How to Celebrate the Holidays on a Budget

How to Celebrate the Holidays on a Budget

‘Tis the season for overspending. Here are tips that can help you stay on the right financial track.  

The holidays are a joyous time of year. Unfortunately many people get into the spirit of the season by overspending on just about everything, from gifts and decorations to entertaining and travel. The National Retail Federation reports that in 2018, holiday sales could be as high as $720.89 billion – that’s up to a 4.8 percent increase over 2017. What are your plans for the holidays? Instead of spending more this year, why not buck the trend and opt to spend less?

Cutting back on your holiday expenses doesn’t mean sacrificing fun and festivities with family and friends. In this guide we’ve compiled some strategies you can use to save on your seasonal celebrations. Don’t feel pressured to spend more than you can afford. With these tips you can have the best holiday ever–on a budget!

General Money-Saving Tips

  • Create a budget

Create a budget to help you stay on the right financial course during the holidays. Break down how much you can spend on each type of holiday expense such as gifts, travel, cards, holiday tips, decorations, and entertainment. Be realistic. The numbers, which will be your guide throughout the season, should reflect how much you are comfortably able to spend on the different categories without using your credit cards.
For help getting started, there are budget templates online you can download, such as this free Excel holiday budget planner. Fill in your budget and throughout the season you can fill in the actual amount you spend and calculate the difference. This information can be helpful for assessing and managing your holiday purchasing decisions.

  • Pay with cash

While debit cards and credit cards are convenient payment methods, paying with good old cash is generally the best way to keep your budget in check. It can be too easy to overspend when you pay with a debit card or a credit card since you are not looking at real money. Paying with a credit card can also lead to a holiday hangover of revolving debt if you are unable to pay the balance in full when it is due.
By paying with cash, you can really see how many dollars you are spending. When shopping, bring a set amount of cash with you and leave your credit cards and debit cards at home so you won’t be tempted to spend more money than you have on hand.

  • Do your research

An unplanned shopping outing is a recipe for an uncontrolled spending disaster. Be a savvy shopper and do your research before you head to the store or mall.  Compare prices online or scour the newspapers for the best deals. It is best to know exactly what items you want to buy and how much they should cost before you walk in the door.

  • Get social for savings

Follow your favorite stores and brands on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook. Social media friends and followers are often privy to exclusive deals and coupons.

  • Resist impulse purchases

Retailers place certain merchandise in strategic areas that will trigger impulse buying, i.e., candy at the supermarket checkout, point-of-purchase sock displays at apparel stores, etc. It can be difficult, but try to resist the temptation to purchase items that you hadn’t planned to buy. View this infographic for 5 tips on how to avoid impulse buying.

  • Take advantage of coupons, sales and military discounts

Whether you are purchasing gifts or groceries, try to buy items that are on sale or that can be bought for less with a coupon.  To find sales and coupons, look online or through your mail or newspaper advertisements. Sometimes a friend or family member may have a coupon they are not using.  Read this Omni blog post for more couponing tips.

And don’t forget that as a member of the United States military, you may also be eligible for military discounts. Many retailers, restaurants, hotels, car rental services, and other providers of goods and services are proud to honor America’s heroes with special savings.  Visit a business’s website to see if it advertises a military discount, or simply inquire in person or over the phone. Always have your military ID with you so that you can take advantage of any available military discount.

Save on Gifts

  • Give a gift from the heart

It really is the thought that counts. Consider giving some of your family and friends gifts like a heartfelt handwritten note or poem, a framed picture, or a handmade book of “coupons” that can be redeemed for various chores and activities. These meaningful gifts don’t cost a lot but in the end, they are priceless. Need some inspiration? Here are 20 fantastic gift ideas that cost nothing to make.

  • Look for free shipping

If you do your shopping online, always try to find free shipping. Some retailers offer it standard with any order or with a minimum purchase.  Even more retailers offer it on what is known in the retail industry as “Free Shipping Day.” This is an annual event where online merchants offer free shipping with guaranteed delivery by Christmas Eve. This year’s Free Shipping Day takes place on Friday, December 14.

  • Cut down your gift list 

Trimming your holiday gift list doesn’t have to make you look like Scrooge – if you approach it the right way. If you have a large family and typically exchange gifts with everybody, ask your family members if they would be open to giving gifts just to the children. You could also ask everyone to pick a name and buy a gift just for that one person.
Another idea is to create new family holiday traditions that don’t involve gifts. Volunteer at a soup kitchen, take a drive to view holiday lights, or bake cookies together. The memories you make doing things as a family will last longer and are much more meaningful than an expensive gift.  This Omni blog talks about some fun and inexpensive holiday traditions you may want to incorporate into your celebrations.
Be honest with your family members about your desire for a more modest gift list.  Once you bring up the subject of cutting back, you might find that other family members are just as concerned about holiday spending as you and would welcome the opportunity to limit the gift exchange.

Save on Entertaining

  • Throw a potluck

Getting everyone together doesn’t have to mean going over your budget. Go potluck and ask everyone to bring their favorite main course, side dish, dessert or drink. Not only will this save you money but it will reduce your stress and your guests will have the opportunity to try a variety of new foods and treats. To avoid having too much of one type of item, like desserts or side dishes, try to find out what everyone is bringing in advance.

  • Think beyond dinner

Formal dinners can get expensive. Instead, invite people over for brunch or cocktails and hors-d’oeuvres. Visit HGTV for 25 tasty and inexpensive finger food ideas that are easy to make.

  • Get free food rewards

During the holidays, some grocery stores reward frequent shoppers with a free turkey, ham or other food item. Look for stores in your area that offer these types of promotions and consider shopping at them if it makes financial sense. That is, be sure the grocery store offers other money-saving deals that make it worth it to shop there. It doesn’t pay to shop at a grocery store just to get a free food item if you are spending more in the long run.

  • Shop at commissaries and warehouse stores

Cut your entertaining costs by shopping at commissaries. As a member of the military you have access to this popular benefit that can add up to 30% savings on purchases when compared to commercial prices. Use coupons and combine them with commissary sales and promotions to save even more.
Also check out warehouse stores like BJ’sCostco, and Sam’s Club that may offer special incentives or discount memberships to the military.  These stores are good places to visit if you need to purchase items in bulk. Keep in mind though that bulk buying doesn’t mean that it is necessarily cheaper. Check per unit prices to see if you really are getting a good deal.

  • Avoid overbuying

In an effort to be a good host, you might overbuy food and drinks. This can leave you with too many leftovers that may need to be thrown out. Wasted food is wasted money.  Here is a servings calculator that can help you estimate how much you will need to serve your guests.  It includes items such as hors-d’oeuvres, cheese, soup, vegetable sides, turkey and more.

Save on Decorating

  • Don’t buy things you already have

Before buying more lights, wrapping paper, or other holiday items, take an inventory of what you already have. It can be easy to forget that you purchased extra lights or decorations last year since they have been packed away for 12 months.
It is better to spend your money on this year’s holiday essentials than on items that are similar to what you currently own.  If you want to add to your holiday décor collection, take advantage of after-holiday sales where you can score big savings on lots of seasonal items.

  • DIY

You don’t have to be super crafty to create beautiful holiday decorations for your home. With some simple, inexpensive supplies and a little creativity, you can adorn your home with DIY wreaths, table displays, garland, candlesticks and more.  And don’t forget that craft stores including Jo-Ann FabricMichaels and A.C. Moore Arts & Crafts have military discounts!
Save on Travel

  • Choose your flight time carefully

If you are traveling by air, keep in mind that the most affordable times to fly are generally Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays, and late at night and very early in the morning.

  • Contact hotels directly

Sometimes the best rates are not the ones that are advertised online. If you have a hotel in mind, call it directly and ask for the best available rate. Also inquire about any discounts that you may be eligible for such as a military discount or AAA.

  • Comparison shop

Websites such as TravelocityExpediaKayakHotels.comOrbitz, and others make it easy to comparison shop for the best flights, accommodations and vacation packages. If you need an airline ticket and a hotel, purchasing a package may save you money over booking separately.

  • Save with military discounts 

As mentioned before, military discounts can be a great source of savings. Whether you are traveling to visit family or are planning a little R&R break, there are plenty of discounts available to active duty military.  Read the following blogs for more detailed information on how you can receive discounts on hotels, airfare, car rentals, vacation packages, and much more:

Keep an Eye on Your Financial Goals

There is no doubt that it can be tempting to overspend during the holidays. But with some strategic planning and creative thinking, you can celebrate the holidays on a budget, without forgoing all the cheer this season has to offer.

Whether you want to reduce your debt, go on a vacation, buy a home, or save for the future, keeping sight of your long-term financial goals can help you avoid overspending now. When you feel like you’re going off track, try to refocus on the true spirit of the holidays. It’s supposed to be the season of giving, not the season of buying.  Holiday happiness is not dependent on how much money you spend. Spend time with the special people in your life and create cherished memories that will last a lifetime. Those are the best gifts of all.

Have a frugal and festive holiday season!

The information provided in this blog post is for informational purposes only. It should not be considered legal or financial advice. You should consult with a financial professional to determine what may be best for your individual needs.