The standard holiday M.O. is to overspend, go into debt and start the new year in a financial hole that leaves your resolutions dead on arrival. This year, make an early resolution to avoid that trap and save money during the holidays — stuff your own stocking instead.
Believe it or not, you don’t have to choose between a great holiday and great financial health. With a bit of planning, you can get everything you need and most of the things you want while boosting your savings at the same time. Here’s how.
If you go into the holiday season without a plan and parameters, overspending is all but certain. The strategy you settle on now will determine how you start 2023.
“This is the time of year when being organized is more important than ever,” said Yasmin Purnell, personal finance expert and founder of The Wallet Moth. “Aim to create shopping lists of any gifts you need to buy and your budget for each — decorations, food and drink, etc. — as early as possible. Even better, spread the spend out over a few weeks or even months if you can and use a budgeting app to help you allocate your budget to each expense.”
Creating a holiday-specific budget is the most crucial part of the planning phase — and the kind that puts you first is just right for a November/December spending plan.
“Working with a budget called ‘reverse budgeting’ or ‘pay yourself first’ can help you prioritize savings over spending and expenses,” said Bonnie Ling Thich, a 10-year veteran of the financial and investment industries and founder of Finsavvy Panda. “This type of budgeting method comes in handy whenever the holiday hits because you don’t even have to think or stress about how much money you’re going to spend.”
She said to deduct a portion of your paycheck automatically each month and put it into your savings or investment account before you spend a single dollar on anything else.
“This ensures you are paying yourself first before paying your bills — e.g., rent, food, utilities, etc. — and spending any money, e.g., charity, holiday parties, gathering, gifts, dining out, entertainment, etc.,” she said.
Get Likeminded Loved Ones on Board With Scaling Back
No one wants to be a wet blanket during the season of giving, but consider petitioning to forego the whole giving part altogether. If you get a crew of takers, you’ll be able to bank what you didn’t spend and leave the holidays in better financial shape than when you started.
“If you and your family/friends are all in a similar situation, it can be a good idea to float the idea of not giving gifts at all this year,” Purnell said. “If that idea doesn’t appeal, you could suggest a Secret Santa so everyone just buys one gift for a set budget, rather than buying gifts for everyone.”
Put Unused Gift Cards To Work
Gift cards equal purchasing power, and if you do your holiday shopping with money that someone else gifted to you, you can save or invest your own. If you lose them or let them expire, you’re literally throwing money away.
According to recent reports, Americans hold over $21 billion in unused gift cards. Rather than let those cards gather dust, go through your collection and find the ones you can use. You can even sell unused gift card online for money you can put into your savings account.
Some of the biggest retailers in America participate in a little-known holiday that could save you a lot of money, which you can then put toward your emergency fund or any other part of your financial life that needs a little TLC.
Free Shipping Day is December 14th, but not many people know about it. By shopping strategically on this particular holiday, you get to save on shipping costs. Even better, your gifts are likely to arrive before Christmas.
Whether you take advantage of the Dec. 14 holiday or not, never spend more than you planned just to get free shipping.
“Don’t feel pressured to throw another item in your cart just to save $5.99 on shipping charges,” said Shazia Virji, GM of credit services at Credit Sesame. “Chances are, you’ll end up spending more than you’d save in free shipping for something you didn’t need. If you’re shopping from multiple online stores, adding a few things here and there can really add up and blow your budget. Instead, try to match up your shopping list to retailers offering promotions that don’t require a minimum purchase.”
Give Time To Save Money
Finally, in the true spirit of the holidays, remember that giving doesn’t have to mean spending.
“As families seek to save money by holding out on gifts for their loved ones, it is likely they are looking for alternative ways to spread holiday cheer without overextending their financial capacity this year,” said Jake Hill, CEO of DebtHammer. “I am a huge fan of spending quality time with your family and loved ones by giving back to your local community. Instead of going shopping or going out to dinner, spend that time instead volunteering at a local organization that seeks to have a big social impact. There are so many opportunities like this during the holidays, and you can make it a family decision to where you choose to help out.”
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