Now that Halloween is over, it’s time to turn attention to the “wild rumpus” that is the holiday season. This year will be different than the past few because inflation has caused the cost of everything to soar. This means that many of us will be looking for ways to cut Christmas expenses. Not that cutting Christmas expenses is ever a bad idea, even in good years. A lot of us go too far overboard every year and end up with post-holiday regret. This year, though, if you put Christmas on a credit card, rising interest rates mean that you’ll pay a lot more for that excess. That’s why it’s important to rein in the spending before the wild rumpus gets out of hand.
If you’re afraid that cutting Christmas expenses will leave you looking like a Scrooge, fear not. Most rational people will actually thank you for being honest about the situation and trying to establish some limits. The vast majority of your friends and family members are probably just as stressed about the whole season as you are and will happily go along with anything that reduces the pain, be it financial or time pressure. Even the gung-ho celebrators likely won’t mind because for them it’s about the holidays themselves, not the gifts and assorted paraphernalia.
With that in mind, here are 25 ways to cut Christmas expenses without sacrificing fun or holiday spirit.
If you stop reading this piece after this point, it’s okay because this is the single, biggest, most important piece of advice I can give you. Say no. Say it often! Saying no to the things you can’t and/or don’t want to do will save you big over the holidays, both in terms of money and sanity. Too many of us take on too much because we’re afraid to decline for fear of looking Grinchy or stingy. But here’s the thing: It doesn’t matter what others think of you. You can only do what you can do. The rest of it has to fall to someone else, or just not be done at all. Period. So if you don’t have the money or time to do something, just say no. No is a complete sentence, but if you feel obligated to offer an explanation, simply say, “I’m sorry, but we just can’t do that this year.” Whether it’s traveling far to visit family, hosting the work holiday party (again), or being expected to coordinate the kid’s classroom events, you are allowed to politely decline.
Name exchanges/Secret Santa
Instead of buying for every co-worker or family member, set up a name exchange or a Secret Santa operation so that everyone only has to buy for one person. And then…
To further limit the economic pain, you can set a spending limit for gifts. You can also set limits based on type or number of gifts. A favorite example is the “Four gift rule.” You gift a person something to wear, something they need, something they want and something to read. You can create whatever rules and limits you want, but limits remove the pressure and tendency to overspend.
Give to charities
If you want to save money and stop the flow of clutter into your home, giving to charities is a great way to do it. A donation to a charity in your recipient’s name will make more of an impact than another piece of stuff that the recipient has to store.
Only give to the kids
If you have a big extended family, one option to save money is to restrict gift giving to just the kids. Adults can fend for themselves and aren’t (or shouldn’t be, anyway), as fixated on the presents.
Use your old decorations
I don’t know how many times I’ve seen trees tossed on the curb the day after Christmas with the decorations still on them. I assume that many of these people do themed trees every year and so they buy all of their ornaments new each year. This is not a money-saving strategy, nor does it create much nostalgia. If you want to cut expenses in this area, reuse your decor from year to year and only add select new items such as commemorative ornaments.
Make a detailed budget and gift list and stick to them
Make a budget and include everything you need to spend over the holidays. And be honest! Include everything: Gifts, food, entertainment, travel, clothing and decor. Once you have your realistic budget and you know how much you can spend without going into debt, stick to it religiously. If you overspend in one category, you’ll have to make it up from another.
Similarly, make a gift list and stick to that. List who you’re buying for and what they’re getting. Once the item is bought, that’s it. No adding more stuff “just because.” And no adding recipients late in the season. If someone gives you a gift and you didn’t have them on your list, you are not obligated to rush out and buy them something. Simply say thank you and leave it at that.
Shop the sales wisely
Sales are everywhere, but not all sales are created equal. First, know the regular prices of items so you know when a sale is great as opposed to mediocre. Second, don’t buy something just because it’s on sale. If it’s not on your list, don’t buy it unless it’s a darn good substitute for the item you originally planned to buy. Third, don’t go wander the sales or trawl the virtual sale events “just to see what’s there.” That’s a sure path to disaster.
Make or bake some gifts
If you’re crafty or can cook, make some gifts. Offer to make meals for someone a few times per year, or start a cookie exchange at work. Make ornaments or decor to give away, or use your talents to make a useful item like jewelry or a custom quilt. Of course if you’re not crafty or a good cook, now is not the time to try to learn, but if you already have skills, put them to use.
Give your time
Offer your time instead of physical stuff. Offer to babysit your niece, for example, or to drive an elderly person to appointments. Use your skills to help someone fix their car, or do some maintenance around the house. Or you can volunteer for an organization you care about in lieu of donating money. I’ve often thought that since time is the most valuable resource we have, offering it to someone else is just about the greatest gift you can give.
Don’t give in to the need to compete
Your holiday season should be just that: Yours. So don’t give in to the drive to compete with others. If you don’t like big dinners and lots of decorations, for example, there’s no reason to go overboard just because your sister is. If you get invited to a big holiday party, you don’t have to reciprocate by hosting one yourself. Be yourself and don’t let others dictate your holiday spending and fun.
The secondhand market is a wonderful thing and you can find all sorts of gifts and decor. Thrift stores, charity shops, Nextdoor, Craigslist or Facebook groups, estate sales and the like are all potential sources of great ideas. Just be aware of prices and make sure that you’re not getting ripped off.
Skip the stocking stuffers
There’s nothing like a last minute panic over stocking stuffers to send your budget into the red. I don’t know what it is, but people go nuts in the last days before Christmas loading up on doo-dads and candy to try to “round out” the gift pile. Just let it go. Virtually none of that stuff is that great, let alone necessary.
Get crafty with wrapping
I’m one of those people who saves wrapping paper, bows, gift bags, and boxes year to year as long as they’re in good shape. It’s saved me a ton of money. You can also deploy your craft skills and turn standard brown craft paper or white butcher paper into wonderful wrappings. Even newspaper can be made pretty. You can make your own gift tags and adornments.
There is almost always a low cost or free alternative to holiday entertainment. You can skip the pricey drive through light show, for example, and find some neighborhoods that go over the top to drive through, or find another light display that’s free. Instead of paying the premium for the “limited time” outdoor ice rink, just go to the indoor rink. You don’t have to see the holiday blockbuster in the movie theater. Wait for it to come to DVD or streaming and choose an older movie to watch at home now. Make it special with great snacks, or set it up outside if the weather is nice. Go to the municipal parade that’s free instead of the pricey “Santa’s Village” experience at the park.
Shop early to avoid shipping penalties
Shipping prices only get higher the closer you get to Christmas. If you wait too long to ship your gifts, you will pay. Big time. So either shop early and get the stuff out the door, or wait until after Christmas to mail it.
Reconsider your lighting strategy
If your house looks like the one from Christmas Vacation, consider scaling back your lighting. Electricity prices are soaring this year, so if you have fewer strands of lights and infaltable decorations, you’ll save some money. Pick a few well chosen decorations and try the “less is more” strategy.
Instead of each person buying individual gifts, have everyone chip in for one gift. This works great for parents, bosses, or teachers. It not only cuts the cost per person, it also cuts the pile of clutter down to size.
Skip the cards
Cards can be a great way to keep in touch with those far away, but they are pricey. Particularly if you order fancy custom cards each year. Instead, buy the less expensive bulk box of regular cards and focus on the personal message or photo you’ll include inside. Also, not every gift must be accompanied by a card. It’s okay to simply give a gift with no card. You can also send e-cards which might feel a bit less personal, but still lets the person know you’re thinking of them and no postage required.
Ease the grocery pain
To cut party food costs, have everyone bring a dish or beverage to dinner rather than you buying everything or having it catered. If you are providing the food, make sure to shop smart. Don’t shop hungry, make a list and stick to it, shops sales, and make smart substitutions (chicken may be cheaper than turkey, for example). Also remember that you aren’t feeding a literal army. You don’t need three entrees and six desserts for people to choose from. Keep it simple. If you don’t want to buy booze, signal that the party is BYO and let those who want to imbibe provide their own while you provide soft drinks and water.
Cut travel costs
If you must travel over the holidays, savings can be difficult but not impossible. Use rewards points, book early, and use any discounts you can like AAA or AARP. Take an Uber or have a friend drive you to the airport instead of paying for parking. If you’re driving, use an app like GasBuddy to find the cheapest gas and make sure your car is in good shape so you’re not stuck paying for emergency repairs. For the more adventurous, you can see if someone in your area is also going in the same direction and share a ride. If you can, though, the smartest strategy may be to wait to visit loved ones until after the holidays when travel tends to go down in price.
Limit the advertising coming into your home
Finally, you can cut expenses by simply limiting the amount of advertising you (and your kids) see. It’s hard to want something if you don’t know it’s out there. And it’s hard to be tempted to shop a sale if you don’t know it’s happening. This is the time to get off the catalog mailing lists, unsubscribe from brand/store emails, and watch streaming or other ad-free TV and movies. Find other hobbies to occupy your time rather than thinking about shopping.
Do you have any other tips for cutting Christmas expenses? Share in the comments below!
Jennifer Derrick is a freelance writer, novelist and children’s book author. When she’s not writing Jennifer enjoys running marathons, playing tennis, boardgames and reading pretty much everything she can get her hands on. You can learn more about Jennifer at: https://jenniferderrick.com/.