Christmas is coming – and that’s got a lot of people very, very stressed out. Inflation is hitting hard all over, and people are struggling to handle their regular expenses, so it’s increasingly important to economize, even during the holiday season.
That’s not easy to do, however, when you’re trying to make the holidays merry and bright. Decorations, pictures with Santa, holiday cards, gifts and wrapping paper all cost money, and the dollars can start to add up pretty fast.
So, what can you do to slim down your spending this holiday season? The earlier you start, the better – so now is an excellent time to get your game plan together. Here are our tips:
1. Get a Budget Together (Then Trim It Down)
If you’re trying to save money, the absolute worst thing you can do is go shopping without a game plan. You’re almost guaranteed to lose track of what you’ve spent or underestimate just how hard it can be to avoid impulse buying.
Don’t know where to start? Try this:
- Make a list of every expense you’d normally have during the holiday season. Aside from gifts for each person in your immediate family, don’t overlook things like token gifts for your co-workers, gifts for extended family, photos with the kids to tuck in your Christmas cards, bottles of spirits, and the food for your family dinner or new decorations for the tree.
- Go back over the list and get ruthless. Call your extended family members and just tell them you’re cutting back this year, so you’d rather not do one-on-one gift exchanges this year. (The odds are high that they’ll be just as grateful.) Nix the photos with the mall Santa this year and skip the Christmas cards. Make a tray of cookies for the office as your goodwill gift and skip individual favors. Re-use last year’s decorations and Christmas sweater. Alone, those small cuts may not mean much; Together, they can add up to significant savings.
- Set some spending limits. You don’t want to go nuclear and forgo gifts entirely, especially if you have kids. You can, however, set a strict spending limit for each person and stick to it. Deciding in advance how much you’re willing to spend can force you to think creatively and buy consciously – and that leads both to less spending and more thoughtful gifts, so that’s a win-win situation.
- Ask people what they really want. By now, you should have narrowed your gift list down to just the essential people, so go ahead and ask them what they want or need. If your kids are small, they’ve probably already told you about a hundred times. If they’re older, you may want to hand them the cash and take them shopping.
There’s one more thing that parents may want to address, and that’s “the Santa issue.” If your kids are still young enough to believe in Santa Claus, they may also believe that the Jolly Old Elf has a magical and unlimited supply of gifts.
You can manage their expectations by explaining that Santa has so many toys to deliver that he only brings each child one special toy – all the rest has to come from the parents. That can help even small children understand that there are limits to what they can ask from Santa – while simultaneously relieving a lot of the pressure parents feel to buy to excess.
2. Shop Early, Use Sales and Skip the Rest
The pressure to spend lots of money starts early in the stores, and you really can’t avoid it – unless you just stay away. Probably the best tactic you can take is to get your shopping done early, make use of as many sales as you can (without waiting until Black Friday or Cyber Monday, when the pressure to buy and the fear of missing out can intensify).
Whether you primarily shop online or you put your dollars mostly into small, local businesses, you will save yourself a lot of stress – and some considerable cash – if you start ticking purchases off your list as soon as possible.
Once you’re done, stay out of the stores, don’t click any of those online ads and delete any promotions that hit your inbox. It takes a lot less willpower and psychological energy to resist all of the cute little “extras” that stores put out for sale right now if you just aren’t looking. (Just keep reminding yourself that there’s nothing out there you absolutely need, and you’ll see the same great bargains next year.)
3. Invent Some New Low-Cost or No-Cost Traditions
Finally, one of the biggest things you can do to reduce your holiday expenses is to create a few low-cost or no-cost traditions with your family and focus on experiences over gifts. No matter what the size or makeup of your family, this can include things like:
- Going for drives to look at all the holiday decorations and lights around town
- Baking cookies with the kids while you play holiday tunes in the background
- Skipping holiday parties and spending the evening watching holiday movies, instead
- Making gifts and cards for special friends or relatives (if you’re the creative sort)
The Bottom Line About Reducing Your Bottom Line
Christmas can be an absolute blast, but you won’t enjoy the holidays as much if you’re worried about paying for everything – so don’t. Put a plan in place, count your dollars carefully and make deliberate choices when you’re spending. That will keep you from going into debt this holiday season (and that will make for a much brighter New Year).