With Cyber Monday, Black Friday and the holidays fast approaching, many people are getting their wallets and bank accounts prepped for the shopping season. About one in four Americans plan to spend $1,000 or more on gifts during the holiday season, according to a 2014 Gallup poll.
Even if you’re not caught up in the commercialized side of the season, the holidays are an excellent time to spend with family or on vacation. If you’re wondering how to save money for Christmas or other end-of-year festivities, follow these nine tips.
1. Establish a Holiday Spending Budget
A budget is the cornerstone of any savings strategy. You need an idea of what you’re able to spend before you can plan and save.
“About 46 percent of us overspend when it comes to our holiday budgets, and more than half of consumers don’t even have a holiday budget,” said Katie Ross, education and development manager for American Consumer Credit Counseling, a national financial education organization. “If you plan to celebrate the holidays without breaking your bank, the best place to start is your budget. Creating a budget forces you out of the ‘buy-buy’ mentality and helps you stay focused.”
Decide a reasonable amount for holiday spending based on your disposable income. If you want to save $500 and you plan to start shopping in eight weeks, make sure you put aside at least $60 each week. Think of ways to drum up extra cash, such as working overtime, finding seasonal part-time work or selling items you don’t need.
2. Serve Discount Champagne
No party is complete without the sparkling bubbly. An expensive bottle of wine or champagne might appeal to your taste buds and your guests, but it can also hit your pocket hard. Fortunately, there are ways to save for these holiday expenses.
“During the holidays, champagne deals abound in supermarkets, often with a better discount when you buy six,” said Teri Gault, founder and CEO of The Grocery Game, a grocery savings website. “Or shop online at BevMo!, which runs countless champagnes on ‘buy-one-get-one for five cents’ for the holidays.” She also recommended swapping your champagne for Prosecco, which is an Italian sparkling champagne that can cost as little as $15.
3. Buy Gifts With Unwanted Gift Cards
If you’re shopping on a budget, check sites like CardCash.com to see if you can find unwanted gift cards to retail stores that sell items on your gift list. You can also sell your unwanted gift cards for cash. “Users have saved on vacations by using gift cards that they purchased at a discounted price, up to 35 percent off retail value,” said Alison Berg of Group Gordon, a public relations firm.
“The savings add up so that you can do something special while staying on budget. You can also use discounted gift cards to stack the savings with holiday sales and buy an even better gift that you wouldn’t normally splurge on,” she added.
4. Take a Vacation With Rewards
If you want to live it up like a millionaire this holiday season, skip gift buying and take an envy-worthy family vacation. But don’t think you have to max out your credit cards or empty your bank account. There are ways to take vacations on tight budgets, such as by redeeming credit card rewards for airline tickets and hotels.
“Many credit card reward programs offer points that can be redeemed for merchandise, airline miles or access to exclusive clubs,” said Sam McLimans, senior vice president of cash management at Fidelity. Depending on the card, your reward points might never expire and there might be zero blackout dates. You can use reward points to cover the big expenses so all you have to worry about is the cost of food and entertainment.”
“I recently traveled to New York for six days and it costs me less than $700,” said Russell Luna, owner of Luna Financial Advisors. “I used my airfare and hotel points to cover those costs. I stayed at a four star Marriott located in the heart of Times Square. I saw two Broadway shows and purchased most dinners and drinks for less than $50.”
5. Buy Designer Party Fashions for Less
Between office parties and your friends’ end-of-the-year bashes, you might need a few new outfits to stay fashionably chic. Fortunately, a party dress or suit doesn’t have to cost a month’s rent. “Many high-end stores such as Brooks Brothers, Calvin Klein and Ralph Lauren provide bargains at outlet malls,” said Luna. “You can look like a million bucks without having to pay full price.”
6. Homemade Gifts
Gift giving is a popular tradition during the holiday season, but this doesn’t mean you have to brave crowded malls and spend money you don’t have to celebrate in style. If you have a crafty side, you can possibly make quality homemade gifts for less than the cost of retail. Ross suggested putting emphasis on the thought, not the cost.
“You don’t necessarily have to spend extravagantly on buying each and every gift. Put some thought and research into how you can create gifts with a bit of DIY. This can go a long way in saving up some serious cash,” said Ross.
7. Price Protection
Make sure you get the absolute best price when buying gifts. You can save big with sales and clearances, plus get more bang for your buck by taking advantage of price protection offered by some credit cards. If you purchase an item with your credit card and find the exact same item cheaper at another retail store — usually within 90 days of the purchase — your credit card company might reimburse the difference up to a certain dollar amount.
Related: 7 Signs You Can’t Afford Christmas
8. Borrow to Save Money
You obviously want guests to feel comfortable at your holiday party. Ross recommended spending on what matters the most to you, and skimp on the rest. “If decorations don’t matter to you, don’t buy them, or find inexpensive or DIY options.”
Another approach is to borrow what you don’t have. If you’re hosting a holiday party and you don’t have matching dishes or glasses, borrow from friends or your parents instead of going out and spending a fortune. Other items you can borrow include party decorations, centerpieces, tables, chairs and party trays.
9. Get a Groupon
Groupon can help you find gifts for any occasion, whether it’s the holidays or an anniversary. Ross recommended joining Groupon for local deals. “Travel and gift ideas can be found at discounted prices,” he said. It’s also an excellent site if you’re on the hunt for other low-cost gifts, such as jewelry, clothing, restaurant vouchers and spa treatments.
Early planning is always your best bet to avoid holiday debt, especially if you want to celebrate like a millionaire. Fortunately, it’s not too late to get your budget in check and prepare your finances. All you need is an effective savings strategy.