This year, Americans plan to spend an average of $967.13 on holiday shopping, an increase of 3.4 percent compared to 2016, according to an annual consumer survey from the National Retail Federation.
If this sounds intimidating, don’t panic. With a few smart shopping decisions, you can celebrate the holidays without overextending your budget or sinking into debt.
“Be thoughtful and resourceful when attacking your holiday gift list,” said Sara Skirboll, shopping and trends expert at RetailMeNot. “Plan ahead by creating a budget and a list of who you are shopping for, and allow yourself some wiggle room to avoid going over the limit. … Avoid expensive shipping costs by keeping a close eye on your favorite retailers’ social media accounts and newsletters for codes on free shipping.”
Here are some gift-giving strategies and shopping tips to help you avoid overspending this holiday season.
1. Have a Secret Santa Exchange
Setting some ground rules for gift-giving among friends and family might be all it takes to save some money this holiday season. With a Secret Santa exchange, everyone in your group secretly gets assigned one person to give a present to on Christmas.
“Instead of buying gifts for seven to 15 people — depending on the size of your group — buy one great gift that the recipient is more likely to use and appreciate,” Skirboll said.
Set a budget limit on how much each person can spend on a Secret Santa gift. When it’s time to purchase those Secret Santa gifts, maximize your $10 or $20 gift stipend by “double dipping” to earn multiple rewards on your purchases. For example, shop for items through an online portal to earn cash back on your purchases from stores like Target, Macy’s and Best Buy. You can even use the site’s coupon codes on the purchase.
2. Host a White Elephant Party at the Office
Whether you work for a large corporation or a small business, you might have to buy gifts for many people — even people you don’t know too well — out of courtesy. While giving a gift to all of your colleagues is a kind gesture, those extra purchases might not fit into your budget.
Instead, suggest a white elephant party at your office so nobody feels obligated to buy gifts. This can be a fun way to get together with colleagues and exchange gifts without spending more than $20.
Here’s how it works: Each person brings a wrapped gift to contribute to a pool of white elephant gifts. Then, participants draw numbers from a hat to determine the gift-grabbing order. The first person grabs a gift from the pool, and the following participants can either choose a gift from the pile — or steal someone else’s gift.
Take the lead on coordinating the event to ensure everyone who wants to participate is included. And talk to management, and block off some time for a white elephant gift exchange at work so everybody can attend. If that’s not an option, set up an event after hours, and have everybody RSVP. You’ll need an accurate head count to make sure all attendees give and receive a gift.
3. Gift an Adventure
If your recipient has never been indoor rock climbing, horseback riding or paddle boarding, gift them the opportunity to try it out for the first time. These experiences can range anywhere from under $50 to more than $100, depending on the activity, and are one of the best gifts for the traveler in your life.
To save money, don’t overlook attraction tickets and experiences on social shopping sites, where you can buy these types of experiences at a discount. If you’re a pro at a particular sport or have years of experience in a certain activity, you could even volunteer to host lessons or an introductory session. Or, give them a gift card or handmade gift certificate so they can follow up with you when they’re ready to test the waters.
4. Do It Yourself
If you’re the crafty type, give homemade presents that reflect the spirit of the season. Take advantage of “buy one, get one free” deals and specials at Michaels and other craft stores. Michaels posts its coupons online and also sends updates via email and text upon request.
Themed candleholders, fruit baskets and handmade soaps with wintery scents are a few ideas. Skirboll even suggested finding a DIY recipe online for homemade bubble baths and body scrubs, which are typically well-received gifts or stocking stuffers.
Another option is to gift some food items. “You can buy plain white mugs from your local arts and crafts store, and decorate them with enamel-based markers,” said Skirboll. “Fill each cup with goodies like a bag of hot cocoa or the recipient’s favorite coffee, and add individually wrapped treats or a few candy canes.”
5. Gift a Technology or Gaming Accessory
Sixty-eight percent of gift-buying American adults are expected to purchase technology as a gift this holiday season, according to Consumer Technology Association’s 24th Annual Holiday Outlook. And, Americans are expected to spend an average of $478 on technology products.
If you need to find a gift-worthy tech gadget but don’t have the budget for a high-end tech purchase, consider giving accessories or even a gift certificate they can use for a future tech purchase.
You can save money on gift cards by doing your Christmas shopping at warehouse clubs. For example, Sam’s Club offers gaming gift cards for Xbox Live, Nintendo, Windows Store and more.
Re-gifting isn’t off limits — as long as you do it right. If you have unused gifts lying around the house, give them to somebody who can make use of them. And, don’t overlook items that have a special meaning for you.
“If you have any movies or books that impacted you and now just sit on your shelves, re-gift them with a special note inside explaining why you loved that film or read,” said Skirboll. “It’s a personal gift they will surely treasure and will make zero dents in your budget.”
If you’re not comfortable re-gifting one-on-one, host a party specifically for recycling gifts. Similar to a white elephant party, guests bring one gift they want to re-gift and draw a number. They can then trade their gifts with other partygoers as the gifts get unwrapped so everyone goes home with something they actually like.