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The holiday season is coming up quickly. If you haven’t yet started shopping for your Thanksgiving feast or Christmas gifts, you’re not alone.
Some people have their Christmas shopping done by October, while others wonder how they’ll save enough money over the next two months to afford any gifts for friends and family.
Americans spend an average of $1200 or more for Christmas alone, including decorations, food, and gifts. If you aren’t able to save through the year for the holidays, it might seem impossible to save money as you’re spending it during the season.
You’re in luck, though, because there are several unique ways to save money this holiday season while still being able to gift what you want to who you want. (And, you may even get some cash back from your shopping!)
1. Keep Your Receipts
After you’ve done some of your holiday shopping, be sure to keep those receipts. With receipt scanning apps, you can earn cash back on some of your purchases just by taking a picture of your receipt with your smartphone. Earn anywhere between $.25 and $5 in cash back per item.
For example, with the Ibotta app you can earn cash back on groceries, electronics, restaurants, prescriptions and even more. In fact, you can even earn cash back by shopping online at some of their partner retailers such as Groupon and Hotels.com.
The best part? The Ibotta app is 100% FREE to join. Here’s a quick summary of how it works:
- Register for Ibotta by clicking this link here. The app is 100% FREE to use. Get a $10 bonus when you sign-up and redeem your first receipt.
- Browse through the Ibotta offers and select the store that you’re shopping at as well as the offer you want cash back on. Activate the offer by answering one or two quick survey questions.
- Take a picture of your receipt by clicking the “Redeem” button at the bottom of the app. Make sure the receipt is held on a flat surface so it’s legible and clear.
- Receive your credit. As long as you activated the offer and it shows up on your receipt, you should receive cash back from Ibotta within 48 hours.
- You can typically claim $.25 to $5 in cash back per offer. Increase this amount by having more than one offer on the Ibotta receipt.
- Once you reach a minimum of $20 in cash back in your account, you can cash out to Venmo, PayPal or for gift cards of your choosing.
Looking in earning more cash back than just with the Ibotta app? Here are 11 apps like Ibotta that let you do the same thing. Keep in mind that the majority of these apps only work for groceries, but there are a few that give you cash back for other categories as well.
2. Make a Detailed Plan and Budget
The key here is not just a gift plan, but a budget, too. How often have you made a list of everyone you’ve had to buy gifts for, but not included a budget for each person? More importantly, how many years have you gone without setting a budget at all?
It’s easy to start shopping blindly, only paying attention to getting the perfect gift for the people on your list. But, that’s the first step toward spending way more than you can afford.
Set a budget that you’re comfortable staying within for the full holiday season. This budget should include any food you need for meals, holiday decorations, travel expenses, and gifts for the months of November and December.
Then, break that budget down as detailed as possible. For example, create a plan for your holiday meals that lists all ingredients you’ll need to buy plus approximate prices. Add it all together and that should be your food budget. Deduct that cost from your total budget. Do the same for any decorations you may want to purchase.
Once you list who you want to purchase gifts for, you can allot a gift budget to each person. There’s one catch, though: You absolutely can’t go over this budget, no matter how “perfect” the gift is for that person! Remember that tax and shipping costs count, too.
3. Price Compare Gifts Online and In-Store
One of the best things you can do when you start shopping for gifts is not to let haste take over. Go into gift shopping with a plan for everyone on your list, detailing some ideas you have for each person.
Take a day or two to browse stores. Take another day or two to browse online stores. Put your comparison and money-saving skills to action by shopping around a few different brick-and-mortar and online stores to get the best price. Sure, it takes a bit longer to shop this way, but it can totally keep your budget in line.
If you have loyalty rewards for specific stores, be sure to check them out first. Sometimes, what seems like a better deal at first may not be as good as another deal using your rewards points or discounts. Don’t be afraid to break out the calculator and crunch numbers in the store, if needed. It’s all in the name of saving money!
You can also make your job a little easier using a price comparison app like ShopSavvy. If you find something in-store that you want to buy, scan its barcode and the app will display other retailers – both in-store and online – that sell that item, along with its current price tag.
You’ll know where to go to get the best deals and stay within your budget for each gift recipient.
4. Volunteer Your Time as a Gift
Volunteering your time in lieu of a physical gift is one of the most budget-friendly, yet underutilized, gift-giving methods during the holiday season. How many times have you gotten stuck with another pair of slippers you’ll never wear? Wouldn’t you rather have a gift that can help you in some way instead of one that you pack away in a closet?
Suppose you teach music in a middle school. Think of some people on your list who may have an interest in some free music lessons, like your nieces and nephews. Instead of purchasing gifts for them, gift them a couple of music lessons for free!
Tap into your skills to match the interests of others on your list. A newlywed couple might love some free cooking lessons, your mom might need some help refinishing the flooring in her home, and your pet-lover friend might want extra hands volunteering at the local shelter.
5. Play “Secret Santa” with the Family
You can save hundreds on holiday gifts if you and your family create a Secret Santa-type gift exchange rather than have everyone spend money on each person. With large families, especially, your gift-giving budget can take a huge hit, leaving you to spend less on each person and potentially buying unwanted gifts.
Ask your family members if they’d be interested in doing a Secret Santa together. This type of gift exchange involves each person choosing a random family member, usually by drawing names out of a hat, to purchase a gift for. You and your family can set a budget for the gift, like $50. You’ll spend much less money and every person in the family will still end up with a gift.
6. Share with Others
Sharing is caring, especially when it comes to your finances around the holidays! If you have a family that’s wide open to suggestions for making the holidays an easier time for everyone, you’re in luck.
We are in the dead center of the sharing economy, where we share everything from cars to rooms. Why? Because younger generations realize just how difficult it is to save and are starting to get smart about finances. The sharing economy helps people get what they want without paying full price for it through temporary rentals instead of flat-out purchases.
You can take this concept and run with it for the holidays. Ask your family members if they’d be willing to have a holiday decoration rotation every year. Each separate family can box up their tree ornaments and outside decorations and rotate them with the other families.
Each family gets new decorations for at least a few years and they don’t have to pay a dime!
Your family can do the same for hosting the holiday meals and gift-giving exchanges. Share the responsibility by rotating it each year, using one family’s home for the event. That family will be responsible for a good portion of the meal and activities, leaving others with a more budget-friendly holiday during their off-years.
To help curb costs when it’s your turn, ask your family to bring a covered dish and set out a jar for some donations.
7. Get Some Cash Back
Once you have your budget in place, you should still look for other opportunities to save money. Everything you do now can affect your savings through the year, so why not make your job easier next year by saving cash now?
So many people shop online without realizing that there are ways to get cash back for your purchases. Just by downloading a browser extension or visiting a website before making a purchase, you can get a percentage of your purchase back in points or cash.
It literally takes seconds to do and can save you hundreds per year, depending on the amount of online shopping you do. During the holidays, when online shopping is at its all-time high, is your best chance to get some serious cash back.
Two of the simplest ways to do this is with the Honey browser extension and Swagbucks, a cash-earning website.
Honey is available for several browsers. Before you make a purchase with a partnered online retailer, Honey will browse its database for money-saving coupon codes, like free shipping opportunities, and will automatically apply working codes to your cart.
Additionally, you can earn cash back on your final purchase cost using Honey, even if the extension couldn’t find a coupon code for you!
Swagbucks offers several ways to earn money, but one of the most lucrative is through cash back shopping. The site partners with tons of online merchants to provide a percentage of your purchase price back in SBs, Swagbucks’ currency.
You can earn up to 25% cash back for some retailers and Swagbucks frequently offers promotions that give extra cash back. Essentially, cash back shopping with Swagbucks gives you money off your purchase, but you won’t see the savings instantly.
Save your SBs until you have enough to redeem for a gift card. You can even get a PayPal gift card, which transfers your earnings straight to your PayPal account.
8. Use Credit Card Rewards Points
It’s best not to rack up hundreds of dollars on your credit cards during the holiday season – most of the time, anyway. When it might come in handy is if you already have rewards saved up on your cards that you can put toward your purchases as a statement credit.
Some credit cards also offer a comprehensive rewards catalog with products and gift cards that might make the perfect gift for someone on your list.
You can also use credit cards with high cash back percentages to purchase gifts. But, be sure to stick to your budget, as it can be tempting to keep swiping the card without paying attention to what you spend.
Most cash back offers can go right back in your pocket as a credit on your statement, so you’ll essentially pay less, in total, for your gifts. That is, if you remember to pay back your full balance so you don’t accrue tons of interest!
9. Or, Pay for Gifts with Cash
It might be a better idea for you to use cash to pay for your holiday gifts, meals, decorations, and other expenses, especially if you’re not-so-responsible with a credit card.
Not only does paying with cash ensure that you don’t work up any interest on your purchases, but it’s also gone when it’s gone. Give yourself the amount of cash that you figured out for your holiday budget and stick to it.
Cash also has the added benefit of being more secure than a credit card. During the holidays, especially, people become desperate for cash. That could equate to you becoming the target of identity theft or a stolen credit card. Keep yourself safe by leaving them at home and taking cash with you instead while you shop.
10. Have a Role in Your Child’s List for Santa
If you have kids, you know how fun it is for them to draw up their huge list of desired items from Santa. Think back to when you were a kid. You’d comb through catalogs, pay attention to TV commercials, and make mental notes of everything you saw in the store that you wanted. Your kid likely does the same.
Unfortunately, as a parent, you now also know that Santa’s budget is only as big as yours. To keep your child’s hopes and dreams within your budget, you’ll have to take an active role in that monster list of goodies from Santa.
Sit down with your child and create some rules. Even young kids in preschool can understand basic finances and budgeting.
Point out the differences between items that cost a lot and those that cost less and explain that, if she wants more presents to open on Christmas, she’ll need to pick more items with lower price tags for her list.
You can also explain that even Santa has a budget so he can make sure that he has enough resources for all children all over the world to be happy on Christmas morning.
If your child has phased out of believing in Santa, you can offer some financial limits. Set a budget and he can choose whatever he wants that falls within that budget.
11. Tweak Your Travel Schedule and Habits
Traveling around the holidays is a necessity for some, but it can put a huge strain on your holiday budget. A few tweaks to your travel schedule and habits, though, can put quite a bit of money back in your wallet.
First, book early. As in months early, if possible. Most airlines and hotels ramp up their prices closer to the holidays, usually around October, as last-minute bookings occur.
If you’re unsure if you can get the best price now or in a month from now, you can try an app like Hopper, which can predict when the flight you want might be at its lowest cost.
It’s also a good idea to fly on the date of the holiday. Most people want to be at their destination by the holiday, making the days before and after the busiest – and most expensive – times to fly or get a hotel room.
Some people even hold off on purchasing airfare until the day of the holiday, when airlines sell open seats for lower prices just to help fill the plane.
Be sure to take a cab to the airport or have a friend drive you, is possible. Parking your vehicle in the airport’s parking garage or nearby garages for the duration of your trip can have some serious consequences for your budget, especially around the holidays.
12. Focus on Cyber Monday Instead of Black Friday
Black Friday has come to be known as the best day of the year to score amazing deals on your holiday gifts. Is it really, though? Not if you’ve caught onto the incredible deals of Cyber Monday!
This day is the online version of Black Friday, taking place the Monday after the huge event, and – better yet – some retailers offer discounted prices on big-ticket items all week instead of just one day.
Amazon is one of the most popular online retailers that takes part in Cyber Monday, offering low prices on everything from flat-screen TVs and laptops to books and toys.
Be sure to check your favorite online retailers, though, to see if they have any Cyber Monday deals because it’s likely that they will. You can also visit the official site, Cyber Monday, for year-round deals and to stay up-to-date with tons of stores that participate in the actual day of savings.
Bonus – this is usually the best time also to get free shipping deals on items you buy, giving you even more savings than you can typically get when purchasing online!
Final Thoughts: Get Cash in Your Pockets This Holiday Season
The holidays tend to be the most stressful for those who have to worry about staying within a budget. But, now you have some handy tips to fall back on that can get you out of the budgeting blues this holiday season.
Your success lies in how well you stick to your financial plan and use cash-saving resources to put more money back in your pockets. These unique tips can put you on the path toward a stress-free holiday that doesn’t require digging yourself into a never-ending money pit.
Have any other ideas on how to save money this holiday season? Let us know in the comments below. Thanks for reading and happy frugaling!