Christmas is coming. I know, it feels like we have lots of time. We still have Thanksgiving and Halloween to get through but it always seems to me that time speeds up in the fall. And in that whirlwind, I sometimes find it difficult to keep my holiday spending on track. So, I do what I can throughout the year to avoid Christmas debt.
I am one of those people others roll their eyes at (or get annoyed with) when it comes to Christmas because I plan for it all year long. And some of these tips for how to save money on Christmas are more useful at other times of the year. But there is still plenty you can do right now to have a more budget-friendly holiday.
Here are my tips for how to save money on Christmas:
1. Look for less expensive ways to wrap gifts.
There are several ways to do this. Look for plain discounted paper all year long. I have some reds, greens, blues, and even silver and gold paper that weren’t intended to be Christmas wrap but they work beautifully for it. Or buy Christmas wrap when it’s heavily marked down after the holidays.
You can often find plain brown Kraft paper for a bargain as well. Get the kids to paint some designs on it, add some colorful ribbon, or do what I do. Simply turn them into “brown paper packages tied up with string” for some old-fashioned charm.
We’ve also been know to recycle brown paper grocery bags, newspaper, and store flyers. One year I found some fabric with Christmas designs on it in the store’s clearance bins. I stitched up some simple drawstring bags and we’ve used those as reusable Christmas wrap for years. (Bonus – wrapping gifts takes mere minutes when you use fabric sacks!)
2. Consider the need for Christmas cards.
I no longer send them to people I’m going to see over the holidays anyway. I reserve my Christmas cards for the people who live far away to let them know that even though we’re apart, they’re still in my thoughts and in my heart. Cutting back my list is a good start when it comes to saving money on both cards and postage.
Other ways to save include purchasing cards for the next year at this year’s deeply discounted post-holiday prices. Or gather up some inexpensive supplies and make your own. Even better – get the kids to make them for you!
3. Look for sales and bargains all year long.
I started my Christmas shopping for this year on Boxing Day last year. There were items that weren’t seasonal at all (wine glasses, for example) but clearly, the store had purchased them with the idea of selling them as holiday gifts. They had an overabundance left and immediately marked them down by over 90%!!!
I watch for suitable items year round. When I’m traveling, at summer antique sales and flea markets, no matter where I go, I keep my eyes open for something at an amazing price that would be just perfect for someone on my list.
Don’t just look at the after Christmas sales – look at the end of season clearance sales every single season. The person who goes someplace tropical every winter might appreciate getting a new bathing suit or cover-up. But keep in mind those wine glasses I mentioned above. Not everything that is put on seasonal clearance is very seasonal in nature!
4. Shop in unique locations.
I have purchased Christmas gifts at garage sales. Yep. Other may think this is tacky but I’m okay with it. I’ve found prized vintage collectibles that I know would be cherished as well as brand new, still in the box and never used items there (discarded unwanted wedding gifts).
Look around the next time you’re at the local dollar store. Sure, there are some really cheap (as in poor quality) items there BUT most dollar stores also carry brand name items that have been discontinued. For example, I’ve found complete sets of dishes and flatware – high quality but discontinued because they were changing the packaging.
Smaller items from places like the grocery store or dollar store, assembled under a theme, take on new value. Two dollar kitchen utensils seem like a less than inspiring Christmas gift. Buy 10 of them, add some new tea towels, a utensil holder, an apron, some mixing bowls, oven mitts, and 10 of your favorite recipes and you’ve got something special.
Or grab a few cookie mixes, candies for mixing in, cookie sheets, some oven mitts, and a DVD of a great family movie and give a family on your list a “family time” kit. Or how about grabbing a bunch of construction paper, some glue, scissors, colored chenille stems (pipe cleaners), googly eyes, pompoms, glitter, and paint and you’ve got a fantastic arts and crafts kit for a child for under $10.
And don’t forget to look at Groupon. Last Christmas, I scored 18 holes of golf for 4 people at a nearby course for only $25. It was a perfect gift for my son-in-law! He not only got to go golfing but could spend the day with 3 of his buddies too. For my daughter, I found 5 ballroom dance classes for $10. These make great gifts for everyone, but especially some of those hard to shop for people on your list!
5. Give the gift of time.
One year I gave my grand-niece and grand-nephew “Aunt Cyndi’s Fun of the Month Club”. Every month all year long, we did something special together. One month I brought them some art supplies out of my stash and we made crafts together. Another I took them to McDonalds and let them play in the Play Place for as long as they wanted. Still another, we made pizza and baked cookies together. Even if these ideas cost you money, it’s minimal and it’s spread throughout the year, making it much more budget-friendly.
I did something similar for my “already had everything” dad one year. I gave him the “tea and pie of the month club”. Tea and pie were 2 of his favorite things. So each month, I made or bought him a new tea blend to try and I baked him his choice of pies. Again, very frugal but the thought it carried was much more meaningful than buying him clothes or more items to display around his house.
6. Join loyalty programs.
Sign up for store and other loyalty programs and save them up for Christmas shopping. PC Optimum Points (if you’re in Canada) really add up quickly and can be used for so many things. Also consider things like SwagBucks which reward you for searching on the internet.
Follow your favorite retailers on social media. Many will provide a discount for new followers. I’ve even had some send me free products or coupons. If they don’t give you a discount code, send them a private message asking for one!
7. Plan to make some of your gifts.
There are SO many ideas on the internet. Search Pinterest and you’re sure to find gifts for everyone on your list. Of course, if you’re planning to make something labor intensive, you’re going to need to start early but even if it’s December 1st as you’re reading this, there are still many quick, easy, and inexpensive but really special gifts you can make.
8. Start saving money for Christmas NOW!
No matter what time of year it is right now, it’s not too late. Put aside a dollar or two all year long and you’ll have a nice chunk of cash when Christmas rolls around. I also keep a large jar ready for collecting all of my loose change every day. This is a painless way to add some extra cash to your holiday budget.
Only a month or two left until Christmas? Look for ways to shave a little bit off here and there. If your usual weekly grocery budget is $200, reduce it to $175 and use that extra $25 for Christmas. Or make your coffee at home and add what you would have spent at the coffee shop into your holiday fund.
Or take a look around your home and find some items to sell. This is a good way to clear out unused items and get a little cash while you’re at it. Some of the brand new, never used items might also make a great gift for someone else (regifting can be a very good thing!).
9. Start stocking your holiday pantry.
Besides thinking about holiday gifts, it’s important to think about any baking and entertaining you want to do as well. I find that baking supplies often begin going on sale early in the fall. So, each week I tack on a non-perishable item or two to my grocery list – flour one week, sugar the next, and so on. By the time the Christmas season rolls around, I’m pretty well stocked for my baking and entertaining.
Don’t forget to stock up on things like butter, cranberries, and onions – perishable but can be frozen! And consider making some baked goods (or even soups and casseroles) to give as gifts. I know that when I get super busy during the holiday season, receiving some baked goods or a casserole would take off some of the pressure and be most appreciated!
10. Actively look for the deals.
Don’t just hope to find those sales – although, of course, it’s a great idea to keep your eyes open because surprise sales happen all the time. But there are ways you can actively search for the bargains as well.
Use shopping apps. Flipp is my favourite. It gathers the various store flyers in your area into one easy to use app. I can go there and browse the flyers. Or, I can search for a specific item that I’m looking for and see if it’s on sale anywhere in the city.
Use cash back programs. Many credit cards have a cash back function to them and can be a good way of earning some money to use for Christmas purchases. Put money aside to pay off your credit card after using it – racking up holiday credit card debt is one of the most common ways of getting in over your head with Christmas shopping!
Another of my favorite cash back programs is Ebates. I do a lot of my shopping online and by using Ebates to make my purchases, I get cash back on what I buy. Best of all, they often have special deals going on – you can save money on your purchase AND receive cash back too. Win win.
For me, one of the easiest ways to save money during the holidays is by focusing on what’s most important. Being together with loved ones, quiet moments basking in the glow of the Christmas tree, the Nativity story, and the smiles of the children all wrapped up in holiday magic.