The holiday season is a very hectic time, and if you’re not careful, it can easily sneak up on you. If you’re like me, you’ve entered November without much money set aside for gifts or celebrations and you’re starting to sweat about your budget.
Scrambling for cash during the holidays can feel like treading water, but there are lots of opportunities to save money and cut costs if you know where to look.
Setting limits on how much you’re willing to spend for each person on your list will help keep you focused on getting the most out of your holiday budget.
Speaking from experience, my family typically sets limits on how much you’re allowed to spend on one another – $50 max for your immediate family, $20 max for any extended family.
In practice, those limits tend to become more like guidelines, but they can help you set a baseline budget to plan for during the holiday months.
The longer you’re on the hunt for deals, the more likely you are to stumble across them. If you can get started before December actually begins, you can scoop up a few amazing deals during Black Friday and Cyber Monday.
Keeping your eyes peeled early on in the holiday season can give you more time to consider exactly what you want to get for each person. Being alert and keeping an eye on those items will help you pounce on flash deals as they come up.
If you’ve got a savings account that offers automatic deposits, cranking up the rate at which money goes in can help you grow a holiday budget without even thinking about it.
When I need to save money in the short term, I tend to pump up my weekly contributions to my savings account. This helps me lock my money away until I’m sure I want to spend it.
Even though cold, snowy days are perfect for curling up on the couch and bingeing a show on Netflix or Hulu, taking a month-long break from a few of your subscription services can help give you a bit more breathing room for gifts and events.
Pick one service you absolutely can’t live without to keep you entertained, and use the subscription fees for the rest of them to spruce up your holiday party with a few extra treats. Then, when you come back to them in January, you’ll have a whole new set of shows to power through.
This is an evergreen savings suggestion, but during the holidays, opting to stay in could help you save more than just the price of dinner.
If you’re in an area that gets snow, the increased traffic will make each trip out burn through more fuel. Additionally, bad weather increases your odds of being involved in an accident, so staying in can often mean staying safe.
If you’re like me, you’ve probably forgotten about some of the things in your wallet. However, taking the time to dig past your go-to cards can reveal some hidden treasures.
First off: Gift cards. Got 5 bucks left at Starbucks? Surprise a family member with a bag of nice coffee. $3 left over at Target? That’s a couple of candy bars to fill a stocking.
If you’ve got rewards points or cash back built up on your cards, the holidays can be a good time to spend them. Performing a self-audit on your wallet can help you discover money that you didn’t know you had.
Do you ever notice how stores start promoting big purchase sales around the holidays? “Spend over $300 and get 15% off!” This helps them incentivize shoppers to spend more. You can take advantage of this by teaming up with a friend to get both of your holiday shopping done at once.
In addition to saving more on a bulk order, you’ll be able to take full advantage of BOGO deals without having to find somewhere to put the second item.
Who knows, you might catch them eyeing something they want, and be able to take another trip back and cross them off your list.
Everyone knows about online coupons these days, but there are many more ways to save if you know where to look.
Digging through your junk mail can be a good way to scoop up deals from local stores. Local businesses will also offer discounts via local newspapers and magazines as well, so popping by a magazine rack can help you track down deals in your area.
Many crafters, artists, and other small creators who own Etsy stores or eBay accounts are also looking to make a bit of last-minute money to spend on their families.
Established creators often put their excess stock on sale in the weeks before the end of the year, and many artists take extra commissions to help them pay for their own celebrations.
Going out and tracking down trinkets for everyone in your office can be time consuming, and it’ll drain your holiday savings, too.
Instead, taking one trip and buying several of the same inexpensive gift at once can help you be sure you aren’t empty handed when a surprise gift-giver catches you off-guard.
For example, you can wrap up cocoa packets, candy canes, and mini marshmallows, then give them out as instant cocoa sets. For bonus points, head to a thrift store and buy a few mugs to include as well.
Another perennial favorite – pot lucks! If you’re hosting a dinner party, asking your guests to help out with dishes can add variety to the meal, as well as saving you money.
Have your guests bring hot food in crock pots, or let them show up early with food that’s ready to cook. Appetizers and finger food work great for this, and a menu made out of those options often ends up being more fun than a sit-down dinner.
Instead of spreading yourself thin to get your entire family or office gifts, organizing a secret Santa pool can help you focus on finding something meaningful for one person in particular.
If organizing a secret Santa exchange is too complicated, a white elephant party is a fun way to recycle old gifts you’ve never gotten around to using. Who knows, your secondhand waffle iron might be exactly what someone wants!
Eric Lindholm moved from sales to communications at Quotacy. His writing is informed by his experience guiding hundreds of people through their own life insurance buying journey. Eric lives in Minneapolis, where his coworkers are trying to convince him to start his own podcast, do stand-up, or take his humor into the spotlight. Connect with him on LinkedIn.