According to this year’s National Retail Federation holiday survey, Americans will spend an average of $967.13 this season on gifts, cards, decorations, and food. That’s a hefty chunk of change! Especially when you consider there are 13.6 million Americans who are still trying to pay off holiday debt from last year! Don’t join them. There are plenty of ways to trim the Christmas budget without being a Scrooge.
Let’s start with the BIG one…..
If you are going to buy gifts this year (and really, who isn’t going to buy at least SOME gifts!?), the key to avoiding overspending is planning.
Budget for Gifts
You budget for housing, food, utilities, cars….budgeting for gifts just makes sense. Start with a list of people you need to get gifts for. To keep it reasonable, limit it to those closest to you (sure the mailman is nice, but not nice enough to go in debt for!) Then set a spending limit for each gift.
Use Discounted Gift Cards
You can purchase discounted gift cards for hundreds of retailers including the Apple Store, Sears, Home Depot, and others. Discounts are usually 5%-30% off the face value of the card. Check out GiftCards.com and Cardpool.com.
Find Discount Codes
Before you buy anything online make one quick stop at RetailMeNot.com and FreeShipping.org to find all the available discounts for your store. This can save you BIG time and it only takes a minute!
Work Your Social Media
Before you start shopping, start following your favorite retailers on Twitter and Facebook. Many companies offer discounts exclusively to their Twitter followers and Facebook friends. A quick search of their recent posts may reveal money-saving discounts.
Use The Envelope System (see previous blog post HERE.)
Leave your credit cards and debit cards at home. Allocate an amount of money for each gift, and put that money in separate envelopes marked with the recipients’ names. When it’s gone, you’re done.
Consider A Group Gift
When exchanging presents with a large group of people (like at work), even “token” gifts can add up. Try a “white elephant” exchange, a secret Santa strategy, or going in with co-workers on a gift for the boss.
It’s Not About You
When shopping for gifts, it’s always tempting to throw in a few things you find for yourself in the process. Make this season about others, not you — and remember that the items you want will be less expensive during the after-season sales.
Just Say No to Store Credit Card Offers
It never fails, when you go to make your purchases, the cashier will try and offer you a bonus 10 to 15% off if you sign up for their credit cards. You’ll end up spending more than you would have without the discount AND now you’ll be paying INTEREST! Just say no.
Give Time Instead of Gifts
Offering your time instead of a gift, that will most likely be forgotten, is much more memorable (not to mention meaningful) and much less expensive. A night of babysitting for a new mom or girl’s night out with a friend you rarely see is so much more appealing than a scented candle or a bottle of perfume.
Sending Christmas cards is a nice gesture (and one I personally hate to see go away!) but the cost can add up in a hurry. Here are a few suggestions for making it more affordable.
Don’t Send Cards
As much as it pains me to say that….if Christmas cards are more of an obligation than something you feel strongly about…it doesn’t make sense to keep doing it.
Trim Your List
A less drastic approach could be to take a look at your list and trim it to just the people you are still in contact with AND that you won’t actually be seeing over the holidays. That could cut down a list considerably!
Send Christmas Post Cards
They require less postage than Christmas cards.
Make Your Own Cards
Store-bought cards can be pricey, get the kids involved and make some old fashioned homemade cards with construction paper and lots of glue and glitter! OR….there are tons of cute and FREE printables online. Google it.
Pick Up The Phone (Or Laptop)
Call or Skype your loved ones instead of writing. No card to buy, no postage to purchase…just time for conversation and getting reacquainted.
Buy Your Cards on Clearance (for next year!)
Take advantage of deep discounts at After Christmas sales. Then next year you will be set!
One man’s trash is another’s man’s treasure! Thrift stores, flea markets and yard sales are a great source for affordable Christmas decorations.
Make Your Own Decorations
Spend some time on Pinterest, and you’ll soon have more ideas for homemade Christmas decorations than you can possibly make! To minimize crafting costs, look for projects that are made with recycled materials or supplies that you already have in your craft stash. And don’t forget to use those great craft store coupons!
Reinvent What You Already Have
Tired of all of your jewel-toned holiday decorations, try painting them white; or coat them in Mod Podge and roll them in Epsom Salt. Once again, a few minutes on Pinterest and you’ll find plenty of inspiration!
Decorate with Things from Nature
Take a walk around your yard, and see what you can find to decorate your home for free. Pine boughs, holly branches, pine cones and magnolia leaves all make beautiful Christmas decorations.
Hit The Dollar Store
At just one dollar each…you are sure to find decorations at the dollar store that allow room in the budget for customizing with some additional craft supplies.
Take Advantage of FREE Holiday Printables
Do a quick Google search for “Christmas printables” and you’ll find a plethora of free advent calendars, garland, place cards, ornaments, frameable artwork and more.
Host A Christmas Decoration Swap
Invite your friends and neighbors over for this fun way to trade what you don’t want for what you do.
Shop the After-Christmas Sales
An easy way to save 50, 75 or even 90% off of the regular retail price. A no-brainer.
If you are feeling burdened or overwhelmed by the expense of hosting Christmas dinner, keep these simple tips in mind:
Keep It Simple
The point of Christmas get-togethers is spending time with family or friends. Those closest to you will be just as happy with a few delicious appetizers as a fancy entree.
A Christmas potluck gives the guests a chance to show off their favorite holiday dishes while saving you money on the food budget.
A tree-trimming party, a game night, a Christmas movie marathon, a sledding party, or a cookie exchange are all fun party ideas that your guests will probably enjoy much more than they would at a formal dinner party.
Early Bird Shopping
Do your Christmas food shopping early. In the weeks leading up to the holiday, pick up non-perishable items. This helps spread the cost out over a few weeks, and prevents potential fist fights over the last box of stuffing! :-)
Finally, the biggest way to save on meat for a holiday meal is to take advantage of special store promotions. Many stores will match ham or turkey prices, and some stores that run gas savings programs will even give increased gas discounts.
By following these savings tips you’ll worry less about the cost of your holiday entertaining and concentrate on the thing that really matters: making Christmas memories.
I’ll leave you with some “food for thought” from financial guru Dave Ramsey that I thought was as entertaining as it is brilliant. :-)
Try to keep up with the Joneses.
That’s just not a good idea. The Joneses are broke. They have a lot of bills, ridiculous car payments and tricked-up mortgages. But at least they look good! Have you seen Mrs. Jones’ hair? Wow! That’s fancy! But despite the good hair, stop trying to keep up with the Joneses. You don’t need her hair, and you don’t want their debt following you.
Mistake Batman for food.
Come again? You need food. You need shelter. You need clothing. Your son doesn’t need the $100 remote-control Batmobile. Would that be awesome? Of course! But you don’t need it. Keep your priorities in focus during Christmas. Do what you can, and don’t spend more than you have—even if it’s an awesome Batmobile.
Give presents to everyone in your family.
Most of us simply can’t afford to give a $20 gift card to every brother, sister, aunt, uncle and cousin in the family tree. But we do it anyway. A lot of times, it’s out of some vague sense of guilt or obligation. Instead of giving something to everyone, you can have a family drawing where people draw names out of hat. Then, you’re only responsible for the person whose name you have drawn.
Plus, if it’s been a trend over the past few years to just exchange gift cards that everyone picks up at the last minute at the end-of-aisle kiosks, is it really meaningful and worth the effort?
Let the stores determine your plan.
The mall will suck you in and spit you out like a bad piece of fruitcake. Going to the mall without some type of plan of attack is like going to a donut factory without expecting to gain weight. If you don’t go in with a purpose, all the shiny, bright plastic stuff will draw you in like a moth to a flame. Make a plan and stick to it.
Cover every inch of your house and yard in lights.
There’s nothing wrong with a little festivity. Who doesn’t love seeing a house wrapped in lights on a cold December evening? But if your power bill triples during the Christmas season, and if you can’t seem to avoid buying 12 new inflatables for your yard every Christmas, then you might want to tone it down a bit.
Treat yourself to something nice … or two or three nice things.
You’d be surprised at how many people, while out gift shopping for others over the holidays, decide to buy something for themselves! Say what? This is why the previous point is so important—don’t go shopping without a plan! The mall will mock you if you attempt to enter its gates without a determined gaze and the willpower of a vegetarian in a steakhouse.
Travel long distances.
Nothing will make you go broke faster than trying to buy plane tickets for a family of five. And that’s just the cost of getting to where you want to go. On top of that, you’ve got lodging, food, a rental car—and, oh, don’t forget the presents! Again, it’s okay to travel. But don’t prioritize going to see the grandparents over providing for your family at Christmas—especially if you have kids. The grandparents are retired. Let them come see you.
You don’t have to buy into the commercial hype that says you must go shopping and come home with a dozen shopping bags and $1,000 in debt. That’s not smart. Or merry. Or festive. Or jolly. It’s just an all-around bad idea.