How To Do All Your Holiday Shopping for Less Than $500

Christmas wish list writing.
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Keeping your holiday shopping expenses to a few hundred dollars or so can be tricky, but it’s not impossible. Of course, you’ll have to make some sacrifices. Expensive holiday dinners, party-worthy outfits and those trendy outdoor decorations you’ve had your eye on are definitely out with this limited budget. You’ll also have to trim some people from your gift list and forgo mailing those expensive Christmas cards. 

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A recent GOBankingRates survey found that 80% of Americans anticipate spending more this year than they did in 2021. Inflation has affected not only how much people spend, but it’s also encouraged 47% of shoppers to have a strict holiday spending budget, while another 11% are preparing to go into debt. And a third of all shoppers are buying fewer gifts this year to offset the higher costs.

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To help you stay within budget, GOBankingRates spoke to the experts. From a plan for your spending to giving without buying a gift, here are the helpful tips you need to complete your holiday shopping for less than $500. 

Start With a Spending Plan

“The best way to do all your holiday shopping for less than $500 is to start with a spending plan,” said Laura Adams, personal finance and credit expert for Finder. “Make a list of every person you want to buy a gift for, assign a dollar amount to each one and add it up. If you’re over budget, you’ll need to shrink your gift list, cut your generosity per person, or both.”

Sign Up for Mailing Lists and Loyalty Memberships

“You want retailers to share updates on discounts and deals that will help you get the best price at the right time,” said Josh Zimmelman, managing director of Westwood Tax & Consulting. “However, you may want to consider using a second email address specifically for this purpose, so your inbox doesn’t get clogged up with solicitations and spam.”

Make Sure You’re Getting the Best Deal

“Don’t fall for big holiday sales without doing your research,” Zimmelman said. “A lot of stores will advertise Black Friday or Cyber Monday sales and other promotions during the holiday season, but not every promotion is actually a good deal. Some retailers will actually mark their prices up before a big sale, so it looks like you’re saving more than you actually are.”

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Use Price Comparison Apps

“Price comparison apps (ShopSavvy, ScanLife and many more) let you scan barcodes, or take a photo and do a search,” said Tanya Peterson, consumer finance expert and vice president of brand with Achieve. “They will compare prices at thousands of brick-and-mortar and online stores. Then, if a better price shows up at another store, you might ask a manager if they can match the price. Other apps you can access on your phone (Mint, for example) will track purchases as you make them, and help you stay within that $500 limit.”

Buy and Give Discounted Gift Cards

“While you’re at your local warehouse store, shop for gift cards to restaurants,” said consumer analyst Julie Ramhold with DealNews. “Often you’ll buy four $25 cards that are worth $100 at face value, but you may only pay $80 for them. Those cards can then be split up to give to four different people, gifted as a whole package or even saved for yourself. Whatever you do with them, by purchasing them at this discount, your dollar is going further.”

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Buy in Bulk

If you’re participating in gift swaps or need a few less expensive gifts for parties you’re planning to attend, Ramhold suggested heading to warehouse stores, like Costco, that sell multipacks of candles or Starbucks gift sets. “Then break those multipacks down to serve as gifts for multiple individuals — a set of three candles can be split to be given to three different hostesses, while a pack of two Starbucks gift sets can be split to serve as two gifts for a swap party,” she said. 

Skip the Pricey Gift Wrap

“Paying for professional gift wrapping services can get very expensive, but even if you do it yourself, that’s still a lot of money on paper and ribbons, etc.,” Zimmelman said. “Get creative about your gift wrap options, like using newspapers or other lower-cost options. Use holiday gift bags more often than wrapping paper, because they can be reused.”

Think of Ways To Give Without Buying a Gift

“In terms of time, depending on your skills and interests, you could make plans to shovel snow during the winter for a neighbor or family member, run errands for someone, make a dinner for a busy family or another task you know the recipient will appreciate,” Peterson said.

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Make Your Money Work for You

About the Author

Cynthia Measom is a personal finance writer and editor with over 15 years of collective experience. Her articles have been featured in MSN, AOL, Yahoo Finance, INSIDER, Houston Chronicle and The Seattle Times. She attended the University of Texas at Austin and earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in English.
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