3 Smart Strategies to Save Money During the Holidays

November is over and the wintry chill is setting in. Fun decorations, exciting sales, chances to reconnect with friends and family – the things we look forward to every year are finally here! 

But there also tends to be something else on our minds: holiday spending stress. 

If you’ve ever stressed about money during the holidays, you are in good company. According to a Bankrate survey, 6 in 10 people feel pressured to overspend during this season, and 86% say the holidays contribute to their anxiety. 

Maybe it’s gifts for the 14 nieces and nephews, the very real need to escape the snow for a week, or that check you always write to your favorite local nonprofit. No matter how you celebrate, money worries tend to peak around the major winter holidays. 

✈️ There are flights, meals, parties, and gifts, all of which can add up quickly. In fact, it’s estimated that 2021 fourth-quarter spending will end up being 7% higher this holiday season than it was in 2020.

🤩 But think of it this way – it’s because people are excited again! According to a recent survey, 47% of millennials said they are “excited or eager” for the holidays. With the economy recovering from the first years of COVID-19, there’s some tangible holiday spirit this year.

 🎁 Follow this positive momentum into the new year by acknowledging holiday spending anxieties, meeting yourself where you’re at, and planning. There are lots of small things you can do to make a big difference in limiting your wintertime spending. 

CARD made this detailed list of 3 holiday savings strategies just for you and yours. Get cozy and keep reading…

1. Draw up a holiday budget

This may seem like a no-brainer, but putting pen to paper (or more realistically, fingers to trackpad) and laying out all your holiday expenses can be extremely helpful. 

Based on a National Retail Federation survey, the average American plans to spend about $1,000 on the holidays this year. That’s a big chunk of change!

 Check out this guide to holiday budgeting for a detailed overview and strategy. Not feeling that DIY budgeting spirit? Take advantage of a savings app like Trim or a budgeting app like Mint to track spending from your phone. 

Here are few key steps to inspire your
🎁holiday budgeting process🎁

Go through your financial records (easier these days with online banking) and check out what you spent in holiday seasons past. This will help you be realistic and effective when setting goals for 2021. 

Next, whip out that calendar and document out all your “inevitable” holiday costs based on your upcoming plans. Think: flying out to your mother in law’s mandatory Christmas party, buying Hanukkah gifts for all the kids, or paying off that non-refundable new year’s party trip you booked.  

Take these unavoidable holiday costs and look at them alongside your current cash flow and everyday spending. From here you can calculate how much you should try to set aside from each paycheck to cover holiday costs.

See if you can find places to cut daily or weekly expenditures and put extra cash towards festivities. Anticipate that unforeseen expenses will pop up – Hanukkah, Christmas, New Years, the holidays just keep coming. 

However, as you follow these steps, keep in mind that everyone’s financial journey is unique and valid. Take care of yourself and make sure your budgeting strategy isn’t adding unnecessary strain to an already stressful season.

 Here’s an article from UC Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Magazine with some easy mindfulness strategies for staying on top of holiday stress.    

2. Be strategic about holiday travel

A recent survey found that 122 million people are planning on venturing far from home for the holidays in December. The newly identified Omicron variant and resulting travel restrictions might put a damper on these numbers, but more people are hitting the road this year than in 2020.

Travel costs often make up the biggest chunk of a household’s holiday budget, but it’s also one of the easiest places to cut back on spending. Here are a few travel hacks to set you on the right path… 

Points, rewards & benefits - oh my!

Why spend out of pocket when you could use up your hard-earned points for flights or hotel bookings? Sometimes buying with points from a loyalty program or with a rewards credit card can even get you better rates! Be sure to check your accounts and inbox for promotional bonus deals. 

Tip: Many rewards programs and loyalty memberships now have online portals where you can book everything travel-related and potentially get discounted package rates. 

While using up points can ease holiday budget strain in the now, using rewards credit cards can save you money in the future. Look into your credit card and find out if it rewards you for travel. If so, use it for all your holiday flights, hotels, rental cars, etc. and reap the benefits later. 

Do you have a premium credit card? A common feature of these accounts you might not be taking advantage of are annual travel credits. Basically, when you use these cards to pay for travel, you can get reimbursed for a certain dollar amount per year. 

To close off this section, here’s Nerdwallet’s well-researched list of the best travel rewards credit cards of the 2021 season. 

Plan the perfect road trip

From COVID risks to rampant flight cancellations, there are a lot of reasons to consider not flying domestically this holiday season. 

 If you can swing it, opt for a road trip instead. Save money by not purchasing what tend to be some of the most expensive flights of the year and create new travel memories! Here’s a few basic ways to save on a holiday road trip: 

Check on your car before you leave! Putting air in your tires can save you gas money and getting a tune-up will prevent unforeseen roadside service costs (and stress). 

Use an app to find the cheapest gas. These days there’s no reason to buy overpriced gas in a city center when you can hop on your phone and find better prices a short drive away. Gas Buddy, Gas Guru, and Waze are three big-name apps that will direct you to the best-priced pump. 

Plan hotel stays ahead of time and look for flexible cancellation policies. Get better rates by planning your stops ahead and researching hotels instead of looking when you arrive (you’re tired, cranky, stiff, and more likely to overpay). Things can change quickly on the road, so do your best not to get roped into cancellation fees. 

Pack your own provisions. Relying on gas stations and convenience stores for food and drink can really increase your spending over a long road trip. You’ll be surprised at how much you could save by throwing a cooler and some snacks in the car before you leave! 

In summary, opting to drive instead of flying this holiday season can save you big money if you do it right. Do your research, plan ahead, and hit the road, Jack! 

3. Change the way you gift and decorate

Of the $1,000 the average American plans to spend this season, about $650 will go towards buying gifts. Another $230 will be used on non-gift purchases like decorations and food. 

The holidays (while looking and smelling wonderful) can feel like an endless cycle of decorating, hosting, and re-decorating – all of which can really drain your wallet. If your gift list is adding up too quickly or you need budget-friendly decorating strategies this year, these tips are for you!  

Embrace the DIY

There is absolutely, positively nothing wrong with homemade. Whether you’re making gifts from the heart or putting together your own decorations, DIYs can create elegant and meaningful holiday celebrations (and save you money). Plus, homemade gifts mean no shipping costs, no taxes, and no storefront or label markups.  

 After all, what is more valuable than knowing someone put time, thought, creativity and effort into a gift? 

 You don’t need to be an artist! Think about the skills you already have, look for inspiration online, and give up that trip to the store. Frame a meaningful photograph, write a dedicated poem, or knit a scarf – your wallet (and the giftee) will thank you. 

Another holiday staple that doesn’t have to be store-bought to look good: decorations! Do an arts-and-crafts project with the kids or host a holiday craft swap with your group of close friends. 

You can also use real items that you find in nature (pinecones, fir tree branches, leaves, seasonal fruit), plus Pinterest of course, to create your own rustic winter wonderland. 

Secondhand doesn’t mean second-best!

As the holiday guests come and go from people’s homes, so do the decorations. Look on Facebook marketplace, Craigslist or Nextdoor for neighbors selling secondhand decor and save big bucks on updating your home’s holiday look. 

Don’t just decorate secondhand – gift secondhand! Thrifting is a trendy and sustainable way to shop in 2021. Gen-Z in particular has turned it into a multi-million dollar industry over the last few years. 

Think: rare books, vintage clothes, old records, unique home goods. There’s someone in your life who would appreciate a gift you can only buy at a garage sale, estate sale, or thrift store. Pay bargain prices for one-of-a-kind gifts! 

Need to shop online-only for health and safety reasons? You still have lots of options for purchasing items secondhand and saving money. 

The RealReal has secondhand, verified, brand-name fashion goods for the family members with even the most expensive of taste. ThredUp (a company valued in March at $1.3 billion) and Poshmark are also good options for secondhand fashion gifts. 

Do your research, set stigmas aside, and help save your wallet and the planet with secondhand holiday shopping. For a more in-depth perspective, read this Time article about secondhand holidays and change the way you think about shopping!  

Recap

This holiday season, show your loved ones you care without breaking the bank. With plenty of celebrations, gift-exchanges, and general holiday hijinx ahead of us, it’s never too late to track your holiday spending. 

 Keep your personal definition of financial independence in mind and try not to put undue pressure on yourself with unrealistic budgeting. Look at years past and make sure you’re keeping track of all your income streams and spending when creating a holiday budget. 

 Do your research and use rewards when booking travel amenities like flights, hotels, and car-rentals. The holidays are a great time to use points, take advantage of premium account rewards, and snag special deals. 

Last, take on a new gifting and decorating state of mind! Tech trends and toy crazes come and go – but a thoughtful, secondhand gift can last a lifetime. 

All these small strategies can add up to huge savings and help you feel proactive in easing holiday financial anxieties. 

⭐️ From the CARD family to yours, we hope you have a joyful, fulfilling, and healthy holiday season. 

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