I usually go all out on spending during the holidays, but I wanted to approach this season differently. And I’m not the only one.
About 41% of Americans plan to spend less this holiday season than they did last year, according to a recent Credit Karma survey. Of those who plan to spend less, 46% say it’s because their financial situation worsened due to COVID and 31% are prioritizing saving over spending this year.
I set a gifting budget of $200 this year, with a total of 10 gifts to buy — all family, including my dogs. That doesn’t leave much flexibility. I knew I’d need a strategy to accomplish my goal — so I got some help from an expert who’s been here before.
Dyana King is a money coach, single mom of two, and founder of Money Boss Mama, who recently paid off nearly $35,000 in debt. In the midst of her debt-free journey in 2016, she managed to buy eight gifts for $154. For that year, I was low income, so I didn’t have a lot to work with,” says King.
King says she stuck to her plan using a few strategies, like making an itemized gift list, setting a strict budget, and purchasing just one gift for everyone on her list. She also practiced smart shopping habits, like searching for sales and using online tools to find the best prices.
“You really have to bring your values front and center and evaluate what it is that’s really important to you this holiday season,” she says.
Here are some savings tips from King to help you get through the holidays without hurting your wallet, whether you’re still finalizing this year’s holiday season or already planning ahead for next year.
How to Save Money This Holiday Season
Set a Realistic Budget
Before you jump into shopping, do some math to figure out how much you can actually afford to spend on gifts for others, King says.
It all starts with looking at your December budget — keeping any additional expenses, like holiday travel, food, and debt payments in mind when you’re estimating how much cash you have to spend. Plan on this next year if you didn’t already this year. And for now, consider what you still have to spend and buy in the remaining days of the holiday season. Prices can rise as the season goes on, or you may need to pay extra for express shipping the longer you wait.
One way to make sure you don’t spend more than you can afford is to only spend money from a specific account dedicated to gifts. I didn’t save ahead of time this year, but next year, I’m planning to stash money away in a “gift-giving account,” so when December approaches, I’ll be ahead of the game and won’t have to pull from my monthly budget.
Make a Gift List
King suggests writing or typing out a detailed gift list with everyone you plan to give gifts to. Then, add bullet points under each person’s name with their interests and passions to help you figure out gift options. List a few potential gifts for each person and the associated costs, so you have an idea of what you’re going to spend on each person.
You’ll also want to consider how to split your budget between the people on your list. For example, I decided to spend roughly the same amount ($20 per person) on each of the 10 people I’m buying gifts for.
If you’d like to spend a little less this holiday season, consider going in on a gift with someone else to split the cost. For example, during past holidays, my sister and I would usually split the cost of a nicer, more expensive gift for our mom.
If you’re on a tight budget, you may even have to revisit your list a few times and make cuts where it makes sense. I initially included a few additional friends on my gift list, but ultimately decided to buy gifts for only close family members. Even though I’m not buying gifts for my friends this year, I’m showing my appreciation for them by spending quality time with them throughout December.
Don’t fall into a trap of keeping up with the Joneses when it comes to gift-giving. This tip is simple, but it’s hard for many of us to do, says King.
“Do not be extra because being extra typically costs extra. The holiday season has become this competition of who can give the most gifts and who can give the best gifts, and it has somehow crossed wires with our self-worth,” says King.
I tend to always feel this pressure when the holiday season comes around, but I am following King’s advice this year and shifting my mindset. To avoid overgiving, I’m referencing my gift list and limiting not only the number of recipients, but also the amount of gifts I give to each person. King recommends using a 1:1 ratio, giving one gift to each person on your list, with exceptions where it makes sense. For example, King is giving her two kids at least three gifts each.
“I think naturally a lot of people like to give gifts,” she says. “But when you’re on a budget — especially when you’re trying to pay off debt — you don’t have a lot of money to work with. You have to learn to separate yourself from the gifts you will be giving and understand that you’re still worthy no matter how much you give.”
Find Opportunities to Save
During the busy holiday shopping season, take advantage of money-saving opportunities whenever possible. Whether it’s a big sale at your favorite retailer or a double cash back offer through an online shopping portal, here are few things you can do to maximize your savings this holiday season:
- Use online shopping portals: Online shopping portals can help you save on purchases with eligible retailers through cash back or points offers — and savings can often be even greater during the holidays.
- Shop sales: Look for sale pricing at different retailers to buy more for less, which makes checking gifts off your list that much easier. Black Friday and Cyber Monday may have already passed, but there are still plenty of December deals, especially online.
- Compare prices: Before you buy, research gifts online and use comparison tools to see which retailers have the best prices. A price history tool can also help you if you’re deciding whether you should buy it now or wait.
- Use a rewards credit card: Consider a credit card that gives you rewards for your holiday shopping, such as a 5% rotating bonus card or a flat rate 2% cash back card (here’s a list of the best credit cards for holiday shopping). You can use cash rewards to offset the cost of gifts, and even increase the amount of rewards you earn by opting into issuer-specific bonus offers or shopping through online issuer portals. Go this route only if you can pay off your balances on time and in full at the end of the month.
How to Set Boundaries With Your Friends and Family on Gifts
If you want a less gift-focused Christmas, be transparent about your budget with your close friends and family as soon as possible. The conversation might feel awkward, but honesty and transparency will go a long way, says King.
Early this holiday season, I had a series of conversations with my family to explain that I wanted to spend less on gifts this year to offset my holiday travel costs. Although I was somewhat nervous at the time, I’m happy I did it because they were supportive of my decision and I instantly felt a weight off my shoulders.
Be transparent about where you are financially, King says. “You don’t have to go into detail, but you can tell them what you’re trying to accomplish. If they’re your loved ones, they are all going to be supportive in their own way, and then that releases you from any anxiety that you might carry around.”