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The holiday season is here and it’s one of the most expensive times of the year. So you’re probably wondering how to do Christmas cheap?
Your budget can really take a hit in December. And your credit card company will be thanking you for all the new charges (and interest they’ll receive) come January. But the holiday season doesn’t have to put your spending over the top or knock your budget out of whack.
There are several reasons holiday time is the most expensive time of the year. Travel, gift giving, and entertaining are big expenses on their own, but this time of year you have all of them at the same time.
HOW TO DO CHRISTMAS CHEAP
Let’s take a look at some of the various expenses associated with the holidays and some tips for cutting costs and keeping your budget in check.
MEAL PLANNING AND GROCERY SHOPPING
First up is the meal. If you’re hosting, your expenses will include lots of groceries.
You can cut back on grocery shopping expenses for all of your holiday dinners with a few simple tricks:
- Write a menu for your holiday meals then review the recipes for each item on your menu.
- Compare the ingredients you need for each recipe with what you already have on-hand and start a grocery list for everything you don’t have.
- Next, split this list up between perishable and non-perishable items.
- The perishables will most likely need to be purchased all at once close to the time you need them, but you can start purchasing the non-perishables now.
- Look for sales on flour, sugar, and canned vegetables and buy them a little at a time so you aren’t it with one big grocery bill.
- The same goes for sodas and beverage you want to have on hand for your guests.
This tip also works great for holiday baking. Make a list of the treats you plan to bake, put together your grocery list, and buy ingredients a little at a time until you’re ready to start your baking.
I use two additional tricks to keep my grocery budget in check.
Ibotta is a FREE app that gives you CASH rebates on store brand products and generic brands as well.
If you love to shop generic or only buy the cheapest product on sale than this app is a game changer because you can save a small amount, roughly 20 cents on things like milk, apples, shredded cheese, frozen veggies, tomatoes, bananas, eggs, bread, and pasta. You can buy any brand or generic and still get the rebate. When you can, always pair coupons in conjunction with sale items.
Sign up for Ibotta (it’s free to join, plus you get $10 added to your account) where you can maximize your savings even more. Only available in the US.
TRY GROCERY BUDGET MAKEOVER
One great meal planning resources I’ve been impressed with is Grocery Budget Makeover. I personally am a student of GBM and after using Erin’s system was able to reduce my grocery budget from $1,200 per month to $700 per month. It completely takes the stress out of doing all this by myself. Erin has done all the hard work. All I do is follow the system and pow! I’m saving money and feeding my family food they love! The program opens a few times a year, so get on the wait list so the next time she offers the program you can see if it’s right for you.
Keep it simple.
Seeing all the wonderful recipes on Pinterest can make it tempting to make a new dish, but make sure that dish doesn’t use any expensive ingredients that you don’t need for anything else. Use simple recipes with a small list of common ingredients that you can use for other dishes.
Use this tip for holiday baking as well. Choose recipes that use only a few ingredients, can be used for other baked goods, and don’t have expensive ingredients that you only need for one recipe.
Don’t offer a full bar.
Keep your alcohol offerings simple too. Beer, wine, and sodas. Filling your liquor cabinet with bottles that will be opened and only used for a few drinks isn’t cost effective. And if you’re doing all the cooking, ask your guests to bring the beverages.
4. Make it a potluck.
Just because you’re hosting doesn’t mean you have to buy all the food and do all the cooking. Ask your guests to bring a dish. Assign items so you don’t have overlap, but ask your guests to bring a salad, side dish, or dessert.
Now that you have your holiday cooking and baking budgeted, it’s time to look at holiday travel expenses.
The holiday season is one of the most expensive times of year to take a trip, but there are a few ways to cut costs and still have a great trip.
If you’re traveling, airfare and hotel expenses will hit your budget where it hurts.
The earlier you book airfare, rental cars, and hotels, the easier it is to shop around and get the best deals. Compare travel sites for different available discounts. The best deals are offered three weeks in advance of domestic travel and 30 days in advance of international travel. The closer you get to the holiday season; the more flights start selling out so they raise prices on the last available seats until the very last moment. Those prices don’t come down again until a few days before the flight.
2. Travel on less expensive days.
It may surprise you to know that traveling on Tuesdays and Wednesdays is less expensive than traveling over the weekend. Also, the few days before and after a holiday are more expensive while traveling on the holiday itself is sometimes less expensive.
3. Try alternative airports.
Instead of flying into a major hub, look for deals at a smaller airport in the same area. Even if you have to rent a car or take a cab to get to your final destination, it can be less expensive than flying into the main airport.
Gift giving is the next major expense that can hurt your budget through holiday season but it doesn’t have to. There are a few ways to cut expenses here as well.
Personalized gifts made with love can mean more than anything you buy in the store. Think about the recipient and what they like, then create a gift you make yourself just for them. Do they like to read? Make them an assortment of bookmarks. Do they work hard and need some downtime? Make a gift basket of handmade soaps and bath salts. Do they like to cook or bake? Make your own herb-infused oils or vanilla extract. My 100 Days of Debt Free Christmas Ideas is a great resource for finding ideas and learning how to make great gifts.
Limit your list.
If you have a large family, instead of buying gifts for everyone, draw names. This means you’ll only need to buy one gift instead of several, instantly reducing your budget. The holiday season has lost it’s meaning with so many expensive and unnecessary gifts. Instead, get back to what it should be about, quality time with your family. You don’t need hundreds of gifts to make that happen. I’ve got lots of ideas on ways to limit your list you’ll love and will make your wallet happy too!
It can be tempting to buy individual gifts for everyone in your office or all of your neighbors, but that can quickly add up. Instead, buy a bulk item that you can personalize for everyone. For instance, you can purchase simple white coffee mugs at a discount store for about $1 each. With a few markers and paints made for glass and porcelain, you can personalize these mugs for just a few dollars more. You’ll find a variety of decorating ideas on Pinterest that you can easily achieve, even if you aren’t an artist.
EARN EXTRA MONEY
With all of these holiday expenses hitting your budget at once, you may want to consider some ways to earn a little extra money to cover them. It will help keep your budget on track and keep you from going in debt. There are a few easy ways to earn some extra money without having to commit long-term to another job or side business.
Clean out your attic and garage.
Chances are, you’ve been meaning to clean and organize these areas for a while, so why not do it for a good cause. You can sell collectibles, furniture, and other items on eBay or Craigslist for a little extra cash. There are even some local Facebook groups that allow you to buy and sell items.
This will allow you to pay over time without putting the expense on your credit card. Stores are happy to have you purchase from them, and layaway usually encourages people to buy more, so most stores don’t charge interest fees. This does require you to plan and shop early, but it spreads your payments out over a longer period so you can manage them a little easier.
Get a part-time job.
Just for the holidays. Most retail stores hire extra staff for the holiday season. Pay is average, usually about $8-$10/an hour. But a few shifts a week can mean an extra $200-$500 a month. If you budget well. That can be enough to cover your holiday expenses. Stores start hiring in late October/early November and keep seasonal employees until January which give you about three months of extra income. As an added bonus, even as a seasonal employee you can qualify for employee discounts. Find a job at a store where you can do most of your shopping and you’ll be able to do it at a discount.
Redeem reward points
If you’ve been shopping all year using credit cards and building up reward points, now may be the time to cash them in. You can redeem your points for gift cards to stores where you want to do your holiday shopping. Put those point to good use by redeeming them for gifts or putting them towards your travel.
The holiday season can be costly and can have a long-term impact on your budget, but with some planning and creativity, it doesn’t have to. The most important thing to do to get your finances set up for holiday expenses is to plan. Know what you need to buy and how much it will cost so that you can budget appropriately. Then spread your spending out over several weeks so that you don’t have to put out large sums of money at once. And if you’re able to earn a little extra money to help cover those expenses, all the better.
So there you have it! How to do Christmas on the cheap. Smart strategies that keep more money in your pocket.