From Airfare to Gifts to Your Tree, How To Save on Every Aspect of Holiday Spending

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The holidays can be financially draining, but with just a little bit of effort, consumers can rack up savings and make for a less stressful experience. GoBankingRates consulted retail and savings experts to learn their best tips for slashing their spending during the merriest time of year.

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Find Out: 29 Ways To Save On Holiday Gifts

The first step one should take on their journey to savings is to start out with a detailed list of exactly what they need to buy.

“There are easy ways to save money on holiday spending if you create a plan and use multiple strategies for cutting costs,” said Laura Adams, MBA, a personal finance expert with Finder. “First, think about your expenses and start a list that might include photos, cards, gifts, wrapping paper, meals, parties, decorations, clothes and travel. Make it as detailed as possible by having everyone you want to buy a gift for including family, friends, teachers and service providers.”

When writing your list, try to come up with a target budget for each category and for overall holiday spending.

Make Your Money Work for You

Shop Seasonal Online Sales

We all know about Black Friday and Cyber Monday, but do we all take advantage of these sales events? Surprisingly, we don’t.

“A recent Finder survey found that it takes an average discount of 58% to coax Americans to shop this year’s Black Friday sales,” Adams said. “Even if you don’t get that much of a discount, shopping the seasonal sales for what you genuinely need can really pay off. Also, shopping online allows you to compare prices quickly, so you know if you’re getting the best deal.”

From here, let’s look at how you can save on each holiday spending category including travel, food, gifts, decor and miscellaneous extras like family photos and holiday apparel.

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How To Save on Travel

“Track airfare prices using a site like Hopper.com which will alert you when your desired flight dips in price,” said Andrea Woroch, budgeting expert. “Build your own flight itinerary by booking one-way flights in and out of surrounding airports at your final destination (or home base) as this could be cheaper and also allow you to redeem miles or points for one leg of the trip if you don’t have enough for a full round trip flight.”

Julie Ramhold, a consumer analyst at DealNews, noted that consumers should consider flying on less popular travel days and times.

“It can be hard, especially around the holidays, but if you can manage to, traveling during off-peak times can help you save at least a little bit,” Ramhold said. “For instance, traveling the day before a major holiday is going to be pricey and crowded, but if you can travel the week before, or even the day of, you may be able to save as fewer people will be traveling during those times.”

If you’re driving to your destination, Ramhold recommends carpooling. Additionally, if you’re traveling to visit family or friends, try crashing at their place instead of splurging on a hotel.

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How To Save on Food

Aside from cooking or baking your own treats to bring to a party, or hosting a potluck, there are a couple of ways consumers can save on food.

Make Your Money Work for You

“Make sure to check out the promotions at your local supermarket,” said Erica Seppala, financial analyst, MerchantMaverick.com. “For example, ShopRite stores are offering a free turkey after you spend a certain amount of money, with some areas requiring just a $250 purchase. This amount can be spent over multiple transactions, so you can easily score a free turkey just by doing your regular household shopping in the weeks leading up to Thanksgiving.”

Woroch suggests picking up wine or beer from a warehouse store like Costco, where you can potentially save up to 30%.

How To Save on Gifts

To save on gifts, Ramhold suggested exchanging gifts by playing Secret Santa.

“An easy way to save on gifts is by ensuring you only have to buy one,” Ramhold said. “Try to organize a Secret Santa game with friends and family and draw names so you can focus on one person and get them the perfect gift, rather than stressing out over having to buy multiples.”

Alternatively, you can host a game of White Elephant.

“This can be even less stressful, as you just need to pick one really great gift that your group of friends or family will be interested in,” Ramhold said. “Set the rules on how many times a gift can be “stolen”, draw numbers and embrace the competitive spirit of the game.”

Opting for a gift card instead of a more tangible present can also be a great way to save.

“Often in December we see tons of deals on gift cards, with retailers and restaurants offering bonus cards with select purchases, so you end up getting a bigger bang for your buck,” Ramhold said. “Gift cards have a bad reputation, but honestly most people would probably rather receive a gift card to their favorite store or restaurant rather than something that they may or may not use.”

If you do want to buy something specific, like a new computer, Woroch suggests going the refurbished route.

“Whether you’re shopping for a personal gadget, kitchen appliance or power tool, consider looking at refurbished options to slash spending,” Woroch said. “In some cases, retailers have to sell items that were open but never used as refurbished, while others have repaired a minor issue and restored the item to like-new condition. You can stand to save anywhere from 20 to 60% depending on the model and store. Just make sure you get a warranty and buy from a reputable retailer like Best Buy, Walmart or Apple.”

Discover: Brilliant Holiday Budget Tips From Financial Advisors

How To Save on Holiday Decor

“One of the best ways to save on holiday decor is to think ahead,” said Seppala. “Holiday decorations are significantly cheaper during the off-season, with stores like Target and Hobby Lobby offering discounts of 75% or more after the holiday is over. Plan ahead and shop the week after the holidays are over this year to score significant savings on holiday decor for next year.”

Ramhold added that there’s a concern this year that holiday decorations may not be available in the quantities we normally expect because of supply chain disruptions and shipping delays.

“Because of that, it may be harder to find these items discounted, and waiting until after the holidays may result in not having much of a selection to choose from,” Ramhold said. “Instead, join loyalty programs and shop with cashback credit cards and apps to help save on these kinds of products when you’ll actually use them.”

How To Save on Holiday Photos

“Ask a friend or family member who has a good camera to take your picture,” Woroch said. “Instead of printing out holiday cards with your picture, send a digital version via email or text to loved ones with a customized message, or just print the picture at a photo kiosk at stores like Target or CVS then send a handwritten note or include in a regular holiday card — this will cost half of what you’d pay ordering custom cards.”

How To Save on Holiday Apparel

“Look for used holiday outfits at sites like Poshmark for women and SwoondleSociety.com for kids,” Woroch said. “You can actually trade in old holiday outfits they no longer fit in to get credit which you can apply towards ‘like new’ looks.”

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    Last updated: Oct. 28, 2021

    About the Author

    Nicole Spector is a writer, editor, and author based in Los Angeles by way of Brooklyn. Her work has appeared in Vogue, the Atlantic, Vice, and The New Yorker. She's a frequent contributor to NBC News and Publishers Weekly. Her 2013 debut novel, "Fifty Shades of Dorian Gray" received laudatory blurbs from the likes of Fred Armisen and Ken Kalfus, and was published in the US, UK, France, and Russia — though nobody knows whatever happened with the Russian edition! She has an affinity for Twitter.

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