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Strategies To Cut Back On Holiday Expenses That Actually Work

Lindsay Tigar  |  December 8, 2021

You can still give a lot, but you’ll pay much less with these expert-guided ideas. (And we promise you’ll still have an amazing holiday season + celebrations!)

With all the festivities, cheer, and charm, the holidays are a wonderful time to reconnect with our nearest and dearest. But they’re also expensive, requiring us to fork over cash for gifts, travel, decor, attire, and more. Many Americans need to start saving for these pricey months ahead of time. But if you weren’t able to do that, and now you’ve found yourself  in the thick of it, you may need some creative and clever strategies to cut back. Luckily, there are some small yet meaningful ways to spend less but still enjoy all the splendor of the holidays. We checked in with financial gurus for their secret hacks, tricks and tips. 

Prepare by creating a budget and an action plan. 

You should make a list and check it twice. As with anything that costs a pretty penny, doing prep work will save you many headaches. That’s why style therapist Julie Kraus recommends creating a budget and plan for all of your holiday-related expenses, including gifts, travel, and everything in-between. Then, you can turn to this to hold yourself accountable as you become tempted to buy more than necessary or say ‘yes’ to a party that doesn’t quite fit into your means. (You know the ones.) 

Gift experiences over materials. 

When you think about holidays past, you likely don’t zero in on a gift. Instead, it’s the memories you made with loved ones, laughing, catching up and making new traditions. As you brainstorm presents, one way to save money is to prioritize gifting experiences and memories over material items, says Sue Zhou, personal finance expert and associate general counsel at Digit

“Consider experiences like virtual wine tastings or local Airbnb experiences, and sentimental items like a painting of a shared experience, framed artwork or photos, or a personalized note written in a way that can be saved for years to come,” she says. “This strategy will not only save you money, but also help the environment and bring you closer to your friends and family.”

Regift Gift Cards 

The next time you’re doing a clean sweep of your office or junk drawer, you’ll likely find never-used gift cards to various stores, theaters and even Airbnb. And while regifting, say, cookies or lip balm is definitely not cool, something like a gift card that’s untouched, perfectly good, and will still bring someone joy, can be perfect, says personal finance expert Shibani Joshi. “With family, consider a swap of gift cards or drop them in as stocking stuffers,” she says. “You can also use gift cards to treat friends and family to experiences. Write a handwritten card and invite a friend or loved one on an ice cream date to use the Baskin Robbins gift card you have or on a movie date to use your AMC gift card,” Joshi explain. 

Avoid “Buy Now, Pay Later” (BNPL) options.

Though some stores and companies offer enticing ‘buy now, pay later’ incentives, it can be a very slippery slope. As Zhou says, these are only recommended if you view them as short-term credit solutions you know you will be able to pay off the payments on time. Otherwise, you’ll be hit with unexpected fees. “If you do choose to go this route, set up automatic payments or set calendar reminders for yourself to ensure you make every payment on time,” she continues. “It is much better to save for holiday expenses prior to purchase and to use these options as a last resort.”

Host A Family Toy Swap 

As all parents know, kids have a way of collecting many more toys than they actually need. When you get together all of the cousins, it can seem like a toy store opened up in your living room! Rather than buying new, suggest a family or friend toy swap to unload books, gear and other items your children have outgrown, Joshi recommends. “Your kids finished with ‘The Babysitter’s Club’ series? The chances are that someone in your school or community would love to get their hands on it,” she continues. “This is a great way to reduce consumption and get your kids items they will love. Add a charitable component and donate proceeds to a local charity or donate un-swapped goods to a local shelter.”

Also, if you have a larger family, continue this strategy with all gift-giving to simply buy less. This will require an honest, open conversation, but it can relieve much pressure, says Lauren Bringle, an accredited financial counselor with Self Financial. She suggests drawing names from a hat and everyone buying a gift for just one other person. Or, another option is to agree to buy presents just for the kids and share activities or time for the adults, she adds. 

Try Consignment Or Vintage Shopping 

With supply chain shortages on seemingly everything, Joshi says the best bet to ensure unique gifts are under the tree is to visit stores in person or look for items you know will be in stock. “Consignment shopping has gotten an upgrade thanks to growing popularity, its eco-friendly status and more players,” she continues. “Try a local consignment store or go online to ThreadUp or Poshmark.”

Remember, Thoughtful Doesn’t Have To Mean Expensive 

Bringle recommends getting to know your loved one’s love languages to understand better what gestures would mean more to them than a wrapped gift. For example, receiving gifts is only one of the five major love languages. “The others are acts of service, words of affirmation, physical touch and quality time,” she continues. “If someone receives love through words of affirmation, write them a letter about how much they mean to you. If quality time is their Love Language, plan a fun, memorable activity you can do together. These things can go a long way for very little money.”


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