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How to Save on Holiday Spending

The holiday season is a very expensive time of year for most families.  So how can you keep the Christmas, Hanukkah, or whatever other holidays you celebrate costs under control?  How do you control holiday spending?

Holiday Spending Sort of Hangs Around

If you read the literature on holiday spending it’s downright scary.  So many people go deeply into debt for the holidays.  In fact, in one recent survey 35% of folks reported still paying off holiday expenditures from last year.  It’s important no matter your income to keep holiday spending in check.

Saving on The Family Picture

We’ll start with the expenses leading up to the season.  It’s a tradition in many households to take a family picture and provide it to relatives and friends.  A professional picture can be expensive if done the wrong way.  Over the years we’ve accomplished the family picture inexpensively in a few ways.

Some years we have taken the picture with a self-timer or enlisted the help of a friend or relative to snap a photo of our family.  Usually, there are Groupons or coupons for free or deeply discounted cards on Shutterfly, Staples, or Cosco.  Typically we get out of the whole thing for $10 for 40 cards.

Want a professional picture?  Well, this year my wife did.  She discovered a Groupon for JCPenny.  They did a professional shoot, allowed her to choose from the shots, and choose a Shutterfly template to create the card, all for $20.  The point is, plan ahead and look for special package deals and coupons ahead of time.

Saving on Holiday Gift Spending

Now that we’ve gotten past the pictures, what about the gifts?  Well, the first thing you can do for gifts is to limit the number you actually give.  My wife’s family all gets together for the holidays.  Just buying all of them a gift is expensive.  The number of potential gift-givers/receivers is so large it’s even difficult to come up with your own wish list.  

Gift Exchange

We have started to do a secret Santa gift exchange.  We set a gift dollar limit and each person chooses a name from a hat. The wish list still comes in handy, as long as there are ideas within the price range. Massive savings and less stress for everyone.

A Gifting Limit

This brings me to another way to save money on gifts.  Set a dollar limit that both people agree on and stick to it.  There is no need to spend hundreds of dollars on a gift when it is really the thought that counts.

Shop Smart

Even when you do spend a bunch of money on gifts there are other ways to save money.  One way do is to start monitoring for dips in prices early using an online price monitoring tool like CamelCamelCamel. If buying used is ok for your family, take a look at Facebook Marketplace or Craigslist to see if something you’re interested is available at a reduced price. This is great especially for kids toys. Amazon also often gives you an option to purchase items that are used – in varying conditions for lower costs as well.

Credit Card Shopping Discounts to Reduce Holiday Spending

I also monitor credit card offers for special discounts available through our existing cards.  For example, Dell had a cashback option this year through our Amex card, spend $599 receive cashback of $120.  I would never recommend just buying to fulfill the offer, but it is worth a look if you are already planning a purchase.

Even if the thing you are buying is not for sale or promoted by your credit card there may be a way to get a good discount.  Amazon, for example, has an on-again-off-again promotion where paying with points for the first time can net a 20% discount.  An example from Discover can be found here. Note the page says it expired the beginning of December, but I actually used this one about a week ago.

I’ve also seen these Amazon promos for Chase and Citi.   They cycle throughout the year, but I have used this promotion 2 Christmases in a row to save on gifts. Usually, they are targeted, but sometimes you can trigger these discounts multiple times by removing a pay with points card and then re-adding to your account.

Limit the Number of Gifts For Your Own Kids

For our own kids we limit the number of gifts we give to each.  We follow the 4 gift rule – something to read, something to wear, something you need, and something you want. There are normally a few small items for stockings, and a family present as well. In addition, our parents spoil the kids rotten around the holidays so the low limit also ensures the one toy is meaningful and stands out.  Still setting a limit keeps you from going overboard, regardless of the appropriate number for you. More on saving on Christmas gifts can be found here.

Holiday Travel Expenditures

Once we have the gifts worked out we need to turn our attention to travel.  So many of us live a long way from friends and relatives.  And yet flights around the holidays are typically higher than any other time of year.  But you know when the cheapest time to fly is?  A few weeks before or after the holidays.

So the cheap way to visit family for the holidays is either to drive or to time-shift your visit a few weeks.  I realize this time shifting won’t be for everyone, but it is something to consider.

Negotiating Your Year-End Raise

Now you are all booked and ready to go.  But there are probably two things you need to do with work before you transition to vacation.  The first is probably negotiating your annual raise.  You can read tips about negotiating a raise here.

The Work Holiday Party

The second, more specific to the holiday, is the work holiday party. Free food and booze.  Now this may not strike you as strictly financial related.  But I am here to tell you it is.

First, the real point of the work holiday party is to make those connections with others.  As we’ve discussed before connections will really help your career going forward.  So attendance should be one of your priorities, as should making time to mingle amongst the attendees.

Along with that mingling, keeping yourself under control is essential.  Free booze means many people lose control and go overboard.  But you can bet those in charge are not getting completely knackered.  Neither should you.  A bad decision as a company party can end your chances at advancement.  So, keep that in mind.

Now, I will say, as long as you can handle it, having a few beers is probably a good idea.  If you are not a teetotaler, it will give you an opportunity to mingle and will make you seem to fit in better.   Just remember to know and stay within your limits.

The Holiday Meal Expenditure

Now your company party is over and you are on your way to the family holiday. There is one more area for holiday expenditure.  The holiday meal.  Rather than go the traditional path of a big old chunk of meat you may want to consider something in a crockpot. Besides saving big bucks this can also save you time to otherwise spend with your loved ones.

I will add one side tip to saving on year-round food spending.  You all know I like to smoke meat.  Well, turkey and ham are both a lot of fun to smoke.  You can typically pick up either one a few days after Thanksgiving or Christmas for a song and freeze it.  Last year we bought one for something like 30 cents a pound for future smoking.

Anyway, that’s all I have.  If you have any tips I may have missed feel free to add them in the comments.  Our posts will continue through the holiday season.  For those of you that won’t be back until the New Year, Happy Holidays.  For all the rest, we look forward to ringing in the New Year with you.  Thanks again dear readers.

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