With gifts to buy, airfare to book and dinners to make, expenses around the holidays can leave a major dent in your paycheck. But if you’re smart and plan ahead, you can save money without lowering your level of cheer.
Travel on off days: The Wednesday before Thanksgiving and weekend before Christmas are some of the most expensive times to fly. If your family (and boss) will allow it, try flying on Thanksgiving morning or Christmas Eve, and returning the Monday after instead of over the weekend, for some real savings.
Have a potluck: Just because you’re hosting the big dinner doesn’t mean you have to pay for (and prepare) the entire thing. Your guests will undoubtedly ask if they can bring anything, so why not let them? Take care of the turkey, ham or whatever your entree of choice is, and leave the sides, desserts and drinks up to everyone else.
Consolidate your shopping: Get your list together and see how many people you can buy for in one place. If you’re shopping in person, this means less gas money, bus or cab fare, and that 20% off coupon will go a lot further on a $500 purchase than a $50 one. If shopping online, many retailers offer free shipping when you spend a minimum amount ($25 or $50 is common).
Go virtual: Though it’s hard to beat a hand-addressed, real-live Christmas card, e-cards are becoming a more common and acceptable alternative. Show your sense of humor with a card from someecards.com, turn your whole family into dancing elves on jibjab.com, or just send a good ol’ email full of family pictures and the year’s biggest news.
Set a limit: At Christmas this year, get the family to agree on a maximum spending limit for each person. This way, no one has to feel like they got a cheaper gift than anyone else, and everyone will save money. You could save even more by drawing names and only buying for one person instead of 10.
DIY: Even if you’re only remotely crafty, there is likely something you can make that costs less than it would to buy it. While a pre-decorated tree skirt can get pricey, a plain piece of green or red felt plus some festive fabric stickers are super cheap and easy to put together. For gifts, homemade cookies will be much more appreciated than another wool sweater.
Reuse: If you planned ahead last year, you’ve already saved money by holding onto perfectly good wrapping paper, bows, ribbons and decorations. Instead of buying gift tags, cut up old Christmas cards and tape them to your gifts.
Shop on Dec. 26: Though this won’t help with buying gifts for this year, it will help with stocking up on supplies for 2013 and beyond. Fake Christmas trees, ornaments, cards and everything else holiday related gets heavily discounted the day after Christmas. And the good stuff goes fast, so don’t wait until the weekend.
What are some other ways to save money during the holiday season?