It’s still summer but the holidays are closer than you think so now is the time to start preparing. We’ll show you 28 ways to save money on the upcoming holidays.
Decorations Are Already Up
It’s only August, but I was in a big home improvement store last week, and there were Halloween decorations everywhere already! As it’s still one million or so degrees in New Orleans, Halloween and autumn aren’t on my radar yet, but they’re coming and so are all of the rest of the big holidays for the year.
If Halloween sneaks up, Thanksgiving and Christmas seem to come twice as fast. One minute ago you were nursing a sunburn and the next; you’re at the mall on Christmas Eve frantically trying to buy presents for the rest of the people on your gift list.
I’m not sure why these holidays sneak up on us because they happen the same time every year (well, Thanksgiving moves around a little but not much).
They do though but not this year! This year we’re getting the jump on those sneaky holidays.
1. Use receipt scanning apps that pay you free cash when you take a picture of your store receipt. All of these apps are 100% free, and you can earn anywhere from $.25 cents to $5 off of your next purchase. Some of these apps even pay you to shop online. Here’s a list of a few of our favorites:
- Ibotta ($10 bonus when you sign-up using promo code qFTVA and scan your first receipt)
- Shopkick (250 point sign-up bonus: get paid to scan receipts, shop online, walk into stores, link your card and more)
- Fetch Rewards ($1.50 bonus when you sign-up using promo code HH3MN)
2. Link your debit or credit card with Drop and automatically get cash back on your purchases. When you sign-up, select from a list of 5 retailers. Use your linked debit/credit card at these retailers and earn free points that can be used to cash out for free gift cards. This is one of the easiest methods on the list. Get a $1 bonus when you link your first card.
We might not consider Halloween to be one of the “big money” holidays because it’s not a gift-giving holiday like Christmas or Valentine’s Day. But Americans spent $8.4 billion on Halloween in 2016. You might be thinking, “That’s a lot of nasty candy corn!”
But Halloween is different now; it’s big business. When I was a kid we cut eye, nose, and mouth holes in an old white sheet as a ghost costume, we used a pillowcase to hold our loot, our decorations were whatever construction paper masterpiece we’d made that week in school, and my parents handed out mini candy bars.
Halloween is much more elaborate than it used to be. Search for crazy Halloween decorations on Youtube, and you’ll be amazed. It also used to be primarily a holiday for children but why should kids get to have all the fun (and candy!)? Adults have thrown themselves into the spirit of Halloween too.
And there is nothing wrong with living it up with decorations, costumes, and candy but remember, we have two more holidays to get through so we can’t afford to blow the budget on the first one of the season. So let’s save some money on Halloween.
3. When buying decorations, buy mostly fall themed things. Items with pumpkins, fall leaves, corn stalks, you know the kind of stuff. Witches, jack o lanterns, and black cats are specific to Halloween but fall themed items can be used from September through November to decorate your home.
4. Candy has a long shelf life, so you don’t need to wait until a few days before Halloween to buy it. Stores, especially drug stores, have candy on sale many times throughout the year. When you see a sale, stock up.
5. Don’t wear a store bought costume! I live in New Orleans where costuming is a part of the culture and not just on Halloween. We costume for Mardi Gras parades, for Mardi Gras parties, for the big festivals, because it’s a Tuesday, or maybe just because all of our other clothes are in the laundry.
No one buys a ready-made costume. We spend all year searching thrift shops, junk shops, yard sales, estate sales, dollar stores and craft stores for the components for our next costume. Doing so mean your costume is cheaper and more interesting.
6. Find out what free events are happening in your area. Lots of communities hold things festivals, costume parades, and pumpkin carving contests. These events can also be an excellent place to get costume ideas if they’re held before the big day.
Thanksgiving is stressful for many people. Everyone is expecting certain dishes, prepared in a certain way; you’re cooking for way more people than usual, you might have house guests or have to travel during a time everyone else is traveling as well.
We don’t want to add even more stress to the mix by spending money we don’t have.
7. Require your guests to confirm they’re attending, so you know exactly how many you’ll be feeding. You don’t want to buy more food than you need.
8. When you plan your menu, go through your kitchen and see what ingredients you already have. You might only use something like cornstarch (for thickening gravy) and nutmeg (for pumpkin pie) once a year so they can get shoved into the back of the pantry. You can’t remember if you have these things or not when you’re at the store, so you buy more.
9. Don’t go crazy with the number of dishes you serve. Even if you just stick to the classics, you’ll still have a ton of leftovers, so there’s no need to serve another 27 dishes.
10. If guests offer to bring something, a dish, bags of ice, wine, let them! Don’t refuse the offer of help and then act like a martyr the entire day. The same goes for help cooking and cleaning up. It’s supposed to be your holiday too.
11. Before you go shopping for meal ingredients, check out all of the sales circulars for the grocery stores near you to see which one has the best prices.
12. Ask your guests to bring some containers for leftovers. This way you won’t be giving away all of your containers never to be seen again, and you won’t have more leftovers than you can store or eat.
13. Make sure to use up the leftovers you do keep. If you can’t finish them all within a few days, freeze the rest, so your time, effort, and money don’t get tossed in the trash.
14. If you don’t have enough things like chairs, dishes, glasses, or serving platters, ask around if friends or family have items you can borrow before you rush out to buy new ones. If you do have to buy these kinds of items, think used! Tons of kitchen stuff ends up in thrift stores, and lots of it is brand new or hardly used. It will cost a fraction of what you’d pay in a big box or specialty store.
15. If you’re serving wine, find a store that gives a discount when you buy it buy the case (12 bottles). You can often save as much as 20%, and most stores allow you to choose a selection, you don’t have to buy 12 bottles of the same wine. If you have leftover bottles, save them for your Christmas celebration or give them as gifts.
16. A lot of stores are now open on Thanksgiving day to get a jump on Black Friday. Rather than go shopping where you’ll undoubtedly spend money, do something free and preferably out of doors. You have a few thousand calories to burn off and walking around the mall isn’t going to make much of a dent. Instead, organize a group hike or a touch football game. Fight off the pounds and the carb hangover while saving money!
This is the big one for many of us and generally the holiday that costs the most money. I like celebrating and gifts as much as anyone, but there is little question that it’s all gotten out of hand.
17. If you have very young children, rather than buying them gifts that they’re too young to remember, use that money to instead start or add to a 529 College Savings Plan. You could ask other family members to do the same but tread carefully. If I had a kid, I wouldn’t want a house full of plastic toys that will end up in a landfill in a few months, but I also think it’s rude to tell other people what they should give.
18. If you have a group of family members to buy for, rather than buying each person an individual gift (or gifts) buy something that everyone in the family can enjoy. Some ideas are a family membership to a museum, zoo, botanical garden or theme park. These places often hold events throughout the year too so it’s a gift that people can really get a lot of use and enjoyment out of.
A friend gave me a membership to the local art museum. I can bring a guest for free all year and during August, can also get in free to about a dozen participating museums.
19. Kids are going to want gifts on Christmas; there’s no way around that. But what about the adults in your family? Ask around. You might find that the grown-ups are happy to forgo getting and giving each other gifts. My parents and I don’t exchange Christmas gifts. We go to a special dinner instead.
20. This goes for people you work with too. I hated getting gifts from my coworkers and having to buy gifts in return. I think most people do, but no one wants to be the first Scrooge to say it. Go on! Be the Scrooge! I think most people will thank you. People have to spend enough money on their families, they don’t want to add gifts for Kathy in accounting to the budget.
21. Now that you’re on a roll bring it up to your friends too. I’m happy to give my friends birthday or wedding gifts, but I don’t want to exchange gifts with them at Christmas.
22. I grew up with a lot of cousins, and if my parents had to buy gifts for all of them, it would have cost a fortune. Instead, all the cousin’s names were put into a hat, and each one drew a name. Whomever’s name you pulled out was the only cousin your family had to buy for.
23. Get the adults together and set a dollar limit on the amount each gift can be worth. This saves a lot of money and hurt feelings. Some families make more money than others and can afford more expensive gifts. This leaves some of the kids feeling cheated and the adults feeling guilty. Christmas is supposed to be fun, not a source of guilt.
24. If you’re traveling by plane for Christmas, don’t pack your gifts! Airlines nickel and dime for everything and packing gifts will add weight to your luggage and you might have to pay more. If you have wrapped gifts, they may be unwrapped by TSA. Send your gifts ahead, or even better, just send them directly and wrap them when you get to your destination because they Post Office isn’t the happiest or most efficient place around Christmas.
25. If you’re a fan of giving gift cards, use a site like Cardpool and Raise. If you don’t like to give the cards, buy them anyway and use them to buy your gifts. The cards sold on these sites are discounted so you’ll get more for your money.
26. Use a site like ebates to save money on your online Christmas shopping. In fact, you could triple up. Use your cash back credit card to buy discounted gift cards and use the gift cards to shop on ebates!
These Go For All Holidays
You can apply these tips to any of the holidays we’ve discussed and really, most other holidays.
27. Make a budget for each holiday. It’s so easy to get carried away once you walk into a store and see all the cool themed stuff you can buy. Decide how much you can afford to spend before you go shopping. If you’re afraid, you won’t stick to your budget in the face of all that loot, leave your credit and debit cards at home and bring only the amount of cash you’ve budgeted.
28. All of the themed stuff, candy, turkey-shaped platters, wrapping paper printed with Christmas trees, go on sale after the big day has passed. It can be tempting to buy all the things when they’re on sale, but many a person has busted their budget buying stuff that was on sale. Before you head out, make a list of what you need for the following year and stick to it.
29. Stay off Pinterest. Or if you’re tempted, look at some “Pinterest Fails,” to see how your efforts will probably actually turn out. Aspirational sites like Pinterest can undoubtedly provide good ideas, but they can also set unrealistic expectations. All those perfect families at their perfect parties in their perfectly decorated homes eating their perfect looking food.
Those things are often styled for magazines by professionals so when we try to emulate them and fail, not only do you feel let down but we may have spent a fortune trying to recreate something that is unrealistic for most of us mere mortals to achieve.
30. Create a tradition for each holiday. It’s an inexpensive way to create holiday memories. Organize a costume swap party the weekend before Halloween. Everyone brings their old costumes and leaves with a new one. Or go to an orchard to pick apples and drink cider or a pumpkin patch to choose your future jack o lantern.
This is a fun Thanksgiving one I’ve done for a few years. It gets tiresome eating the same menu every year (especially if nasty green bean casserole made with canned cream soup is part of the meal!). Sure you have to hit the standards like turkey and stuffing, but you’re allowed to experiment a little.
The problem is, you don’t want to experiment with the biggest, most expectation-laden meal of the year. Instead, a few weeks before the holiday, hold a “test it out on us” potluck.
Everyone brings a new dish that they’d like to debut this Thanksgiving. This gives you a chance to work out the kinks and get some feedback. This is a really fun one, and it usually ends of with a weird mish-mash of dishes, three kinds of sweet potatoes, four salads, three pies, and no turkey! That’s okay.
If everyone is still hungry, you can order pizza.
My favorite part of Christmas is the lights, and my tradition always centers on them. When I was a kid, my parents put us in the car and drove around looking at Christmas lights. When I lived in New York, we would go to the Dyker Heights section of Brooklyn because they are known for their legendary displays.
Now in New Orleans, we go every year (more than once) to Celebration in the Oaks which is a massive light display in the botanical garden complete with a mini train ride, a fire to roast marshmallows over, school kids singing carols, and craft booths.
Holidays are supposed to be pleasurable, a time to celebrate and spend time with family and friends. But they’ve morphed into a time of stress whether it’s from unrealistic expectations or financial pressures.
Take back the holidays. Celebrate them the way you enjoy, not the way you think you’re supposed to celebrate them. Happy Holidays to all of you!