‘Tis the season to spend a lot of money. While I love the holidays, they used to give me pangs of anxiety. Although I had a small circle of family and friends to gift, holiday shopping always left me in the red.
Who wants to start the new year with debt? Not me.
Over the years, I’ve used these 5 tricks to save more money while gifting generously during the holidays. Use these sneaky tips to show love to your friends and family—without breaking the bank.
1 – Agree on frugal gifting ahead of time
You don’t have to do the traditional exchanging of gifts for the holidays. My family has tried several frugal and sanity-saving options to shake things up.
We’ve done things like:
- Drawing names: Every Thanksgiving, our extended family would draw names and buy a gift for just one person. Instead of buying gifts for everybody, you were only on the hook for one present. Everyone got a gift and nobody had to spend their whole paycheck buying it!
- Going giftless: Some of my friends were horrified to hear I’ve done presentless Christmases, but I highly recommend them. It saves money, prevents so much stress, and helps me focus on the real meaning of the holidays: spending time with my family.
- Buying gifts only for the kids: Do you really need to exchange gifts every year? Last year, my family agreed to only buy gifts for all of the kids, and it worked out splendidly.
- DIYing your gifts: DIY can sometimes be more expensive than just buying a gift, so agree to keep the DIY gifts very modest. I’ve made DIY presents like homemade bourbon-soaked cherries, a hidden treasure chest made from an old book, and soup mixes.
The downside to these approaches is that everyone in your circle needs to agree on how you’re gifting this year. It’s super awkward if you agree not to buy gifts and you still receive one!
I’ve had a lot of success with these approaches, but if you can’t get your family to commit, you can still save money with the other tips on this list.
2 – Plan your holiday shopping
Long gone are the days of shopping mindlessly at the mall for everyone on my list. These days, I plan my holiday shopping to the tee, creating a plan by:
- Making a list of everyone I’m gifting this year.
- Looking at my finances and deciding on the total amount I can spend on gifts. (Typically this is $1,000, thanks to rewards credit cards)
- Dividing the total gift budget by the number of people on my list. So, if I have 10 people and a $1,000 budget, my limit per gift is $100.
- Calculating shipping and wrapping. My family is spread all over, so I have to account for more than just the cost of a gift. For example, if it costs $20 to ship something to my sister, it means I can spend $80 on the actual gift and still stay on budget.
- Planning gifts for everyone. I brainstorm a list of potential gifts for each person, as well as anticipated costs. This way, I know exactly what I need to buy, so holiday shopping goes quicker.
- Tracking everything in a spreadsheet. Maybe this sounds a little Type A, but a spreadsheet will help you track your budget and spending throughout the holidays.
It might be a little bit more work, but planning my gifts saves me so much time and money during an already busy part of the year. Gifting can easily get out of control if you aren’t structuring it, so whip out those spreadsheets if you want to shop frugally!
3 – Shop sales!
Well, this tip is obvious, but it’s always worth mentioning. A lot of people in my friend circle actually complete their Christmas shopping by early November. I guess I’m a procrastinator, because I don’t start shopping until early December.
And guess what?
That gives me access to holiday sales. Yes, it’s a little annoying to scour the sale papers or wait patiently for a Black Friday sale, but I save $100 – $400 every year by shopping sales first.
If you’re forgetful like me, set an alarm on your phone for Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales. Add a note on your phone for which products you’d like to buy, along with a URL to the sale page. Some products sell out fast, so make it easier for future-you to save money!
4 – Buy through discount sites
You can shoot yourself in the foot shopping on discount sites like Groupon, so shop discount sites at your own risk. But if you’re willing to read the fine print and save some money, you can shop through sites like:
- Groupon (for home goods, tech, and other products)
- Cardpool (for discounted gift cards)
- TechBargains (for discount technology)
You won’t always find good deals on these sites, but if you aren’t sure what to gift the people on your list, discount sites are a great place to start!
5 – Always use coupons or discount codes
I always, always search for discount codes or coupons when I buy anything. A simple Google search can pull up discount codes that will save you $5 – $20 on your order. I’d say that’s time well spent.
I use discount codes from:
- RetailMeNot: These codes don’t always work, but if you try 3 – 5 of them, you’re almost sure to strike paydirt.
- Honey: This is a browser extension that automatically applies discount codes. If there isn’t a code available, you can still redeem reward points by shopping through Honey.
- The brand’s app: Obviously this won’t work for all of your orders, but if you’re buying a gift from a brand with a rewards app, download it! More often than not, they’ll send you a few discount codes or offer perks like free shipping.
This is a best practice whether you’re shopping for the holidays or not—if you’re buying anything online, take 30 seconds to look for discounts.
The bottom line
This year has been hard enough already. Why complicate things by spending a bajillion dollars on holiday gifts? While you can expect to spend a little money on gifts, you can minimize your holiday spending with these 5 tips.
Contributor’s opinions are their own. Always do your own due diligence before investing.