How to Afford Everything You Want This Holiday Season

Try these creative ways to give Christmas gifts on a budget.

Since the end of the Great Recession in 2010, the amount U.S. shoppers have spent on holiday gifts has risen dramatically, topping out at $929 last year, according to the American Research Group’s annual survey. If you want to stay out of debt and avoid overspending during the holidays, there are some ways to tighten up that budget without too much stress. Read on to find out how to afford the gift of giving this holiday season, and see how your shopping plans compare to other Americans’.

1. Estimate Your Costs

You’ll need an action plan of gift ideas and holiday purchases to keep your spending in check, and this can start with a master holiday spending list. Jot down everything you plan to buy and then do a price check to estimate your total costs. Having these numbers in front of you can help you prioritize your gifts and budget range for each person on the list. This can work like a holiday budget so you know exactly what your biggest purchases are and what could be cut out. You can separate your holiday purchases into categories, such as decorations, cards, clothing and gifts so you have a clear idea of where your dollars are going.

Related: 7 Holiday Savings Tips You’ve Never Heard Before

2. Start Cutting Out Extras

If you’re not ready to pare down that gift list or holiday budget just yet, you’ll need a way to recover the costs from your usual monthly expenses. Take a closer look at your weekly and monthly spending on extras like morning coffee runs or fast food trips. Perhaps you can save on your electric bill by limiting holiday lights this year.

You might be able to save some money by canceling subscriptions or a gym membership that you don’t really make use of right now. Cutting out some monthly extras could free up some cash so you can afford everything you want this holiday season. Use apps like Trim to analyze your spending and track down subscriptions that you shouldn’t be paying automatically.

3. Make Some Calls

Many companies that send you monthly bills might offer a better deal on your current plan or recurring fees — all you have to do is ask. You could call your credit card companies to see if they are running any special cash back offers or other promotions for holiday purchases this season. This can help you save money every time you shop for holiday-related items. If you haven’t made changes to your cable package in a long time, consider calling the company to learn about better rates or other offers that could save you money on your monthly cable bill.

4. Kick Off a No-Spend Month

Even though holiday spending has already begun for many, you can take steps to become more aware of your daily spending and shopping habits for just one month. Be more mindful about how many extra things you’re picking up at the grocery store or how many unplanned trips to the store you’re making in a given week. Deciding to do a no-spend month can help you make the most of things you already have so you’re not wasting money.

Blogger Jessi Fearon did just that and managed to save $1,000 during her no-spend month. She saved money by entertaining kids with free activities and using up everything in her pantry, fridge and freezer to save on groceries.

Related: 40 Ways to Save Money Over the Holidays

5. Start Selling

Generate some extra cash without much work by selling items you can easily part with. You can list virtually anything on eBay or Craigslist for some extra holiday cash. If you have a lot of brand-name clothes and other coveted items from top brands, consider selling gently used clothing and shoes to an online consignment store like thredUP or luxury items on TheRealReal. These sites can also be a great place to shop for some quality items you might want to wear over the holiday season and you can even earn a credit for your swap.

6. Buy Up Discounted Gift Cards

If you don’t have time to shop for cheap Christmas gifts this year and are planning to give gift cards instead, don’t overlook sites where you can nab some coveted gift cards at a discount. RetailMeNot sells discounted gift cards for hundreds of chain stores, retail outlets, restaurants, movie theaters and websites. Alternatively, you could trade in your own gift cards to sell them on these sites and make some extra cash.

At Gift Card Granny, you can find thousands of gift cards for restaurants, grocery stores, travel and retail stores at up to 40 percent off. Just make sure you’re buying from a reputable site and read the fine print to make sure the recipient can really make full use of your gift.

7. Consider Homemade Gifts

If you’re looking for some unique gift ideas this season, consider making Christmas gifts for friends. Cool Christmas gifts for friends and family members might include homemade soaps, a tray of baked goods, handmade cards or a customized gift basket.

You can find dozens of creative Christmas gifts to make on craft sites and blogs. Take a look at the 101 handmade gift tutorials from blogger Kimberly Layton on Everything Etsy or spend a few hours browsing Pinterest for some simple and affordable handmade gift tutorials for the holiday season. From scented candles and baking jars to decorated cookie canisters and snowmen candles, you can get creative with some decorations and supplies from the craft store to save money on gifts this season.

Gifts From the Heart: Gift-Giving Ideas for Tight Budgets

8. Track Prices on Gift List Items

Once you’ve created your gift list, make sure to use shopping hacks to automatically check it twice. Make use of apps that track retail prices and sales at various online and brick-and-mortar stores so you know when to make the purchase. Price tracking apps like the Price Tracker for Amazon can send you an alert whenever a lower price is detected or when the prices drop below a certain price. You can also make use of tools like Slickdeals Deal Alerts where you enter the item you want to keep track of and you’ll receive an email when that item goes on sale. You can also keep track of the best deals on certain categories of products, like laptops, televisions or travel, so you know when the price is dropping on some of the season’s hottest items.

Related: 30 Ways to Save $1,000 on Holiday Gifts This Year

9. Take Advantage of Cash Back Deals

If you have a cash back credit card or rewards card, make sure to pay for all your holiday purchases using those cards so you can get additional discounts and bonuses for every purchase.

Shop through websites like EBates.com to get cash back on all purchases made with partner stores through the site. Some retailers run special cashback deals and other promotions during the holiday season so it pays to pay attention. You can also make use of apps like Honey where you get instant cash back for making purchases when using the app. These can help you trim down that holiday spend without compromising too much on your gift choices.

10. Abandon Your Shopping Cart

You might hesitate to abandon your online shopping cart in the middle of a shopping spree — especially if you’ve managed to snag some great deals — but if you’re willing to take a risk and wait things out for a few days, you might be in for an additional discount. Many retailers use software that detects an abandoned cart so they can follow up with an email reminding you to complete the purchase. In some cases, the retailer will send you a coupon or discount if you finally complete your purchase within a certain timeframe. You could end up getting free shipping or an additional discount on your purchase just for delaying the checkout by a few days.

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