Every year during the holiday season, many people start making half-baked plans to save more throughout the holiday months and to continue this frugality into the coming year.
In fact, 65 percent of Americans considered a financial New Year’s resolution, including saving and paying off debt or spending less, according to a study by Fidelity Investments. But try as we may, it seems more often than not we come away from the holidays with empty wallets and emptier promises.
For example, how many of us have vowed to rebuke the excessive consumerism of the holiday season, but find ourselves drawn back in by feelings of guilt or inadequacy? We might promise our loved ones we’re going to “shop small,” but usually we end up overspending.
In fact, the average consumer is expected to chalk up nearly $1,000 on gifts and related purchases this holiday season, according to the National Retail Federation.
Despite the best of intentions, it seems we’re doomed to spend money during the final months of the year.
This often establishes a habit that can continue into the upcoming year and affect our money resolutions. With the right financial mindset, however, it can be easier to curb your holiday spending while setting yourself up to save in 2023. Here’s how.
Saving During the Holidays
The holidays themselves are an ultimate catch-22; you’ve never been invited to more events, parties, and get-togethers, but you’ve also never been more conscious of how little cash you have to spend on them. On top of that, there are gifts, snow tires, and travel expenses to consider. Here’s how to enjoy the season without breaking the bank:
1. Check for Group Discounts
If you’re attending holiday-themed events with friends, they can often be pricey if you each pay individually. Luckily, you can usually get a discount if you go in as a group — look at online discount hubs like Groupon to see what type of holiday steals are available where you live. If all else fails, you may be able to finagle a discount from the event organizers themselves: Just call, make your case, and see if you can get some cash knocked off your ticket or fees.
2. Pick Off-Peak Times
Another way to enjoy holiday events and spectacles for less is to attend on weekdays instead of weekends. Prices are often discounted for matinees and weekday shows.
3. Vacation Off the Beaten Path
Want to enjoy a cheap vacation while simultaneously avoiding the teeth-pulling sensation of spending time with your distant relatives? Sometimes you can get awesome deals for vacations during the holiday season. Look into locales that are technically in their “off-season,” which means that hotel rates and flight prices could be discounted.
4. Rock Your Inner Secret Santa
Want to get drunk with your friends? Do it at home. Potlucks and Secret Santas are inexpensive ways to have a great time with your friends without feeling like you’re going to have to take out another mortgage on your house. All you need is some eggnog, a hat to pull names out of, and some half-decent recipe for artichoke dip, and you’re all set.
5. Set Expectations
The reality is that many people are on a budget. You can give only so much of your time and money. Spend some time setting clear expectations with your family and friends about what to expect during the holidays this year.
The conversation doesn’t have to be too heavy. Use some humor and just be honest about what you can and can’t do. Let your family and friends off the gift-giving hook, too. Maybe even share ideas that will make (almost) everyone happy.
You can let people be generous, but lift the pressure off of them by providing fun, but frugal suggestions.
Some ideas include homemade gifts, a white elephant party, or even a holiday season without gifts. Instead of spending money, spend more time with your friends — throw a potluck, a game night, or participate in a holiday fun run.
6. Set a Budget
If you’re unable to change other people’s minds about gift-giving this holiday season, then be clear with yourself about what you can and cannot do financially. Take a close look at your finances and set a holiday budget and stick to your plan.
7. Get Social
It’s amazing how many deals you can find from your favorite retailers this time of year, especially if you use social media.
Look on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, or your favorite retailer’s website for coupon codes or upcoming sales. Don’t pay full price for your items.
8. Trim the Fat
How long has it been since you took a good look at your monthly expenses? Look for subscriptions or services that you aren’t using your automatic debits for forgotten bills or purchases.
Did you discover that your grocery, electric, and fun budget line items have increased significantly since the last time you took a hard look at your expenses? Sock away as much of your freed-up cash as possible so that you can use cash for your future purchases.
9. Sell Stuff
Go through your home and look for items that you’re no longer using. If they are in good condition, sell them online; use eBay or Craigslist or throw a garage sale if you’re in a warm-weather state.
10. Savings Apps and Sites
If you’ve already decided there’s no getting around buying holiday gifts, then make sure you’re using savings apps and sites like the ones below to their full advantage.
I love this website because you get cash back when you go shopping. If you’re planning to purchase items on Amazon — or even from Target — then your first step should be to sign up for Rakuten.
Simply create your profile, and then each time you plan to make an online purchase from one of your favorite stores, just log into Rakuten and type in your favorite retailer’s name. It’s that easy. You can even get an extension for your browser’s search bar, which can serve to remind you when to shop.
This Google Chrome extension will save you a ton. Honey automatically scans the site you’re on and finds any offers, deals, or discounts being offered. You can then apply them to your order with the click of a button.
If it’s more of a thing-to-do gift than a thing, Goldstar’s got you covered with a collection of cheap and discounted events in your area. Sometimes it even offers stuff for free!
With BeFrugal, you can get up to 40 percent cash back on purchases from over 5,000 stores. It deals with the big brands and companies so you don’t have to, but you reap the rewards.
Consider it your own army of elves, all working right on your phone. Using ShopSavvy, you just need to scan the barcode of whatever item you’re planning to purchase. Then the app will compare that item’s price with its price at other stores and help you find cash-back retailers. It even allows you to watch for price drops on that specific gift.
When it comes to shopping, I like to be as organized as possible, and Santa’s Bag helps me do just that. With this list-management app, you can create shopping lists and specific budgets for each person on your list, check off presents as you buy them, and then keep a watchful eye on just how much you’re spending.
Santa’s Bag will also keep track of the gifts you buy year after year. This way, you can save yourself from the embarrassment of buying that co-worker the same scented candle two holidays in a row.
This isn’t an app I’ve used too frequently myself, but it’s one I’ve heard great things about — there are plenty of users who rave about it.
Using Ibotta, you’ll get cash rebates for the purchases you make in more than 300 different stores and more than 500,000 locations. You just need to use the app to unlock the rebates, buy featured products, and then take pictures of your receipts to prove your purchases.
Once you reach $10, Ibotta will send your balance directly to your PayPal account. Earning money while holiday shopping— it truly is a Christmas miracle.
With Shopkick — which you can get for iPhone or Android — you score points whenever you visit partnered retailers, even if you don’t buy anything. It’s a reward and deals app rolled into one.
The app works via location sharing, recording whenever you walk into a vendor’s store and awarding you points appropriately. The app also alerts you to any discount deals when you visit a retailer — a major upgrade from apps that you have to constantly open up to check while you’re out walking around a mall and distracted by deals.
You can also earn points by sharing on social media and taking surveys. When you rack up enough points, you can exchange them for gift cards for certain retailers.
A visit to a retailer can earn you about 50 to 200 points. For reference, a $10 Target gift card is about 2,500 points, so the points can accumulate quickly.
SnipSnap works as a coupon book that allows you to bookmark coupons and offers from your favorite retailers and sort them by their expiration date. When you get to the checkout counter, simply pull up the offer on the app and show it to the cashier who scans it and inputs a code displayed under the coupon.
The app also has a “near me” function, which displays any nearby offers . Since it tracks your location, it will send you a push notification you when you are close to an offer that you saved. That way, you don’t have to constantly check the app and risk forgetting when you intended to use a coupon.
Establishing Your Financial Resolutions
Making it through the holidays without breaking the bank will set you up well to stick to your financial resolutions in the coming year. Even if you spent more than you would’ve liked, you can still start saving for the holidays by using the following six strategies for your 2022 money goals:
1. Break Resolutions Into Subgoals
Huge goals — like paying off $12,000 in debt — can be overwhelming. But what about paying off $1,000 in debt each month?
If you can break down your financial resolutions into smaller subgoals, you’ll have a much better chance of completing them.
It’s tougher to push off a goal with a closer due date. Plus, if something happens and you fail to meet your monthly $1,000 debt-payoff goal, you can start over again without feeling like a complete failure. You still have 11 more goals you can meet.
2. Make Your Financial Resolutions Visible
Keeping your goals visible is the best way to make sure that they stay on top of your to-do list.
For example, you can put your goal on your phone wallpaper, your computer desktop, or even on your homepage. Better yet, if you want to remember your goals first thing in the morning, use a dry-erase marker on your bathroom mirror!
3. Get an Accountability Partner
Sharing your financial New Year’s resolutions with the world will help ensure that you’re committed. Putting some social pressure on yourself will motivate you to attain your goals; by publicly broadcasting your aspirations on social media, you incentivize yourself to achieve them. Otherwise, you might be seen as a “flake” if you fail.
You can post your goals on Facebook or tell your friends and family directly. If your goal is too personal to tell the world, pick someone you can trust. Ask them to check in with you regularly to make sure you’re making progress.
4. Penalize Yourself If You Fail
If you fail to reach a goal, do not pass “go” and do not collect $200. Seriously, penalties can be a huge incentive.
For example, say your goal is to save up an emergency fund of $5,000 over the course of the year; if you haven’t hit $2,500 by June, put any money you had set aside for a summer trip into that fund. Setting that milestone and keeping the immediate threat of losing your vacation can be a strong motivator to save — plus if you do save up half, you’ll be rewarded with a modest getaway for being an excellent saver.
5. Reward Yourself (Appropriately)
The key here is to make sure that your reward isn’t counterproductive. If your goal was to pay off your car loan, then rewarding yourself with a new car — along with a new car loan — doesn’t make sense. Instead, treat yourself to dinner at your favorite restaurant.
6. Harness Your Grit
If you look up the word grit online, you’ll see that it’s referred to as a non-cognitive trait. In other words, it’s a soft skill that comes naturally to some people more than others. On the bright side, you can develop grit, but it must be on your own terms.
Grit helps the fitness-oriented among us crawl out of bed at 4:45 a.m. most weekday mornings to hit the gym and honor their exercise schedule; likewise, it can help you make an extra payment on debt when you’d rather spend the money elsewhere.
If you’re currently making any resolutions, remember that to truly achieve those results, you must channel your inner grit to overcome the excuses you make for yourself and the small challenges that will tempt you to quit. True grit doesn’t let you quit.
7. Get Started
If you’re ready to get your finances under control, here are two goals to get you started pronto.
Goal One: Track all of your expenses for a year, if possible.
Kick-start It: Hook up all of your financial accounts to personal finance software like Personal Capital.
Goal Two: Pay off a set amount of debt.
Kick-start It: Sell unused items on eBay or DeCluttr and use the money for your first payment.
Preparing for the Coming Year
It might seem ridiculous to begin saving for the holidays in January, but starting at the beginning of the year can ensure the costs of the next Christmas/Hanukkah/Kwanzaa aren’t as overwhelming or as financially stressful.
While you’re free to find a savings strategy and method that works for you, the envelope system is a simple way to carefully plan for all the expenses associated with December.
You can utilize three envelopes dedicated to the holidays: I use one for holiday groceries, one for family presents, and one for cards and stamps (which can add up in price surprisingly quickly), but you can have envelopes for transportation, entertainment, decorations — whatever expenses tend to eat up your money at holiday time
During the holiday season, my family’s grocery spending seems astronomical. Between Thanksgiving and Christmas dinner and all the holiday parties in between, there’s a lot of money spent.
At Christmas, beef tenderloin alone costs a little more than $100.
The easy solution to expensive holiday meals is to put a little bit of money into your grocery envelope during each pay period to pick up the slack. I put $20 a month into this envelope. That way, when Christmas comes around, I have an extra $240 in my grocery budget for the holidays. This can easily take care of the tenderloin, not to mention a number of filling side dishes.
2. Cards and Stamps
The other category goes to holiday cards and stamps. It may seem silly to budget for this, but when it’s time to purchase cards and cover the postage, you could be spending upward of an additional $75, depending on the cost of cards and the size of your family. By setting aside $6 a month for this expense, it makes it more manageable, especially in the context of all the other holiday-related costs.
Being this detailed with money doesn’t work for everyone, but you may enjoy the security of knowing that you’ve saved ahead for almost all holiday expenses.
My last envelope goes toward holiday gifts for my family and friends. If you opt to get each person in your life a nice gift and spend about $100 per person, you should divide up the cost of those gifts by months in the year to determine how much you put in this envelope.
This is where the power of saving throughout the year can really add up. Even if you were to buy gifts for both of your parents, a couple of friends, and one child, you’d be looking at pulling an additional $500 out of nowhere; while that’s doable, the extraneous financial stress can be mitigated by saving each month.
4. Saving for the Advantage
On top of having the extra money available in December, another advantage of saving through the year is having the ability to buy things ahead of time.
For example, if you see a great sale or a clearance item that you know someone on your list will love, you have the advantage of picking it up ahead of the holidays because you’ll have the money in your envelope already.
1. Create and label three envelopes for gifts, cards, and food — or whatever categories work for you.
2. Examine how much you spent the year before. If you’re comfortable with that amount, go forward using it again. If you feel you spent too much, make cuts where necessary to lower your holiday cost.
3. Individually divide the costs of your gifts, cards, and food by 52. This number will represent how much you need to put in each envelope on a weekly basis.
4. Start saving the first week of January. If you find you don’t have enough money to save, consider getting a side hustle, or reduce your weekly expenses accordingly.
By putting a small amount of money into each of these holiday envelopes every pay period throughout the year, you can relax and enjoy the season when December rolls around, knowing you won’t have to worry about the financial stress of the holidays.
The Bottom Line on Saving for (and During) the Holidays
Reaching any goal — whether it’s saving for or during the holidays or following a financial resolution — can be a major challenge. Why would anyone want to make achieving that goal more difficult than it has to be?
By employing strategies and resources to save during the holidays, implementing tips to help you stick to your financial resolutions, and saving throughout the year, you can ensure you’re prepared for both this year’s holidays as well as the next. Careful planning and the right mindset can ensure that you and yours have an affordable, non-debt-riddled holiday season.
Additional reporting by Connor McInerney.