The average American spends roughly $900 on gifts during the holiday season, according to a 2016 study by American Research Group, Inc. Add to this the holiday cards, decorating, baking and holiday dinners, and it can add up to a big chunk of change.
For many families, holiday spending sets them back financially for months to follow, if not longer. Credit cards make it easy to overspend, leaving families to suffer the consequences later. The problem with credit cards isn’t just the monthly payments. It’s the long-term cost from accrued interest.
So, what can you do to ensure you start the new year without new debt? Here are a few tips to help you hang on to more dough while still spreading cheer.
Craft a holiday budget. Include in your budget not only gifts, food and decorations, but also holiday cards, postage for those cards, charitable donations, wrapping supplies and babysitters for parties and shopping trips. Once you’ve listed all your expenses, review them and decide where you can cut some costs.
Reduce gift expenses. Most people can spend less on gifts than they envision. Gifts to extended family and friends are an excellent place to start. Talk to those with whom you exchange gifts, and see if they’ll agree to set a dollar limit or even forgo the gift exchange altogether. Another option that works well for families and groups is to reduce the number of gifts purchased by drawing names, organizing a Secret Santa or holding a white elephant exchange.
Wrap up savings. Pass over the expensive wrapping paper and go for simple kraft paper or white butcher paper in economical jumbo rolls. Use simple, affordable baker’s twine rather than fancy satin ribbon. Or reuse gift bags from last year. And this year, take advantage of post-holiday sales to stock up on next year’s wrapping supplies.
Think value, not dollars spent. Decide in advance on a gift value for each recipient. For example, let’s say you’ve decided to spend $50 on a gift for your sister. Now, rather than buying her something that’s on sale for $50 but actually worth $75, stick to the value. Buy something that’s worth $50 but on sale for $35. This is a good strategy for shaving a lot of expense.
Shell out less on postage. Do you usually send out more holiday cards than you receive? Opt instead for a phone call during the holiday season for those you don’t talk to often. It will cost you nothing and have more meaning. Then, mail cards only to those who send you a card.
Cut back on the baking. When was the last time you heard someone complain of a shortage of holiday goodies? Probably never. Most of us eat far more than we’d like, just because it’s there. If you find yourself irresistibly drawn to the kitchen, go ahead and scratch that creative itch, and then divide the batches into smaller amounts to hand out as gifts. A small stack of cookies wrapped lovingly can convey your holiday sentiments as easily as a giant tin.
Pinch pennies with a potluck. Rather than playing head chef when you host a party, let your guests contribute to the bounty. Offer to provide one or two main dishes, and ask everyone to bring a specific type of appetizer, side dish or dessert to avoid duplicates.
Save on sitters. To eliminate the cost of a babysitter, offer to exchange babysitting with a neighbor or friend, so each of you can attend a holiday party or do some efficient holiday shopping without the kids.
Scale back on extras. Now is the time to scour your personal and family habits to pare down the unnecessary perks to which you’ve become accustomed, like lattes at the coffee shop and eating out instead of cooking at home.
Plan your shopping before you head out. Do research online to find the best deals on the items on your shopping list. If you can’t find a good deal on something, consider an alternative. Also, keep an eye out for sale ads and check the “coupon” page of the store websites you plan to shop.
Avoid buying on credit. If possible, leave credit cards at home when you go shopping, to avoid impulse purchases. Many people spend far more than they plan on by purchasing unnecessary “bargains” they just can’t resist. But if you do use your credit card, try to make a serious effort to double or even triple the monthly payments when that first bill arrives, so you can reduce the interest you’ll pay; this will get the debt off your books more quickly.
Ultimately, the holiday season is not about how much you spend. It’s about cherishing your loved ones and showing them you care. Keep that in mind, and your bank account will thank you well into 2019.
Kimberly Blaker is a freelance writer and the author of a kid’s STEM book, Horoscopes: Reality or Trickery?