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With all the hustle and bustle of the holiday season, it is sometimes easy to get to a point where you simply fling your hands up in the air, throw caution to the wind, whip out the plastic and tell yourself you’ll deal with after New Year’s. There is seemingly so much to do and not enough time to get it all done, and trying to be thrifty, well, who really has time for that this time of year?
While it might feel overwhelming, or even a little bit impossible, there ARE easy, practical and–dare we say it–almost painless ways to save during the holidays. Diligence matters and small savings here and there can add up to a much happier January. Wouldn’t it be nice to go into the New Year with a surplus rather than a deficit? Make this year your year to stay in the black. Here’s how!
1. Plan and Budget
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again—planning ahead will always keep you on track. Sitting down for even just a few minutes to be realistic about your family’s goals, needs, and expectations for the holidays can save you time and money–not to mention your sanity–later on. Our free holiday planner is a fabulous tool to keep yourself on budget, on a menu, and on a schedule. It’ll help you save, prioritize and cut out all those little extras that can really add up.
2. Stick to Cash
While setting a budget is important, it is just as important to stick to it! Don’t allow yourself wiggle room by bringing your credit cards along when Christmas shopping. While this might seem a little extreme–after all, what if you don’t bring enough money, or decide you need something else while out and about–bringing cash only is the surest way to make sure your resolve doesn’t wane in the face of all those Christmas bargains.
Bring a calculator along too and take the time to really crunch the numbers, and you may even surprise yourself by coming in under budget this year. You could even make it a personal challenge! How great would it be to have a little extra cash on hand for a fun family activity or special treat?
3. Shop Black Friday
Black Friday can, in fact, be a good time to score some fantastic deals, especially on big-ticket items. The trick to truly saving is to be very deliberate, map out your route and–wait for it–plan ahead. Deal sites like BlackFriday.com, offer “leaked” ads up to a few weeks beforehand, which can help you figure out the best way to stretch your budget. Spend a little time getting your list together and find the best deals for your big-ticket items only.
You will want to look at the doorbuster deals, of course, but don’t bank on them. (It might be difficult to be one of the first 100 people through the door, especially at a busy store.) Most stores offer the majority of their deals online, as well as in-store, complete with shipping options or the ability to pick up the item at a convenient time. Save yourself the headache (and risk of being trampled) at 2am and instead be methodical about your purchases.
If you’re in an area that offers multiple outlets of the same retail chain, try to get to one that’s a little further out, as everyone will go to the one in town. Get there early and plan your route carefully. Don’t be distracted and sucked in to other offers. (If you’re bringing your cash in hand and have budgeted correctly this should be easy.)
For more tips on getting the best Black Friday deals, check out this post.
If, like me, you plan to do your shopping online, you can often score even better deals on Black Friday than on Cyber Monday. Plus, you’re assured of availability on hot-ticket items. One of the easiest ways to save online is by earning cash back on all your purchases. Set up an account through Inbox Dollars, then download the Inbox Dollars shopping tool to your browser to easily earn cash back anytime you visit a participating website. Set it up in advance (it takes about 5 minutes) so that it is all ready to go & you won’t have to think about it come Black Friday! (Find out more about how Inbox Dollars works HERE.)
4. Get Crafty
One of the best ways to stretch your holiday budget is to to look for simple ways to DIY. Handmade gifts are not only cost effective, the are usually far more appreciated than just another trinket from the store. Don’t underestimate the meaning and sentiment in a hand-crafted item. Check out this list of ten wonderful gifts you can make for less than $10 each, none of which require any super creative talent.
Even if you aren’t the crafty type, you can find a myriad of extremely simple ways you can print, snip, create and make something special for loved ones. If you’re computer-savvy, make a calendar with photos of the kids for grandma, or design a recipe booklet for your sister. Gather some favorite photographs and use a service like Mixbook (my favorite–use promo code NOV14 to save 50% through Monday, November 17th!) to have it printed. You can even get creative–and thrifty–with your wrapping. A roll of inexpensive white butcher paper and red & green crayons or colored pencils can make for charming DIY wrapping paper!
5. Focus on Family Time
Holiday time means lots of activities—from plays, pageants, ice-skating and holiday-themed entertainment, an entire budget can easily be blown on just a few activities. This year, try to make it about spending time as a family.
Watching movies on Netflix or scheduling an evening around a television airing of a favorite Christmas program can make for an inexpensive evening. Tap into your home video collection and have every family member pick a favorite. Pop popcorn, brew up some hot chocolate, and have a movie marathon. Not only do you avoid the $10-$12/person movie theater prices, but you don’t have to fight with crowds, pay a fortune for snacks or listen to annoying movie patrons talking during the show—PLUS everyone gets to watch in their jammies! Huge bonus!
Get some friends together and go caroling in your neighborhood or at a local assisted living facility. Yes, it may sound hokey, but it can actually be really fun. Make a paper chain, decorate snowmen ornaments out of felt or cotton balls, or cut snowflakes from paper. Put on some Christmas tunes and jam out as a family.
Another charming idea is to check out 12 holiday-themed books from the library and read a different book as a family each night, or, take a Christmas classic and tackle a chapter each evening on a countdown to Christmas. Read the Christmas story from the Bible with your family. With the lights down low and the family gathered around you, I guarantee you’ll feel the spirit of the season.
Break out the board games one night, a deck of cards, or even a puzzle. Family memories are made through simple times and interaction. Just getting everyone to look up from their screens and interact and have fun can really be the highlight of the season.
6. Save on Food
Big family dinners can get pricey fast, especially if you’re not paying attention. Taking the time to plan your menus in advance and stock up on food while it is on sale will go a long way in keeping your costs down. Get more practical tips for saving on food for the holidays HERE. There’s even a video!
When you make holiday dinners, don’t be afraid to shop your pantry and incorporate ingredients that you have on hand. Also, there’s no rule that you have to use a brand-name ingredient if you’re putting it in a recipe. No one will be able to tell once it’s cooked. Just buy what’s on sale and what you have coupons for, and realize that you don’t have to go all out.
I don’t know about you, but to me it’s not the holidays until I’ve spent a day baking up a storm. Luckily with all the great grocery sales that happen this time of year, baking can be one of the best bargains of the season as well. Stock up on flour, sugar and other basics as they go on sale over the next few weeks, then spend some time getting your sugar fix. It doesn’t have to be fancy—try going for classic recipes—sugar cookies with sparkles, are often very inexpensive to make and can really stretch.
If you’re hosting a party, think pot-luck and have everyone pitch in. Alternately, do a soup, taco or potato bar, and with a relatively inexpensive base you can let everyone get a hearty comforting meal and enjoy a festive get-together (for pennies).
7. Skip the Decorations
Between Martha Stewart, Pottery Barn and Crate & Barrel, we can sometimes tend to go a little overboard on the decorations, and feel the need to top the year before. Get back to basics by using simple items to decorate—bring in things from nature, scent your home with a few drops of cinnamon or pine essential oils, and have the kids make decorations.
Last year, you may not have shopped the sales, but this year stock up on a few Christmas items after the holiday is over. You can get 50-75% off starting the first day after the holiday, and the savings only stacks up from there. If you’re in the market to purchase a faux tree, bulbs or other items, post-Christmastime is the perfect time to do it—and you’ll thank yourself next year.
Another bit of advice is to go retro. While some vintage items can be very pricey, charming feather trees, ornaments and brick-a-brack can be found at flea markets and antique stores, cleaned up and given great new life. Make door hangers from children’s artwork. Decorate with popcorn, cranberries, paper chains and tinsel.
8. Give Time, Not Money
Instead of stressing over gifts for your friends and family, why not instead agree to forgo a gift exchange in favor of a coffee date after the holidays are over and things have calmed down? Chances are the promise of spending time with a dear friend, enjoying each other’s company, catching up—and yes, venting–will mean more than a gift ever could.
Try writing a letter to someone, thanking them for what they bring to your life. Agree that you and your spouse will spend an afternoon going for a bike ride or a hike, or even window shopping, as your gift to each other. Walk, hold hands, and enjoy each other’s company.
Encourage your children to give acts of service. Shoveling snow or sprucing up around a neighbor’s yard or house can be a great gift. Homemade coupons for services are always a delight—think babysitting, help with homework, or other things that siblings can do for each other.
9. Keep Gifts Practical
I know it sounds little Grinch-ish, but kids really don’t need more than one toy for Christmas.
One special item, an educational toy or treasure can be just as meaningful as three Barbie dolls, a fleet of action figures or tiny pieces of Littlest Pet Shop that will be lost in a few weeks anyway (if not a few days), and a few well-chosen items will get more use than a whole pile of the latest “hot” toys. Check out this list of 30 awesome gifts under $30 for some innovative ideas that won’t break the bank.
If your family chooses to give gifts from Santa, try having the special gift come from him. Parents can fill in with books, clothes and practical gifts that children will need and continue to use throughout the year. Or, keep the mom and dad gifts simple, as grandparents, friends and others will give toys and other items. I promise the absence of excess will not be noticed.
10. Give it Away
It may sound counter-intuitive to give things away in order to spend less during a holiday, but there is something magical happens when we turn our focus outwards towards others. The act of giving gifts changes our mindset and helps put us in a frame of mind where we able to fully appreciate what we have even more. Encouraging children and family members to think of others during this time can help them realize what they have and what they can appreciate in their own lives.
Just like the story of the Grinch—when we learn to give, our hearts truly grow three sizes. We suddenly notice the simple beauty of the things around us. Make it a family goal to give for 12 days or to give for the entire month of December. Try giving your time and kindness to others. Stay in the spirit of the season, and remember—it’s not about receiving, but about giving back.
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What are some ways you save during the holidays?