This winter doesn’t just mark the end of another year, but also the end of the decade. From ice-skating trips to huge family meals, cozy sweaters, and holiday parties, the upcoming holiday season is full of reasons to celebrate.
Unfortunately, the cost of these holiday festivities can quickly add up, especially if you need to travel cross-country or are playing Santa to young children. And if you’re not prepared in advance, the increased expenses associated with holiday food, transportation, decor, and gifts can leave you scrambling for cash come January. Read on for some tips and tricks that can help you get the most bang for your buck this holiday season.
Make a Holiday Budget
The first step in any money-saving venture involves making a budget. Even if you already have a household budget, a special holiday budget can help you plan for any infrequent expenses. It will also let you know how much you’ll need to save to end the season without adding debt. There’s no one “right” way to make a budget. What’s most important is that the budget methods you’ve adopted work for you and help you stay on track.
First, get your holiday calendar ready and take a peek at what you already have planned: vacations, parties, trips out of town to see family or special events. Then consider any family traditions that may not have made it onto your calendar yet but that will be hard to pass up. This can include hosting a family dinner or exchanging “white elephant” gifts at a party.
The next step involves deciding how much you’re able to spend without derailing your cash flow for other household expenses. If you already have a household budget, you likely have a good idea of how much extra cash is left over at the end of the month. If you don’t have a household budget and aren’t in the mood to make one, you can do a quick calculation of income and fixed expenses (like mortgage or rent, a car payment, student loans, and utilities) to see where you can find some extra cash.
The final step is to fit your planned events and activities into these spending limits. This is often the toughest part. Unless you have a great deal of discretionary income or relatively few holiday plans, you may find it difficult to cover these costs. This is where some money-saving tips and tricks can come in especially handy.
Save on Holiday Travel
Whether you’re hoping to drive, fly, or take a train over the holidays, you can travel on the cheap with some of these hacks.
- Be flexible on dates (if possible)
If you’re planning to fly, you could save hundreds of dollars on plane tickets by using a booking site that has the feature to search for flights with flexible departure and arrival dates. Often, moving your arrival or departure date by just a couple of days can get you out of the premium price range.
- Consider travel rewards
You may already have a travel-focused credit card (that is, one that gives spending rewards in the form of airline miles or hotel points). If so, you can capitalize on these benefits by using rewards to cover a portion of travel costs. And if you don’t already have a credit card that offers travel rewards, now may be the best time to get one. Many card issuers offer promotions that can provide you with generous miles or points if you meet certain minimum spending limits, and meeting these limits during the holiday season can be a breeze.
One major caveat to this approach: if you’re not willing or able to pay off your credit card bill in full each month to avoid interest charges, putting expenses on a card to save money can have the opposite effect.
Save on Holiday Gifts
When the holidays roll around, Santa isn’t the only one making a list and checking it twice. But the size of this list (and the cost of purchasing gifts for everyone on it) can quickly become unmanageable.
- Trim your shopping list
If you find your shopping list seems to grow every year, now may be the time to trim it. Consider talking to relatives and loved ones to see whether they’d prefer to have a Secret Santa group gift exchange instead of buying individual gifts. Often, you may find that this idea is welcomed by others in your group. They may also be strained by their own holiday budgets but who are unwilling to “rock the boat” by suggesting that the gift exchange be discontinued.
- Opt for consumable or homemade options
Over the past few years, many gift-givers have begun to push back against rampant consumerism by opting for consumable gifts (like food, candies, or baking mixes) or homemade gifts. These options are especially useful for smaller gifts like teacher or coworker gifts; after all, how many coffee mugs or other trinkets does one person need? You may want to try making your own vanilla extract, having a family bath-bomb-making night, or creating mason jar soup or cookie mixes.
Save on Holiday Meals
If you’re hosting a holiday dinner (or two) this year, the cost of feeding so many extra people can be a budget-buster. But between seasonal sales and careful menu planning, you can easily put together a fantastic feast without overspending.
- Shop sales and use coupons
Just coordinating coupons with your local grocery store’s sales cycles can trim your grocery bill. And with millions of American families planning some sort of celebration this holiday season, staple items like turkeys, hams, stuffing, gravy, and cake mix have never been cheaper.
Many blogs and websites offer regionally-targeted posts explaining exactly where to get certain coupons and when to use them to get the most bang for your buck. You can even sign up for daily emails that alert you to price changes and discount deals.
- Plan your menu around what’s on sale
Using coupons is always a money-saver, but combining coupons with items that are already deeply discounted is the best way to hack your grocery bill. And by planning your holiday meals and menus around what is on sale, you’ll avoid paying premium prices for your meal must-haves. Doing this can even help you begin new family traditions and try recipes that otherwise never would have made it to your holiday table.
Save on Holiday Decorations
No matter what you’re celebrating this season, holiday decorations are crucial to creating a festive and celebratory mood. But using the same decorations year after year can get old, and you may want to shake things up with fresh decor. For those who are just starting out, getting outfitted with holiday decorations can seem overwhelming.
- Shop dollar stores and DIY your decor
Many fun and festive holiday decorations can be found for next to nothing at dollar stores. You can also make inexpensive and cherished holiday decorations by doing crafts with your kids, friends, or other family members. If you enjoy holiday baking, you can even try your hand at creating a homemade gingerbread house.
- Start early by buying off-season
After the holiday season is over and Valentine’s Day and St. Patrick’s Day decorations have hit the shelves, check craft stores and big box stores for discount holiday decor that you can save to use next year.
- Set up a local swap group
By swapping your gently used decorations with friends, you’ll get new-to-you decor without spending a dime. You may also want to check out local buy, sell, and trade groups, where you can find used items for a fraction of the cost of new.
Generate Extra Savings
One of the easiest ways to free up some income to put toward your annual holiday expenses is to refinance your student loans. If you refinance your student loans, you could save money through a lower interest rate or lessen your monthly student loan payments by extending your repayment term.
There’s never been a better time than the holidays to cut this extra cost from your budget, and checking available rates is easy and free. Just visit LendKey’s website and click the “Apply Now” button to check your rates without harming your credit score. When you refinance your student loans, you’ll be able to select between different loan terms and interest rates to find something that works well within your budget.
Make Priceless Memories This Holiday Season
The holidays can remain fun and festive without putting a dent in your budget—after all, no one wants to start the new year buried under a mountain of debt. And because the true spirit of the holidays involves doing the things you love with the people you love, focusing on this will help you make the most valuable memories in the long run.
You don’t need to sacrifice gifts, vacations, or family-tradition pies to stay within your budget this holiday season. However, you should to start the holiday season with a plan and remain mindful of where your budgeted funds are going. By planning your spending before it happens, you’ll be in the best position to save money this year.