The holiday season may be the most wonderful time of the year. Between presents, parties, decorating and travel, there’s a lot to do and to buy. Those costs add up! Fortunately, there are plenty of ways you can shop smart to trim down the expenses while still maximizing your good cheer.
In this blog, we help you go beyond gift spending; we help you factor in all the ways you spend throughout the holidays and set a limit for each, from holiday décor to the cost of hosting friends or family for a festive meal.
Here are a few tips to help you spend smarter and maybe even save this season.
Set a Holiday Budget
The first step is to be intentional about your overall spending limit. Creating a holiday budget can keep your spending in check. Setting a fixed spending limit gives you something to measure against when making purchases and can help curb impulse spending. With this method, you’ll proactively choose gifts, experiences, and holiday items that fit within your budget.
Start Holiday Shopping Early
Shopping for your gifts and holiday supplies early can help you stay in budget by finding things on sale and minimizing the chances you’ll overspend on a last-minute gift. You can plan early or shop early – here are two ways that our team members tackle their shopping to stay in budget:
Nina Hale, Milli’s Operations Analyst, plans early. She says, “I have a spreadsheet where I track different gifts for the people I shop for and how much I’ve spent on everyone, but I start early. My favorite feature has been including a status field so I can list something as ‘idea state’, so I can keep an eye out for deals and don’t forget the ideas I have throughout the year.”
Laura Miller, Senior UX Designer with Milli goes above and beyond with her shopping strategy. She says, “I start shopping immediately for the next year. All my holiday shopping is done by October and stored away in totes with everyone’s names attached and a note in my phone with what I got each person and how much I spent. I ask my relatives what they want for next year or sneakily, what they missed out on this year. That way I can look for deals throughout the entire year and spread out my spending. For people who have those bursts of ‘I just want go shopping to go shopping,’ this gives productivity to that shopping and helps tame that impulsive spending habit.”
Even if you’re not starting months in advance, you can still make a gift plan for your recipients. On the holiday budget spreadsheet, you’ll list your gift recipients and how much you’ll spend for each person based on your overall budget. With your budget allocated for each person, you can start planning what you’ll buy. You may choose to make a big online order to tackle multiple gifts at once (on Black Friday, perhaps?), or keep it handy before going in-store to see the options.
Use Cash (Or Treat Cards like Cash)
An easy way to save this holiday season is to stick to cash. Studies show people are likely to spend more when using credit cards instead of cash. For some shoppers, holiday spending stays with them into the new year. As of October 2023, 31% of consumers have not paid off balances from the 2022 holiday season (a similar percentage from the year before).
Using cash (or debit cards) can help you stick to your budget by making money feel more tangible and finite in supply. If you’re planning to use cash for gifts, check out local vendors at places like holiday craft markets where cash transactions are easier. If you’re ordering online, use the Milli Spending Card so you can track your purchases by category in Milli after to help you stay in budget!
But what about credit card rewards? Many savvy shoppers spend with credit cards to accumulate rewards points and redeem for cash back, gift cards, or travel. If you’re able to stick to your holiday budget and pay off your credit card bill in full every month, credit cards can be helpful to get a little bit back. It’s still a good idea to use your budget and spending limit to ensure you’re not tempted to spend more than you would if you used cash.
Consider Alternative Gifts
Presents are meant to be one of the highlights of the holidays. There’s nothing like the joy of giving a gift that makes a loved one happy! However, gift-giving can cause stress from navigating the murky cultural waters around who we should buy for and how much we should spend on them.
Presents don’t need to be within a specific price range to be appreciated; sometimes, they don’t even need to be bought. Consider homemaking something like baked goods; you can make a batch and wrap them up nicely and simply. Or give the gift of your time and take a friend or family member for a holiday light ride around town. Gifts should show appreciation for the people in your life, and anything that makes them happy is perfectly acceptable.
Get Smart About Shipping
If you’re planning on sending physical gifts to loved ones outside of your area, you’ll need to factor in shipping. One of the best ways to minimize shipping costs is to shop online for gifts and group your purchases to qualify for free shipping from the retailers. If you’re sending gifts to multiple people in one household, try to find something for everyone on your list from one place, or send a gift they can share as a group. (That might also help you spend less since you don’t need to select individual items!)
Another option? Gift your recipient an experience that doesn’t involve shipping at all. Check out upcoming concerts or shows, attractions like local museums, or spa services in their area and send them tickets or a gift card. As an added bonus, this is an excellent way to support an independent business or organization!
If your gifts are more the hand-knitted hat or homemade baked good style that isn’t a digital gift and can’t be shipped online, one of the best ways to save is to plan around flat-rate shipping, such as from the US Postal Service. Some of the flat rate shipping supplies are free, so you can pick up the envelope or box from the post office, then fill it to fit the minimum size you need. Check out current rates from the USPS here.
Leverage Coupons, Cash Back, and Price Trackers
There is no shortage of apps to help you save. Before you shop, review these apps or websites so you can see when the best time is to pounce on a purchase and maybe get a coupon code!
- Cash-back rebate apps like Ibotta and Rakuten have become popular methods for consumers to get returns on necessary spending.
- Coupon browser extensions like Honey scour the internet in seconds for applicable discounts.
- Keepa keeps tabs on the prices of millions of Amazon products.
- Hopper has price prediction tools for travel booking like flights, hotels, and rental cars.
- DekuDeals tracks the prices of Nintendo Switch games.
Tools like these can help you cut back on holiday expenses. Remember: they are designed to encourage spending, so make sure to use them to stay within your holiday budget.
The Gift of Regifting
This may be divisive, but regifting items you received is a strategy that can help you save money, avoid clutter, and be more sustainable. If you’re regifting, here are some helpful guides to pull it off. Good Housekeeping etiquette experts recommend:
- Avoid regifting in the same social circle.
- Only regift new items in perfect condition and original packaging.
- Regift with the recipient in mind – only regift if the item is something your recipient will actually use or enjoy, not to offload stuff you didn’t want.
If you’re attending a White Elephant gift exchange during the holiday season, bringing a regifted item can be a win-win since you’re not giving a gift to any specific person. Or, include a regifted item with a new item you purchase for a recipient to bolster out the gift and reduce your cost.
Don’t Initiate Exchanging Gifts
Gift giving traditions vary, and sometimes it feels customary to exchange gifts with a loved one with a certain level of friendship or familial closeness. If you’ve made new friends or become closer with people over the past year, you may wonder, “Should I give them a holiday gift?”
We’re here to let you know it’s okay to simply skip initiating the gift giving. Plenty of friends or family members don’t exchange gifts, and that’s okay! If you do want to exchange gifts with a group (or get pressed to do so), you could organize a gift exchange where each person only buys one gift and set a lower dollar amount limit. That way you can enjoy the holiday fun without stressing about a ballooning gift list.
In the hustle and bustle of the holiday season, it’s easy to overspend. However, with some thoughtful planning and discipline, you can enjoy a festive holiday season without breaking the bank. These tips for saving during the holidays will help you stay on budget while still creating wonderful memories with loved ones. So, this holiday season, let financial stress take a back seat, and let the joy of the season shine through!
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