12 WAYS TO SAVE MONEY DURING THE HOLIDAYS

Cutting your holiday spending doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice the quality of what you buy or shortchange friends and family on fun during this festive time of year. With a little planning, smart shopping and creativity, you can actually lower your spending this year and make it one of the most memorable holidays ever.

SPEND PROACTIVELY, NOT REACTIVELY

The first step to controlling your holiday spending and getting the biggest bang for your book is to plan what your holiday activities will be. This includes planning your entertainment, gift giving and who you’ll interact with during the holidays. Listing your activities in advance helps you plan your purchases and avoid impulse spending, last-minute panic buying (at higher prices) and unplanned splurging that cuts into your budget. Decide:

  • Who you’ll give gifts to
  • What parties you’ll throw or meals you’ll make
  • What parties or events you’ll attend
  • What you’ll decorate inside and outside of your home

FIND FREE ENTERTAINMENT

Check your community calendar for free holiday plays, concerts, Christmas walks, Santa visits and tree lightings. Organizing an evening of caroling, complete with a rehearsal party (here are some ideas for hosting your own caroling party). Look for neighborhoods that organize decorations up and down the block and take your car on a viewing jaunt with a thermos or two of hot chocolate.

USE A WISH-LIST GRAB BAG FOR ADULTS 

Now that you’re grown up, do you really need a gift from each of your siblings or in-laws? Use a Secret Santa grab bag into which each adult puts a list of desired gifts (or gift categories) they want that fall into an agreed-upon price range. Have everyone draw from the grab bag, giving the person drawing the name the option to buy a gift from the list they drew, or purchase something they know the recipient will like. This guarantees everyone gets at least one nice gift they want instead of receiving an armload of tacky ties, unreadable books or cheap perfumes. Don’t be skimpy – you can spend $30 to $50 on a gift for one person and still save money by not spending (potentially) hundreds on multiple gifts.

DECORATIONS: MAKE THEM AND BUY SMART

Have your children make decorations for your tree, mantle, staircase, windows or other areas of the house. Buy decorations used on Craigslist or at thrift stores. Check out local dollar stores, which offer loads of knick-knacks, wrapping paper and other Holiday items for surprisingly low prices. Make a note to shop for decorations immediately after each holiday, as well as during the summer, when stores practically beg you to take their stock.

SAVE ON BIG HOLIDAY MEALS

Go with a quality-over-quantity strategy when planning holiday meals. Make fewer side dishes but make each one special using our quick hacks for holiday feats. Set out smaller dinner plates to reduce overeating and the amount of food that gets thrown away when people load up their plates “because there’s room.” Offer a few, inexpensive and filling appetizers before the meal so people won’t gorge when the turkey and ham comes out.

BUY AWARD-WINNING LOW COST WINE

Inexpensive wines don’t have to be cheap. Check out our suggestions for inexpensive wines that will impress your family and friends.

HIT THE DOLLAR STORE

From decorations to table settings to staple foods and cute gifts, your local dollar stores have an amazing array of holiday items. Some stores offer multiple rows of great holiday deals.

BUY USED

You can probably give better gifts by buying used than you can by purchasing new. Ebay, Craigslist, thrift shops and stores like Play it Again Sports have an infinite number of high-quality, barely used or reconditioned items many people could never afford to give new. You can find high-quality, name brand exercise machines, sporting equipment, kitchen items, yard tools, furniture and clothing at a fraction of their new cost. Go through your closets, basement, attic and garage to see what you can trade for cash or credit at a thrift store.

USE ONLINE SHOPPING TOOLS

You’ll get the best deals on many holiday items you need if you surf the ‘net first, comparing prices, finding coupons, reading reviews and finding out who offers free shipping (or not). Once you hit the retail stores, don’t make unplanned purchases until you take a few minutes to check your phone to see who else is offering the shiny item in your hands, or if there’s a coupon for it.

DON’T USE CREDIT CARDS

If you spend $1,000 on holiday fun, put it on a credit card at 20 percent interest and carry that balance for a year, you’ve actually spent $1,200. And, the higher your balances, the lower your credit score and ability to get new credit or credit at lower APRs. If possible, use cash or pay off your credit card balance immediately to avoid these problems.

GIVE SERVICE GIFTS

You can save money and make gifts more personal by offering friends, family or co-workers a service gift you know they’ll appreciate. Make personalized cards that tell your gift recipients they are getting a night off while you babysit for them. Offer an elderly neighbor or relative a yard cleanup, complete with mowing, edging, weed whacking, gutter cleaning and leaf blowing or raking. Give a free car wash or auto detail. If you’re a good cook, offer to prepare and serve a meal for a family and clean up afterwards. Offer a week of dog walking or agree to pet sit when someone is away for a weekend. If you play tennis or golf, give a free lesson, especially to people who don’t play and might like to be introduced to the game.

MAKE YOUR OWN GIFT BASKETS

Using items from dollar stores and food goodies from big box retailers, you can create beautiful, fun and tasty gift baskets without spending $100 or more using an online service. Include a microwave popcorn packet, sodas and candy for a movie night basket. Create a picnic basket with some cheese, sausage, crackers, Dijon mustard, canned sardines and a $3 bottle of wine. Add toys, decorations, candies and cookies for a kid’s basket.

This article was written by Sam Ashe-Edmunds, contributor for The Daily Clutch.

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