come into their own. By stopping by your nearest warehouse giant, you could save a ton on decorations, food, drink, and of course gifts.
I LOVE the book section of Costco, and it always has a selection of cool toys and outfits for little ones. You won’t find the biggest variety ever, but what they do have is usually quality and a reasonable price. Plus, with their amazing return policy, you know you can always get something else should your gift not fit or go over well.
When you’re buying something from an online store, don’t just skip over the coupon code box. I always do a quick search for coupon codes before checking out, just in case they’ve got something available.
Keep in mind that some companies, especially the start-up brands like Bombas, Harry’s, Blue Apron, etc. advertise on podcasts and blogs and usually offer a deal of some kind if you sign up for a trial or order using a code from that blog or podcast. If you’re buying someone a subscription or trial as a gift, this could be a great way to save some cash, and you’ll be helping to support media that you like.
If you’re bad at remembering to look for coupon codes, add a browser extension like Honey, which will automatically look for codes and coupons when you buy online.
Coupon apps like Ibotta or Ebates can also help you scrape back a little moolah from online or in-store shopping. I’m a very casual user of the Ibotta app, but I’ve still managed to get $135 back on groceries over past couple years. Buying the fancy brand of cranberry sauce for your very particular Aunt Sharon isn’t so bad when you’re getting a little cash back.
Credit Card Rewards and Deals
A bunch of credit cards have monthly deals with certain stores or brands to get you discounts or cash back. Currently, my American Express Blue Cash Everyday card is offering cash back on car rentals, restaurants, hotels, meal kits, and a TON of retail stores and brands.
The trick is that you often have to sign into your account and manually select which deals you want to add to your card. Otherwise, your purchases won’t count.
Check out what rewards or deals your credit cards might be offering. If you’re traveling or brand-shopping this season, you could see a nice bunch of cash coming back to your account.
Of course, since you have to use your credit card to pay for these items in order to get the cash back, make sure you aren’t charging more than you can pay off at the end of the month. Responsibility is the name of the game when credit cards are involved!
If you’re really looking to get crafty with the savings, look for ways to stack deals. This can be tricky, especially online, because a lot of coupons and codes are designed to only work alone. However, there are ways you can stack deals to save a few bucks on those things that make the holidays special.
By using a combination of those credit card deals I just mentioned and other available discounts, you can still effectively “stack” deals. The same credit card I mentioned above offers $10 back on $200 of Amex gift cards. If you buy the gift cards and use them yourself to buy discounted gifts, you’re saving at least $10 more than you would have, and more than that if the gifts you buy are on sale. It’s more work, but might be worth it if every dollar matters.
Warehouse stores like Costco (can you tell I love Costco?) often sell gift cards for less than they are worth, too. If you’re the kind of person who loves to gift experiences, these gift cards can be amazing, affordable solutions to gifting (especially for your far-away peeps).
Long-distance family and friends are also great candidates for gifting a Groupon to. Groupon is always running deals on experiences like classes, workouts, dinners, tastings, and spa days. There’s nothing like having a Groupon to spur you to try out that class or restaurant you’ve been eyeing.
Check out what’s popular in whatever city your recipient is in and send him/her your gift wrapped in a lovely email. Free delivery!
Have a cash budget
If you’re worried about overspending, try setting up a cash budget. This could be as simple as writing “Holiday $$$” on an envelope and stuffing it with the amount of cash you’d feel comfortable spending over the holidays.
When possible, use that cash to buy your gifts, ingredients, and decorations. If you HAVE to buy something online, take the same amount you spent out of the envelope and put it in a savings envelope. When you run out of cash in your envelope, you know it’s time to halt the holiday spending.
Scout online, buy offline
If you’ve got a good idea of what you’re looking for, see if you can scout out the best deals and prices online first, then pick up your items in person at the store. You might save on shipping costs, and online customer service sometimes just can’t measure up to in-person conversations.
Also, buying items in person gives you the option of paying in cash, which can be safer than entering credit card data online. Handing over cash is also harder than swiping the plastic, so you’re more likely to stick to your budget if you have to pay in cash. (See the above cash envelope budget!)
If you don’t have a credit card, buying in person is DEFINITELY better than using a debit card online. Should your information be compromised, a debit card gives thieves access to your entire checking account, and you may have a fight on your hands to get that money back.
Making gifts by hand can be a fantastic way to save cash while also making sure everyone on your gift list gets a personalized, thoughtful gift. This can be super helpful if you have a long list of giftees and a limited budget.
Before you say “I’m not crafty, so I just CAN’T make a gift,” I’m not saying you have to cross-stitch, sew, paint, hammer, or anything you don’t feel comfortable doing. If that’s your jam, hop to it! If the idea of DIY makes you sweat a little, why not look at finding something that already exists to dress up or personalize?
One year, a friend of mine gave all her friends flavored oils and vinegars. She had found some decorative bottles, filled them with nice, but plain olive oil or white vinegar, and packed herbs and spices in them to infuse them with flavor. She printed labels to personalize each bottle, and voila! The gift was cute, personal, hand-made, and useful!
Whether it’s painting ornaments, designing personalized mugs, making wreaths, pouring candles, or whatever, DIY gifting is a heart-felt way to make your friends and family feel special without sacrificing your financial stability. Fire up Pinterest and get inspired!
The holidays are a wonderful time to celebrate your relationships with friends and family. Don’t let the financial side get too out of hand though, or pretty soon that rosy, feel-good feeling of being Santa Claus is going to give way to the sweaty, uncomfortable feeling of being broke.
The holidays mark the end of one year, but remember the beginning of the next year is just around the corner. Set yourself up for success in January by being smart about your holiday spending. Reward yourself with an extra piece of pie or glass of eggnog instead. 😉