With enough planning, savvy and creativity—and a specific holiday savings account to boot—your holiday can go from frenzied and frazzled to fun and fabulous with a debt-free holiday season that doesn’t break the bank. You can also be sure to leave a lasting impression on gift recipients and still save money during the holidays.
Here are a few suggestions to consider when you’re tempted to shell out your cash for the perfect, if overpriced, holiday experience:
1. “Treat yo self” a little bit less
By now, we’re all too familiar with the “latte habit” savings cliche, but it’s key to ramping up those holiday savings. In essence, the theory goes that if you stop spending on lattes (or lunch out), you will have more change in your pocket. These small lifestyle tweaks are easy ways to save on everyday expenses.
Randy Becker, owner of the Becker Retirement Group based in Seattle, Washington, suggests cutting the spending habit in half rather than going on a cold turkey purist quest. This way you can still have your treat and save money, too. Becker estimates that cutting out a $3.89 latte each workday (indulge on those weekends) adds up to $933 in savings a year. Similarly, skipping that $11 to $15 lunch out a couple of times per week adds up to $1,400 in savings per year. These two items alone will net you nearly $2,500 in ‘found money.’ If you create a de facto holiday savings account with the money you’ve saved, when it’s time to go holiday shopping, this financial boost culled from skimping on little extras is sure to come in handy and mean big holiday savings.
2. Get to know your old friend “cash” again
In a fast-paced, digital society, one of the biggest things to get lost in the shuffle is cold, hard cash. It’s true that credit and debit cards offer rewards, convenience and safety. But for some, a plastic spending spree could bring on holiday financial stress once the bills come in. One easy suggestion to track your spending, and save money during the holidays, is to use actual cash instead of plastic. It’s often known as the envelope budget. The trick is to withdraw only the amount of cash for which you have budgeted. Once that amount is gone, resist the temptation to spend money you don’t have and call it a day. This means you may only be able to buy one new tacky sweater for this holiday season, but your holiday savings will thank you.
3. Make a shopping list (check it twice) and commit to it
Your shopping strategy is key if you’re trying to save money during the holidays. If you’ve ever gone grocery shopping without a list and on an empty stomach, you might have felt the gnawing desire to load up on everything around you. Holiday shopping without a list can be a similar experience, says Andrew Denney, founder and CEO of Springfield, Missouri-based Prosperity Financial Group. From the moment you walk in the store, potential gifts pull at your senses and vie for your attention and dollars. When you’ve thought out who you are shopping for and have a rough idea of what you will buy them, the process will be smoother and your holiday savings potentially a lot higher.
“If you go with a list and know what you have to buy, it’s proven time after time that you’ll spend less than people who go haphazardly spending,” he says.
4. Do your homework and start early
The holidays probably aren’t on your radar in the middle of summer, or even two days after they’re finished. But, depending on what gifts you’re hoping to buy and what holiday expenses are in store for your budget, they should be. Denney suggests starting to research and make holiday purchases in August or September.
“Come up with a budget for what you want to spend and give yourself ample time to pay for it so it’s not all shock,” he says.
Even if you’re not quite ready to start shopping for the holidays, you can slowly but surely put money into your holiday savings account. You could even automate your savings by contributing a small amount of each paycheck to this account. That way, when you’re ready to jump head first into holiday expenses, your holiday savings account will be ready for you.
5. Give something homemade and from the heart
Showing up to a holiday party with a terrific, but costly, bottle of wine might seem like the perfect hostess gift. But, giving something homemade can still show your gratitude and enable you to save money during the holidays. Cookies, cakes and other baked goods can be a fantastic option. If you’re a crafty person and all about DIY, putting in a little elbow grease to make jewelry, pottery or festive ornaments is also a good bet and can contribute to your holiday savings.
6. Use technology
If you’re trying to save money during the holidays, Becker says there are automated tools or apps, like Acorns, which track your spending, round up your change and put it aside for you as a reward or in a separate account. Why not set that extra money aside each month as part of your holiday savings and holiday savings account?
“At the end of the year, you could push those savings over to checking, and now you’re spending money you have instead of creating debt,” he says.