How to Save Money (And Stick to Your Budget) This Holiday Season

Written by Patricia Guevarra

A big stack of Christmas presents wrapped in red, brown, white, gold, polka dots and more.

The holiday season means more than just eating your body weight in food—it can also mean mindlessly scanning store shelves for gifts to buy with money you may not have. Every year, I tell myself I’ll save money by being smart about my holiday expenses, and every year, I fail to take the proper measures to do so and my bank account suffers the consequences.

If you’re anything like me, you’ve probably also found yourself in a hole a few hundred dollars deep during the holidays. But, you’re definitely not alone; according to a survey done by MagnifyMoney, Americans racked up an average of $1,054 of debt last holiday season! This year, let’s do everything we can to avoid being a part of that statistic.

Here are a few tips to help you save this holiday season:

Budget appropriately.
And I don’t mean make a mental list of things you need and ballpark a random dollar amount you think will suffice. Take the time to really sort out the expenses you expect to make this holiday season and budget accordingly. This means that you should also save money for activities that don’t involve shopping for gifts because chances are, you’ll be spending money on little things like cookies to bake, ice skating, gas to visit family, dinners, apparel for said dinners and so on. These transactions will quickly add up and take away from your gift-giving budget.

Person lays down cookie dough shaped like Christmas trees and snowmen onto a baking pan

Choose the simple date.
Speaking of things that will add up, those holiday activities you partake in with your boo, your friends, your family—whoever—will make a hefty dent in your budget. Get ahead of your own spending and make sure you are choosing dates that will save you a pretty penny. Skip the trip to the crowded amusement park and go on a hunt for the best neighborhood lights display instead. Skip the expensive holiday dinner at the five-star restaurant and opt for a night-in with your favorite holiday movies. After all, the holidays are about spending time with your loved ones, not with your debt.

Opt for cash only for all your shopping.
We’re making it rain cash money this holiday season. Instead of blindly trusting yourself to stick to your budget, withdraw the amount of money you are willing to spend and use that for shopping. This way, you won’t be tempted to convince yourself you absolutely need that scarf for Aunt Petunia and exceed your budget. If cash isn’t a feasible option this year, be sure to utilize your low-interest credit card to ensure you save yourself from massive future payments.

Get a head start on your shopping.
Now that your budget and form of payments are all sorted out and settled, it’s time for the fun (and a little terrifying) part: shopping! We are a week out from Black Friday, and there is no better time to start scouting deals online and in-stores. The longer you wait, the higher those prices go up, and who wants to be forced to navigate that last-minute shopping crowd anyway? It’s never too early to do your homework and start looking for sales, clearances and coupons! Try sites like RetailMeNot, Groupon and The Krazy Koupon Lady to help start you off.

Two women shop online on their laptop and tablet with wrapped presents, cookies and tea surrounding them

Consider giving your loved ones nonmonetary gifts.
Is Aunt Petunia even going to like that scarf you picked out? That box of holiday chocolates you gave your cousin will probably only last all of five minutes. Did your significant other really need or want you to spend hundreds of dollars on an extravagant gift that you’ll just be forced to upstage next holiday season? Save yourself the headache of perusing the hundreds and hundreds of shelves at the store, and try putting more thought into your gifts. Craft something for your loved ones! Here are some ideas you can mull over if you’re feeling stuck.

Figure out a post-budget plan in case you need to recover.
Up until recent years, I was never someone you could rely on to stay within any kind of budget, and although I’ve utilized tips and tricks to get my spending in order, old habits do die hard. That’s why it’s important for me to have a post-budget plan in case my attempts to save money during the holidays goes awry. So what does a post-budget plan look like? Start by mapping out how much you spent versus how much you had initially planned to spend. Still in the positive? Congratulations, you’ve managed to stay within your holiday budget, something 57 percent of Americans admit they can’t do. In a bit of debt? Ask yourself how you can practically pay it off and start making your payment plan now! Whichever way the budget goes, use the information you find to make an even more effective budget plan next holiday season!

Budgeting and saving is hard, no matter what time of year it is. Throw the holidays in the mix, and it can be near impossible, but with the right mindset and tools, you can absolutely do it! To learn more about saving for the holidays, tune in to our #CreditChat on Periscope, YouTube Live and Twitter. Happy Savings!

Woman shops with a tablet in hand. One bag says "Black Friday"

Topic: How to Save Money (And Stick to Your Budget) This Holiday Season

When: November 21, 2018 at 3 p.m. ET. 

Easy ways to chat with us on Twitter: Tchat

The panel included: Rod Griffin: Director of Public Education at Experian; Andrew Schrage: CEO at Money Crashers; Debbi KingPersonal Finance Expert; Kathryn & Jessica: Lawyer & Aerospace Engineer; Kimberly Palmer: Personal Finance Expert; Liz: IT Project Manager; Melisa Boutin: Certified Financial Education Instructor; Paul Vachon: Owner of The Frugal Toad; Yanely Espinal: Director of Educational Outreach at Next Gen Personal Finance; DJ & Dannie: Personal Finance Bloggers; Scott & Bethany: Financial Advisors; and Chris Chen: Fiduciary Wealth Strategist.

Questions We Discussed:

  • Q1: How do you figure out how much your budget should be during the holidays?
  • Q2: What’s a good way to track all of your holiday expenses?
  • Q3: When should I start saving for the holidays?
  • Q4: What is the best way to save on traveling during the holiday season?
  • Q5: How do you find the best deals for gifts?
  • Q6: Should you use credit cards to pay for all the holiday expenses?
  • Q7: Is it okay to use my emergency funds for the holidays?
  • Q8: When is the best time to shop for holiday gifts?
  • Q9: Are Black Friday deals better or should I skip the long lines and wait for Cyber Monday instead?
  • Q10: Any final tips on how to save money and stick to your budget this holiday season?

Woman sips on latte as she shops online on her phone.

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