Finances & Debt

13 Ways to Save Money on Holiday Gifts

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The average American adult spends approximately $800 on holiday shopping every year. That may sound more scary than merry if you’re trying to tighten your holiday belt this year. To cut back on your holiday spending without being a Scrooge, try these 13 ways to save money.

  1. Set — and stick to — a budget.
    Creating a gift budget may seem like a no-brainer, but in the hustle and bustle of the holiday season it’s easy to let something like that slip through the cracks. Without a budget, you’re almost guaranteed to overspend, so make it a priority this year.
    • Determine how much you are able to spend on gifts.
    • Make a list of every person you want to give a gift to along with a dollar amount you plan to spend on each of them.
    • Add up the total. Do the two numbers match? If so, great — you have your gift-giving budget under control! But if your wishes are bigger than your wallet, you’ll need to get creative and cut back on how much you’re spending for some people.
  2. Shop early to take advantage of sales.
    This takes some advance planning, but you can save big money by being on the lookout for sales all year long. Becky S. keeps her eyes open for toy sales starting every spring. “I have a couple Christmas gifts for each kid already purchased and hidden away,” she says. “At one point I saw a great sale on princess Lego sets, so I had to jump on that!”
  3. Shop Cyber Monday.
    If you aren’t a fan of the packed parking lots and long lines found on Black Friday, try Cyber Monday instead. You’ll find deals across the web – often with sitewide sales that can blow Friday’s deals out of the water.
  4. Shop with cash.
    If you use cash, you’ll tend to spend about 23 percent less than if you charge purchases on a credit card. Another tip is to carry large bills so you’ll be less likely to want to break them on small impulse purchases.
  5. Sell the kids’ old stuff.
    To help pad the gift fund, some parents like to sell things their kids no longer need. “We take outgrown toys and clothes to our local consignment shop,” says Stephanie B. “We let our account build up until November and then we take the money out to buy gifts for the kids. It’s surprising how much that adds up!”
  6. Make something special.
    Try crocheting a hat for your sister, creating a digital playlist of your friend’s favorite songs or baking cookies for your co-workers. And get your kids in on the creativity! A homemade glitter-drenched ornament from the grandkids just might be Grandma’s favorite present.
  7. Get creative with your spouse.
    You and your spouse may want to change up the gift-giving rules this year: maybe you agree to make each other gifts. Or maybe you decide you’d rather spend quality time together doing an activity instead of buying something. You could even skip the gifts altogether. One caution to the “no-gifts” approach: It only works if you both agree to it. If exchanging gifts is important to your partner, don’t try this tip! And if you decide on no gifts, you both have to stick to it — don’t make your spouse feel bad by buying them a gift when they won’t have one for you in return.
  8. Skip all of the adults!
    Some families choose to reserve gift giving for the children and skip those older than 18. “We stopped gifts to my husband’s siblings years ago, not because of money but because of the hassle,” says Linda S. “It got to the point where we were all buying things at the same big box store and shipping them cross-country.”
  9. Try stocking stuffers.
    Missy K., her sisters and their spouses no longer exchange large gifts. Instead they buy each other small trinkets to stuff their Christmas stockings. “My sisters and I give each other inexpensive jewelry, cute mittens or miniature bottles of booze, and my brother-in-law always gives us his amazing homemade beef jerky,” Missy says. “My youngest sister and her family fly across the country to visit us for Christmas, so it’s more convenient for them not to have fit large gifts in their carry-ons. And I know their plane tickets are expensive, so I don’t want them to spend money on gifts. I’d rather have their presence than their presents!”
  10. Draw names.
    If you have a large family or group of friends, put everyone’s name in a hat and have each person draw one name. Then you can put your time, energy and money into getting a nice, meaningful gift for just one person.
  11. Host a white-elephant exchange.
    Missy K.’s husband’s family holds an annual white-elephant exchange that is the highlight of their holiday get-together. Each person brings one small, inexpensive gift. Everyone draws a number, then picks a present from the pile in order of the number they drew. You can either choose a new present from the pile or steal from someone else. “The gifts really vary, which is part of the fun,” Missy says. “The first year someone brought a piece of junk from their basement that finds its way back to the white-elephant exchange every year — no one wants to get stuck with that gift! His brother is a sculptor and sometimes brings one of his original works — those get stolen a lot.”
  12. Get a group gift.
    Choosing individual gifts for each person in a family can be expensive and time-consuming. Instead, consider one gift that the whole family can enjoy — maybe a family-friendly game or movie, or a season pass to their local swimming pool or zoo.
  13. Choose what’s most important.
    You don’t have to do everything this holiday season. If you don’t enjoy sending cards, skip the cards and put the money toward your gift budget instead. Or if you love sending cards, cut down on gifts and spend time crafting meaningful messages in your cards.

To focus less on material things and more on the spirit of the season, consider a joint donation to a favorite charity with the adults on your list, or volunteer together over the holidays instead of exchanging gifts.

Or, like Linda S., focus more on experiences than on things: “As with so many things, money at the holidays is better spent on experience,” she says. “Modest gifts are nice for the kids, but adults don’t really need presents. I’d rather spend the rest of my budget on concerts and plays, fresh greenery to drape around the house, touring light displays, and making special treats.”

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