The holidays can run you a pretty penny if you’re not careful — especially if you’re not yet in the habit of budgeting for them throughout the year.
But it doesn’t have to be that way!
You can use a few amazingly simple ways to save big bucks on your holiday spending. (Plus you’ll save time and be less stressed out in the process.)
More savings with less stress equals a more peaceful holiday season, and who wouldn’t want that?
Even better, spending less on the holidays helps you avoid post-holiday debt so your New Year can be stress-free too.
So, here are those 4 super-simple tips that can make your holidays less spendy.
1. Use a “stop shopping” list to reduce stress and eliminate unwanted holiday spending.
You know how it seems like the holiday shopping season starts earlier each year, or pretty much never ends? Stores have sale after sale, fresh merchandise to look at, and are constantly advertising all the latest goodies. That’s because they want to bring you back again and again.
But I’m going to tell you a little secret.
You don’t need to fear missing out on some fabulous item at an amazing price, because there will always be stuff like that available. Really. That’s how retailers make their money — by drawing you in with the promise of too-good-to-pass up deals. They know you’ll often buy additional things while you’re there.
But you can beat them at their game! Make sure you don’t spend more than you intend by creating a “stop shopping when done” list. You’re drawing a line in the sand by which you commit to stop your holiday shopping altogether.
The sooner you get through your list, the better. When you spend less time in the stores or using deals apps, you spend less money too. It’s a simple path to significant savings.
This does not mean you have to run around frantically knocking out all your shopping in one weekend. It just means you get your “stop shopping when done” list done early, and stick to it. Stay out of the stores and off the websites after that.
Channel your inner Santa and include the following on your list:
- Exactly who you’re buying for, plus ideas of what you want to get for them
- Any holiday decor you plan to buy
- Any parties you’ve committed to attend plus related purchases
I use a free app called OurGroceries to make my list. (Don’t be fooled by its name, because you can use it to make multiple lists for anything you like.) No matter what, make sure you can actually afford the items you put on your list.
Then you STOP shopping when you’re done with the list. Yup, that’s the line in the sand that will save you so much time, stress, and money.
Now let’s move on to tip #2.
2. Make a few small, painless changes to your gift list.
Once you’ve made the list you’ll be using from the previous tip, it’s time to make a few small, painless changes to it.
You know all those people that you never know what to get, because you don’t really know them that well? Cut them from your gift list. Really. Here’s why.
Chances are extremely high that they will not even notice. (Or if they do notice, they’ll be relieved that they no longer have to get YOU some random personal care item that you’ll never use in return.) Be brave and stop the madness.
The rule is simple: If you don’t know someone well enough to know what they’d love, you don’t know them well enough to give them a gift. (Or they have everything they love already, because they buy it themselves or prefer minimalism.)
“But what about my coworkers, my kid’s teachers, the bus driver, the postal worker, and my nieces and nephews who I see once a year?” you might ask. Remember: If you don’t know someone well enough to know what they’d love, you don’t know them well enough to give them a gift. So don’t. Take them off your list. It’s ok, I promise!
Sure, it’s nice to get into the holiday spirit with others, but you don’t have to exchange gifts to do it — especially not gifts that will probably never get used. Almost no one needs yet another coffee mug or scented bath product. And yes, children love Christmas and opening presents, but many kids get so many gifts anyway that it’s just overwhelming. They have no idea who gave them what, and will not miss it if you don’t add to the pile.
This does not make you a Scrooge. When you avoid filling someone’s life with random junk, it makes you caring and thoughtful.
If you want to say you care or appreciate someone, literally say you care or appreciate them. Or show it by your actions.
For example, consider an act of service, a letter saying how amazing they are to their supervisor, or a monetary tip when appropriate to show your appreciation for the people in your life that you aren’t super close to.
And spend more time with the ones you love doing things they enjoy, or call them up if they live far away. I remember the phone calls and times with my relatives a whole lot more than most of the physical gifts they gave me. Which brings us to tip #3.
3. Focus on making gift-giving more meaningful.
Speaking of kids getting an overwhelming pile of gifts, remember that quantity rarely beats quality. (Would you rather have 4 clunkers or drive 1 reliable car?)
Don’t spend your money on a bunch of unmemorable junk that you bought just so there’s plenty to unwrap. That goes for grown-up recipients too. It just leaves people with unwanted stuff to deal with. (On a related note, I love this article about how to buy gifts that people want.
Consider using the 4 gift rule that you may have seen on social media to cut back. (Something they want, something they need, something to wear, and something to read.) Do whatever fits both your budget and your feelings.
In our case, we typically give 2-3 gifts to immediate family members, plus silly and useful stocking stuffers that are typically inexpensive items like chapstick, gum, or a goofy little toy.
I love unwrapping things, so my husband will usually wrap up something useful that I said I wanted — but he’ll wrap it in multiple pieces. For example, I wanted socks one year. So he bought a pack of 6 pairs of socks and then wrapped each pair individually. Yes, I loved unwrapping them. Especially since I know that he hates wrapping and only did it because he loves me.
You may discover something surprising.
When my family cut back on gift giving — both in the number of gifts given to each other, and the number of people on the list — we discovered something surprising. The holidays were just plain nicer. There was less stress (both before and afterward) and more time to just enjoy doing things together. Plus, the gifts we did give and receive were appreciated more.
If you’re reading this and thinking, “That sounds great, but my extended family would never go for it” remember this: you don’t need them to change. You can change your own behavior without that. (Although it is nice to give your extended family a heads up that you’ll be cutting back this year.)
They may surprise you and join in. Or maybe not, and that’s fine too. Gift giving doesn’t have to be an exchange, so long as you’re a gracious and appreciative recipient. Or maybe they’ll mention that they already got you something for this year, but they think it’s a great idea for next year.
(If you’re on the fence about tips two and three, read this post about gifts. We stressed out about doing it but nothing bad happened!)
4. Ease up on the extras (and give yourself a break.)
Holiday meals, decorations, parties, and other events can also add up — especially since their costs are often overlooked at budget time. So consider scaling back there too.
Part of the reason for making the list in step one is so you can SEE everything you’ve committed to. Being aware of that upfront can make it easier to prioritize and cut back. That way you’re not inundated with last-minute requests that stress you out. It’s also easier to say no if you want or need to.
You could reduce:
- the amount of pricey decorating you do,
- the number of activities you go to,
- the amount or cost of food you bring to parties,
- the number of meals you host & your guest list at those meals
It’s a hectic and over-stuffed time anyway, so chances are having fewer dishes or events will either go unnoticed or be appreciated by those who are desperately trying to fit yet another “must-attend” event into their schedule.
Of course, you can also chose less expensive options for the things you do host or attend. Some foods are less expensive than others, and just as tasty. Potlucks or progressive dinners can be fun, and sometimes you can get cheaper tickets to events if you choose a different time or day.
Gift giving doesn’t have to break the bank. You can absolutely keep a lid on holiday spending without looking like a scrooge. (While saving yourself time and reducing stress in the process!)
What are your favorite ways to keep a lid on holiday spending? If something’s worked well for you, I’d love to hear about it.