Thursday, June 20, 2024

33 Ways to Save Money and Time During the Holidays

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Couple with holiday gift
Syda Productions /

Editor’s Note: This story originally appeared on Living on the Cheap.

Everyone you know is searching for the best deals on gifts and trying to figure out how to avoid the stress that comes this time of year.

If you want to enjoy more time and worry less about spending too much, check out these ideas to help you do both.

It doesn’t take a lot of money to make the holidays enjoyable — just a lot of creativity and fun.

1. Set a budget

Holiday worker
Masson /

Most people don’t like the word “budget” — but if you decide how much you can spend, you are more likely to spend less.

2. Make a list

Couple shopping online
Pixel-Shot /

Make a list of people you want to remember during the holidays and use the list to help plan how to spend.

Making a list of people and what you want to give them will keep you from buying more than you need.

Instead of deciding on the gift first, decide on the dollar amount you want to spend, then find a gift that fits the bill.

3. Set a limit

cash gift
Ariya J /

Many friends and families enjoy white elephant or secret Santa gift-giving.

Set a limit on how much you will spend — as little as $5 works. Have a gift exchange and enjoy the fun.

4. Order online

Woman shopping online for Christmas gifts
Prostock-studio /

Save yourself time and money ordering online (but don’t be tempted to just point and click too quickly). Think about how much you want to spend and then search online for items to fit your budget.

Shop where you can get FREE shipping, too.

TIP: Put items in your cart and save them. Log out. You are likely to get an email the next day or two offering you FREE shipping if it wasn’t already available, and sometimes you’ll even get discounts on what is left in your cart.

This happens frequently during holidays.

5. Give meaning

Couple exchanging holiday gifts and drinking champagne
CarlosDavid /

When it comes to gifts, nothing is better than receiving a meaningful gift.

Don’t spend a lot on things that will bring joy for a few minutes. Think about what means the most to the person.

You may find that gifts that cost less are often the most meaningful.

6. Decorate with frugal flair

Family decorating a Christmas tree with lights
Impact Photography /

No one says you have to get caught up in the overpriced decorations of the holidays. Instead, look around your yard.

You’ll find tree branches, holly, acorns, leaves and lots of other items. A bag of cranberries and popcorn can create an old-fashioned holiday trim.

Or pour a bag of cranberries in a clear vase and tie it with a green ribbon. Homemade decorations created with flair are fun.

7. Make a gift

Woman wrapping holiday gifts
Larysa Dubinska /

What’s better than homemade jelly, candy, cookies, pickles or trail mix? These make beautiful and delicious gifts.

Present them in a clear Mason jar with a colorful ribbon and you’re done. (See our article on easy homemade gifts.)

8. Picture perfect giving

Svetlana Glazkova /

A photo collage or album filled with memorable photos taken throughout the year can make for a heartwarming gift. It takes a little time to pull them all together, but it’s worth it.

Shutterfly, Costco, Amazon and other online resources print photos at very reasonable prices. Or try your local Walgreens or other retailers and compare prices.

You can even print photos at home if you have a printer.

9. Host informal dinners

People in holiday scene, toasting.
Theera Disayarat /

Elegant, sit-down dinners might be fun — but they can be expensive and stressful.

Instead of spending hours cooking, decorating and over-spending, opt for simple dinners with finger foods and fun hors d’oeuvres.

10. Give time

Volunteer at a food bank
Monkey Business Images /

Speaking of gifts, giving your time is the greatest gift of all and it’s essentially free. Volunteer at a homeless shelter, library, hospital, nursing home or anywhere else you can be of help.

Just one volunteer visit can brighten the holidays for dozens of people.

11. Bake cookies

mother baking with her child
Lordn /

Everyone loves to receive home-baked cookies, and the ingredients don’t cost that much.

Make it more festive by hosting a homemade cookie baking party, and invite children, friends or neighbors (especially elderly neighbors who may be lonely during the holiday season).

12. Collect food

emergency stockpile
Mikhailov Studio /

Spend time collecting food for a food bank and deliver it. Better yet, ask friends to give you canned and nonperishable food items for your own holiday gift and then donate them to a shelter.

Have your own food collection party during the holidays.

13. Clean your closets

Woman with box of clothing to donate
Kate Kultsevych /

You may find great gifts hidden in there. Donate gently used clothing to needy organizations. They are especially in need of coats and blankets during winter.

14. America’s got talent

senior man elder home repair african american hispanic
By Rob Marmion /

If you’re a hairdresser, carpenter, plumber, accountant or seamstress, you have the greatest gift of all. Use any talent you have to give gifts to others by offering your services pro bono.

Free haircuts, repairing a handrail, sewing curtains, preparing someone’s tax returns next year, or any other act of kindness using your skills is an awesome gift.

15. Potluck heaven

A family eats turkey for Christmas dinner
wavebreakmedia /

Holiday meals can be expensive for one person to manage. Have everyone bring a dish and put them all together.

Provide the turkey or other item and let others bring sides and dessert. Let everyone help and you will save money and time, giving you more time to enjoy being together.

16. Donate

Giving money to charity
Emzii F Clef /

Making a charitable donation to honor another person is the perfect gift. Added bonus: You get a tax deduction!

17. Watch the sales

Woman shopping for holiday gifts online
Daniel_Dash /

Finding a good deal is awesome, but just because something is on sale doesn’t mean you’re getting a good deal.

Compare prices and make sure the store hasn’t upped prices just to offer a 10% discount, which puts the price right back where it started.

18. Shop around for toys

Couple shopping during the holidays
DGLimages /

Most retailers and online deals kick into high gear in the first and second weeks of December.

However, if you’re looking for toys that are likely to be in high demand, it may be worth the few extra dollars if someone has his or her heart set on it.

19. Use coupons

Holiday shopper
Syda Productions /

Search online for coupons to almost any store. Print them out and use them or use coupons online.

You can find coupons by store name, brand or other details. Check the midweek and weekend papers for coupons, too.

20. Shop thrift stores

Shopper buying clothes at a thrift store
SeventyFour /

If you’re searching for an item for a child and you’re not sure he/she is going to love it, consider a thrift store purchase.

Gently used, restored items are less expensive, and if your child is not enamored with tennis or golf, you haven’t spent a bundle on the racket or clubs.

21. Don’t procrastinate and know when to stop

Gifts for holiday
MediaGroup_BestForYou /

When you’ve gone through the list, stop (exception: See “shop around for toys” above).

Don’t be tempted to buy just one more little item, because that one little item leads to another and another.

Shopping earlier also allows you to enjoy more time with family and friends during the holidays.

22. Post-holiday shopping

Older couple shopping in cold weather
oneinchpunch /

If you’re not visiting out-of-town family or friends until after the holiday passes, consider doing your shopping after the holiday. There may not be as much to choose from, but you’ll get some great deals.

Who will know you shopped post-holiday?

Another way to save: Reuse gift bags you saved from your own gifts.

23. Use cash

Woman at an ATM
wavebreakmedia /

Set aside a specific amount to spend, and then use cash for purchases. You won’t be tempted to overspend if you don’t have the cash to dole out.

When it’s gone, it’s gone.

24. Avoid credit cards

Gift budget
Ostanina Anna /

You end up paying a lot more for your gifts if you charge them. Interest can pile up quickly. Only charge what you can pay off within 30 days to avoid extra expense.

25. Enjoy free holiday concerts

A woman holds sparklers at an outdoor holiday festival at night
Victoria Chudinova /

There are a lot of high-priced concerts and performances during the holidays. But there are also plenty of free performances to enjoy.

Local malls, parks, recreation centers, community organizations, churches and other places offer holiday music, plays and other entertainment. Tap into the free ones and enjoy family time together.

Your local Living on the Cheap website is a great place to check.

26. Avoid self-gifting

Happy woman wrapping Christmas gifts
Dragana Gordic /

Oops! It can be tempting to purchase gifts for yourself while shopping for others.

Manage the temptation and don’t buy things you don’t need just because they’re on sale or the ads are too tempting.

27. Snag freebies

Holiday remote worker
Stanisic Vladimir /

The internet is full of freebies from food and clothes to jewelry and other items. Just Google “freebies” and see what you find.

28. Focus on gratitude

Mom and daughter baking during the holidays
Syda Productions /

Focus on gratitude for the holiday rather than the material gifts and high-dollar spending.

Spend time with family and friends and forgo the gifts. Suggest to others that this is the year to focus on gratitude.

Many people are likely thinking the same thing, but are afraid to break tradition. They’ll be grateful you spoke up.

29. Give a homemade coupon book

A young black woman gives a holiday gift to a girlfriend
Prostock-studio /

Another great gift idea: a coupon book that’s good for the coming year.

Include coupons for babysitting, lawn mowing, car washes, meal preparation or anything else you can do for the recipient.

30. Use rewards points

Happy woman using credit card for holiday shopping
Daniel_Dash /

You may have rewards points from credit cards, department stores or purchases you have made throughout the year. Cash in those reward points to get a gift for someone else.

31. Wrap your gift in a gift

Cookies gift wrapped
KingJC /

A homemade loaf of bread wrapped in foil and tied up with a fresh new dishtowel and ribbon is the perfect gift. The wrapping is part of the gift.

Be creative and wrap your gift in a gift. Put a fresh new set of sheets in a pillowcase, tie with a large ribbon and bow, and you’re done.

32. Cut the strings

woman not thrilled with holiday gift
brizmaker /

OK, we’ve all done it. We keep giving gifts to people who we rarely see anymore because it’s a habit or we feel an obligation.

Review your holiday shopping list and cut the strings where necessary. A holiday note and greeting will suffice in many cases.

33. Don’t overdo it

Couple hugging while exchanging holiday gifts
Prostock-studio /

You likely receive lots of invitations to parties and holiday events that can end up costing you money for clothes, host/hostess gifts, travel and other expenses — not to mention your time.

Consider each invitation and accept those that mean something to you and skip the others. Too many parties result in too much spending and too much stress. Keep it simple.

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