There’s no question the holidays are a time of excess in just about every way, and your wallet is sure to feel the hit, especially if you have a long list of people to shop for. In fact, the average American spent $976 on gifts in 2019.
That figure doesn’t include any of the other merriments like decor, food, and travel. So you do the math. You’ll quickly realize just how fast it all adds up. And no matter how happy your holiday is, a hefty credit card bill is enough to leave even the jolliest celebrant saying “bah-humbug.”
The good news: With a little forethought, you can avoid the big bills by saving for the Christmas season starting on, well, December 26. It’s not hard—as you’ll see here, many of the strategies are completely hands-off once you get your ducks in a row.
Get started today with these smart money-saving moves:
1. Set a budget
Make your list, and check it twice. Sure, you might end up adding one or two individuals to this list throughout the year, but once you know approximately how many people you’ll be buying for, you’ll be better equipped to set a budget.
And creating a budget is one of the most important things you can do to keep your spending in check. When you have a set dollar amount, you are less likely to spend blindly. You’ll be shopping with intention.
Write out each person’s name, then set a realistic dollar amount based on your relationship and their age. Then add up the total. Adjust if necessary until you have a realistic plan in place.
2. Try frugal February
Start the year off on the right foot by trying this fun annual tradition on for size. Here’s how it works: During the month of February, you simply commit to a money diet. Since it’s a short (and typically dreary month), it’s a great opportunity to buckle down and limit excess spending, like dinner out.
It can still be fun: Rather than dine at your favorite fancy restaurant on date night, cook up something special together—cheese fondue, anyone?
At the end of the month, check in. How did your spending compare to a more typical month? If you succeeded in saving money, put a portion of those funds aside for your holiday spending.
3. Download Acorns
This clever platform automatically rounds up any purchases you make on linked credit or debit cards to the nearest dollar. Then, you can save or invest that money. Acorns also offers cash back at over 350 retailers.
Yes, you do have to spend a little bit (the monthly fee is between $1 to $3, depending on the plan you choose), but the service makes saving nearly effortless. And you’ll be surprised how quickly those very painless incremental deposits add up.
4. Save your credit card points
If you have a rewards-based credit card that allows you to use points to buy goods or trade them in for cash back, use that card for the bulk of your purchases. Of course, you never want to put more than you can afford on a credit card, but if they’re sound purchases you’d make anyway, you can’t go wrong with this strategy.
At the end of each month, check in to see how many points you collected. Then, swap those points for cash back, and allocate those funds for your holiday spending.
5. Take advantage of sales
Why wait until the last minute to shop? Shopping ahead of time will save you more than your sanity during the always-frenzied holiday rush, chances are it’ll also reduce your costs.
Typically, post-holiday sales are some of the best all year. Sure, you’ll have to plan nearly a year in advance, but it’ll ultimately save you more than money. Imagine what it would feel like to go into the always-frenzied holiday rush with all of your shopping done already?
And even if you can’t get it together enough to check everyone off of your list, you can always use this time to stock up on other Christmas expenses, like wrapping paper, gift bags, tape, and holiday stationery.
6. Get cash back
Today, there are tons of browser extensions and websites that basically pay you to shop. Take Rakuten for example—when you shop through Rakuten, you can get cash back from over 2,500 stores.
How does it work, exactly? Stores pay companies like Rakuten a commission for the referral, then they share the commission with you in the form of cash back. It’s totally free—and a great way to save some extra cash.
7. Sell your belongings
No, we’re not suggesting you sell things you need or want. But chances are, if you look around, you’ll find plenty of perfectly good, usable items your family has out-grown or simply never thinks twice about. Think: clothes, baby gear, or even furniture.
List these items on sites like Facebook Marketplace or Poshmark, or bring them to local consignment shops. Put any money you earn towards your Christmas shopping. As a nice bonus, you’ll free up space for the influx of new stuff.