You’ve made your holiday shopping list, but remember: Even Santa has to check his twice. From gift wrap to presents for co-workers and postage for parcels, you might not have budgeted for several seasonal expenses.
Only 52 percent of Americans create a holiday budget and 78 percent have overspent during holidays in the past, according to the TD Bank Merry Money Survey. Consider this your unofficial budget planner, and make sure these holiday purchases don’t blindside your wallet.
1. Gift Tags
Avoid gifting family and friends the wrong items by placing tags on your presents immediately after wrapping them. You can find a pack of 100 generic tags for $6.99 on Amazon to match any wrapping paper. Personalize each one with stickers, pens or paint, and use the leftovers for gift-giving throughout the year.
Have a printer and want to avoid buying tags at all? You can print gift tag templates for free online. Or you can write names directly on the bags or packages using a permanent marker and forgo the gift tags altogether. Ordered too many Christmas cards? Use those as gift tags. Have some extra wrapping paper after packaging all your gifts? Cut the leftovers into 1-inch squares and use the blank sides for to/from labels.
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2. Christmas Tree Stand
Don’t forget a stand to keep your festive fir healthy through the holidays. Many stands cost less than $20, but it’s important to pick the right one to support the height and diameter of your tree. You’ll need your stand to hold the right amount of water to keep your tree healthy, and sturdy enough to keep your tree upright all season.
After buying a tree and before buying a stand, be sure to measure the tree so you can avoid any future disasters. No one wants to have to spend money on a one-time-use holiday expense twice. Opt for an artificial Christmas tree to avoid this expense entirely.
3. Gingerbread Houses
Gingerbread arrived in the U.S. with English colonists, and cookies and houses have since become synonymous with the holidays. We’re all for sticking with tradition, but you don’t have to try to top any gingerbread house-making records — like the 40,000 cubic-feet masterpiece — to enjoy this one.
For all the fun without breaking the bank, look for a gingerbread house kit under $20. With everything all ready for you, you can skip the building process and get down to decorating. You could also opt to decorate cookies instead of gingerbread houses to get a little more bang for your buck.
No package is complete without a bow, and, fortunately, you can purchase a bag of 25 for just over $6 on Amazon. If you’re going to be doing a lot of gift wrapping this year, aim to make the wrapping process as inexpensive and stress-free as possible.
Easy, peel-and-stick bows also save you from the hassle of cutting, tying and primping ribbon. Plus, there’s no more risk of slicing your hand off to get the scissors at the right angle. If you want to prep for next year, save the bows from unwrapped packages, as long as they’re in good condition.
5. Christmas Cards
In an increasingly digital age, it’s refreshing to receive a traditional holiday card in the mail. Should you want to go the snail-mail route, you don’t have to spend a fortune on the cards you’re sending to your friends and family. Cards Direct, for example, offers personalized cards starting at less than $1. Plus, if you sign up for their email list, you can get a code for 15 percent off your first order.
If you go the modern route, check out the free holiday eCards at BlueMountain. They even offer the option to attach an Amazon gift card to anything you’re sending, so you can wish loved ones happy holidays and send them a gift all at once.
6. Postage Stamps
At 49 cents, postage stamps can cost you nearly as much as the holiday cards you’re sending. However, if you want to save money, consider buying stamps in bulk. You can find sheets of stamps at the post office, retail stores like Walmart or from wholesale retailers like Herrick Stamp. If you have any forever stamps left after mailing your holiday cards, you can save them for future postage. Regardless of increasing postage rates, older United States Postal Service forever stamps will still be honored.
However, if you opt for electronic holiday cards, virtual gift cards and online orders shipped directly to your recipients, you might not have to spend a dime on postage at all this year. That is, unless you plan on sending handwritten thank-you notes.
7. Coffee and Snacks as You Are Shopping
The TD Bank survey revealed that 52 percent of people buy themselves a treat like coffee or snacks while holiday shopping. It’s popular to tackle your to-do list as you sip on a seasonal coffee, such as Starbucks’ Chestnut Praline Latte or Peppermint Mocha. Because these flavors are only available for a limited time, you can probably justify spending roughly $4 for a tall-sized drink. After all, ’tis the season to treat yourself.
However, if you’re on a tight budget, you might want to consider making coffee at home before hitting the mall — and bringing along snacks in your purse to avoid temptation. Or you can steer clear by doing all of your holiday shopping online. From the comfort of your own home, you can indulge in whatever holiday treats you already have on hand.
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8. Scotch Tape
If you have dozens of gifts to wrap, try Scotch’s Pop-Up Tape Handband Dispenser with pre-cut strips for quick and easy wrapping. Available in multipacks for bulk gift wrapping, you can find a pack of three rolls for about $10 on Amazon. If you’re buying other things from Amazon, you can score even more savings through the Add-On program, available on qualifying orders over $25.
If you already have some kind of tape lying around the house, there’s no reason why you can’t use that to seal gift wrapping. And if you’re going the bag-and-tissue paper route, you probably won’t need tape at all. The same goes for people who choose to do all of their shopping online or are giving gift cards instead of physical gifts.
9. Christmas Candy
From the ever-popular candy cane to the chocolate orange, Christmas candy is already filling up — and flying off — store shelves. Whether for kids’ classrooms, gifts for co-workers or stocking fillers, you’ll likely buy some holiday-themed treats in the coming weeks.
Buy in bulk, look for sales or opt for generic brands to save a little cash on candies. Check out stores like CandyWarehouse for wholesale prices on large orders of candy. To save a little more money, consider buying other types of candy to fill stockings or set out on your living room table so you’re not paying extra for the holiday-themed packaging. It tastes the same, after all.
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10. Small Gifts for Service Providers
Whether it’s your child’s teacher, your mail carrier or the hairstylist who’s saved you from a few disasters during the year, you might want to show your appreciation this holiday season. If you’re not familiar with their tastes and preferences, a Visa gift card is always a safe bet. These allow the recipient to choose their own gift, and it can be delivered via email or standard mail, or printed at home.
Using a debit card can help you be more careful about how much you spend on small gifts like these. Nearly half of respondents to the TD Bank survey — 47 percent — said that they use a debit card for small holiday gift payments.
11. School Party Gifts and Food
‘Tis the season for classroom parties and gift exchanges. If you need to bring something yummy for your kids’ classmates to snack on, try baking treats at home instead of buying pre-made goodies. Pick up some sugar cookie mix, frosting and festive sprinkles and enjoy a fun bonding experience with your kids in the process.
Don’t worry about making them look perfect, they’ll still taste great. Bonus points if you have a holiday-themed cookie cutter. Not the baking type? Opt for a couple boxes of no-brand candy canes for a cheap, but equally loved, holiday treat alternative.
12. Gifts for Co-Workers and Employees
Buying a gift for your boss, desk-neighbor or another co-worker? A gift card is usually a safe bet — and is unlikely to break the bank. For example, a $10 Starbucks gift card is likely to satisfy just about anyone.
Looking for something a little more personal? Consider taking a co-worker out to lunch one day or buying them a small decoration for their desk. For the pop-culture or sports fan, a Funko Pop figurine will only set you back about $10 to $15.
13. Kids’ Photos With Santa
You’ll most likely have to pay for your child to scream and cry — or rattle off an embarrassingly long wish list — as they’re sitting on Santa’s lap. These adorable photo ops can be pricey, but some malls, such as South Coast Plaza in Costa Mesa, Calif., offer a “Your Own Camera” package. This allows parents to take three photos on their own devices for $9, which might sound like a steep fee, but it’s substantially less than a $48 CD package with just four shots.
Better yet: Skip the Santa shots and take your own holiday-themed photos at home for free. That way, if your child starts crying or can’t take a shot without blinking, at least you won’t have wasted any money on the images.
14. Hanukkah Candy
Gold Hanukkah coins or “gelt” are a holiday favorite, as the original Jewish custom is to give money rather than presents. Purchase a box of 24 cold candy coins from Amazon (with two-day shipping through Prime) for $14.95. Check out your local grocery store or retail giant to scope out bigger discounts on these yummy treats.
CandyWarehouse also offers a huge selection of large-quantity Hanukkah candies. Shop for gelt, chocolate dreidels, menorah lollipops and much more at cheaper prices per each piece of candy than you’ll find at most places.
If you want to get into the festive spirit while spending efficiently, be on the lookout for holiday decorations you can reuse every year. For example, a 22-inch artificial door wreath is only $10 at Target. Add a little flair with ribbons, bows or ornaments you have sitting around and embrace the changing seasons.
Only want to decorate for a special dinner or holiday party? Ask your friends and family if they have decorations you can borrow to make your home a little more festive for the event.
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16. Hostess Gifts for Holiday Parties
Thank family, friends or co-workers for hosting a holiday celebration with a scented candle to celebrate the new year. For example, Voluspa’s mini tin candle trio is three great gifts for $8 each. Depending on the party you’re going to, you could also consider homemade gifts for hosts — like tree ornaments — or a fair-priced bottle of wine.
“The Today Show” published a gift guide online for hostess gifts under $25, so you can make sure you stay under budget and don’t show up empty-handed. The guide included a cheese board, a party game and a Mediterranean dipping oil.
17. Gift Bags
If your gifts are oddly shaped or too small to wrap, a gift bag is likely your best bet. Bags are more costly than wrapping paper, but they can save you time and spare you a headache. But, if you’re not dead set on holiday-themed bags, you can buy plain bags in bulk to save even more. And let’s be honest — no one’s going to remember what the bag looked like once they’ve unwrapped their present.
Although this trick might not help you this year, if you save gift bags from presents you’ve received you can reuse them to wrap someone else’s present. Some stores, like Lululemon or Urban Outfitters, even give reusable bags with your purchase, so you could repurpose those as gift bags if you’re in a bind.
18. Wrapping Paper
Wrapping paper was technically invented by Hallmark in 1917 when a Kansas City store ran out of traditional tissue sheets and envelope liners were instead used to wrap gifts. Nicely wrapped presents now make for picture-perfect displays and make unwrapping gifts all the more fun. Check out Amazon’s selection of wrapping paper — and be sure to look into their Add-On program to save even more.
For an even more budget-friendly option, recycle paper bags, newspaper or even fabric scraps you have around the house. Bonus points if you decorate your makeshift wrapping paper. It’d be a fun activity to do with your kids, as long as they’re not expecting Santa to be the one wrapping their gifts, of course.
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19. Tissue Paper
Now used to fluff up gift bags or to help fill gift boxes, tissue was originally used to wrap gifts before the invention of wrapping paper. If you have lots of presents to wrap, check out PaperMart to place a bulk order of tissue paper in any color for cheaper than buying smaller packs.
If you’re opting for wrapping paper instead of bags, you likely won’t need any tissue paper, so you can skip this expense. Also, fold up any tissue paper in good condition and reuse it for gift wrapping throughout the year or next holiday season. You’re going to bunch it up anyway, so a few wrinkles won’t offend anyone.
20. White Elephant Gifts
This silly holiday tradition is based on the tale of the King of Siam, who gifted courtiers he didn’t like with rare albino elephants the courtiers couldn’t afford to maintain. All you need to bring for this exchange is a gag gift, such as a $19.99 moose mug from Target that partygoers will likely recognize from “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation.”
Among those surveyed by TD Bank who went over their budget, 41 percent said it was because they forgot to include everyone on their list. If you factor in expenses like white elephant gifts from the beginning of your holiday budgeting, you’ll have a greater chance of staying on track with your spending throughout the holidays.
21. Lights for Your Tree
You’ll need roughly 100 lights for every foot-and-a-half of tree, but you can always use more if desired. A string of 100-count lights is $2.88 at The Home Depot, but you’ll need four to seven packs for a seven-foot tree.
If you’re already opting for an artificial tree, you might want to pick one up with string lights already attached. Not only will you not have to buy lights separately, but you’ll save the hassle of actually having to string them on. Jet.com is currently offering a 6.5-foot lighted tree for $39.99.
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22. Shipping Costs for Sending Packages to Friends and Family
The United States Postal Service offers Priority Mail flat-rate envelope shipping for as low as $6.45 and large flat-rate box shipping for $18.75. Send gifts in advance to avoid long lines and ensure a timely arrival — that is, as long as you can trust your loved ones not to open their gifts early.
If you’re ordering gifts online, you might want to consider shipping gifts directly to the recipients to avoid paying extra shipping costs and save yourself a trip to the post office. Many stores offer free-shipping promotions during the holidays — some even without minimum purchases. If you’re going to go this route, look into gift-wrapping or card services to personalize the package a little more.
From electronic decorations to new gifts for the kids, you’ll likely use more batteries during the holidays. More often than not, that “batteries not included” sticker is going to get you. From AAA to D, wholesale retailers offer discounts in bulk, such as 60 AA name-brand batteries for $19.80. Check out Amazon for deals on batteries, too. They often have Prime-exclusive deals or cheaper options when you meet a minimum order amount.
24. Liquor and Eggnog
In medieval Britain, milk, eggs and sherry were only accessible to the rich, who used eggnog to toast to health and prosperity. Now, this festive drink is available to the masses — and much easier to come by. If you don’t want to make your own from scratch, find a quart of regular or light eggnog at your local grocery store. For those who can’t drink dairy or prefer milk alternatives, you can now find almond milk eggnog or other non-dairy alternatives.
For the adults at the party, spike your eggnog with cognac, rum or bourbon — or whatever strikes your fancy. Not a fan of eggnog? Champagne is another holiday favorite — available at prices to suit just about any budget. Throw in some frozen cranberries in each glass for an even more festive libation.
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25. Travel Expenses
Plane travel, hotels and rental cars are all pretty common travel expenses — which you’ve likely budgeted for already. However, other costs you might encounter include eating out, visiting tourist destinations, chipping in for food and drinks, gifting your host, etc. You can cut some of these costs by buying groceries for your hotel room — if you have a fridge and microwave handy or opting for free or low-cost activities.
If you’re traveling to visit family or close friends and haven’t booked a hotel yet, you might want to ask if you can stay in their home. A guest room or couch is much more budget-friendly than paying for a hotel during peak season. Of course, if you’re going to do this, make sure you’re bringing a nice host/hostess gift as a thank you.
26. Boxes for Cookies and Baked Goods
Keep cookies fresh and protected as you deliver them to neighbors, co-workers or the classroom with a festive cookie tin. Place a sheet of wax paper between each layer of cookies so they don’t stick together. Amazon currently offers a pack of three holiday-themed tins for $15.95 — just over $5 per tin.
You could always skip the tin and cover a nice plate with foil for an even more cost-effective option. However, cookie tins definitely travel better than covered plates, especially if you’re transporting it. If you have large enough Tupperware containers, those will do the job as well.
Native to Mexico, this beautiful red flower known as the Flor de Nochebuena — or “a good night” — fittingly blooms in November and December. Although they’re generally not poisonous to children and pets, they can cause nausea and vomiting if ingested, so consider a reusable silk version for $7.88 from The Home Depot. And, with a silk version, you can keep using the arrangement for years to come. Just be sure to store it in a safe place where the leaves won’t get distorted.
Other stores to check out for deals on fake holiday flowers include Michaels, Target, Walmart and Lowe’s.
28. Baking and Cooking Supplies
The holidays are notorious for bringing even the least domestic people into the kitchen. Whether you’re cooking an entire meal for a crowd or just baking cookies to set out for Santa, you might need to stock up on some supplies. To save money on this sneaky expense, first take an inventory of what you have in your kitchen. From baking dishes and mixers to spices and frosting, make sure you’re not buying more than you need.
Keep in mind that not everything you bake or cook needs to be holiday-themed, either. Tree-shaped cookie cutters and decorative plates are always fun, but if you’re looking to cut costs, these might need to go. Stick with the essentials and make sure your food tastes good — above all.
29. Stocking Stuffers
Make sure your stockings are overflowing on Christmas morning as you stick to the budget with under-a-dollar items from a dollar store. From novelty gifts to practical items like pens, socks and gum, you can find one of everything on the cheap.
But even cheap gifts add up. One way to enjoy your shopping without going over budget is to shop with a prepaid debit card you’ve allocated just for holiday shopping.
“With a pre-funded debit card, you can keep track of how much money is in there, and when the money is gone — it is gone,” said Lauren Greutman, frugal-living expert and author of the book “The Recovering Spender.” “There is always the temptation to overbuy using credit cards because of the lack of proper boundaries.”
30. Pet Gifts
Americans are spending more than $60 billion on their pets, and they’re spoiling their animals over the holidays. Although you might want to give your dog or cat the very best during the holidays, keep in mind that they’re not going to know the difference between a $5 toy and a $50 one. Plus, if you’re constantly buying toys throughout the year — because your dog chews through his in a week or two — you’ll definitely want to consider a cheaper alternative.
To avoid a holiday hangover, stick to your holiday budget and make sure it includes these sneaky expenses. Try using a holiday budget guide to help you prioritize your savings. And next year, start saving early for your holiday budget, putting aside money each month in preparation for holiday expenses.
“Think about setting up a separate savings account just for Christmas next year,” Greutman said. “Learn how to make an extra $10 to $50 per month and put that aside to prepare for next year.”
Kaitlin Willow contributed to the reporting for this article.
Prices are current as of Nov. 8, 2017, and are subject to change.