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Are you worried that inflation will cut into your holiday budget this year? Finances starting to feel tight as the end of the year draws near? That’s quite alright! Don’t let that be a damper on the holidays. There are many ways to make the holidays feel less consumerist (stressful?). As a frugal minimalist, I’ve pretty much gotten the holidays down pat. I created a list of ways to save money during the holidays, just for you! Some of these won’t be popular to all. But I hope you find one or two things that resonate.
Ways to Save Money During the Holidays
- Create a budget. In our household, we have a category in our budget specifically for gifts! This includes holiday gifting. We set aside a certain amount of dollars per month for any upcoming gifting expenses. Around November, we look ahead and see how much we’ve got in our budget for gifts. It’s early enough for us to stow away a few extra dollars a week if we feel we will run a bit short. We do all of our budgeting with YNAB (You Need a Budget), which is helping me pay down my massive student debt in a short period of time! If you want to REALLY get into the nitty-gritty, you can take my entire FREE Mastering a Budget course here.
- Write a list. Not writing a list of people to gift to during the holidays is like not writing a list before grocery shopping. Sometimes, things end up in the proverbial cart, unplanned. Most likely, those things were emotional purchases. Use logic. List a lucky few you want to prioritize. Keep the list short. Not everyone needs a gift.
- Offer a gift exchange. If you come from a huge family, offer the idea of a gift exchange. It is much more doable to buy a decent gift for one person rather than for twenty. And cost-efficient!
- Create a no-gifting letter. Me and my sisters have created a no-gifting rule over the holidays. We used to buy each other gifts every year, until we turned thirty and realized we were only shuffling money around. It sounds kind of silly, going through the hassle of getting someone a $50 item just to receive a $50 item back. I stopped gifting my sister after she moved to Spain in 2020 upon her request and my immediate acquiesce. My SIL and I haven’t been exchanging gifts since 2018! Have a conversation with friends and family who have similar money and life goals as you. You may find that they don’t value gift-giving either. Or rather, they value other things more! If you’re having trouble, I did write a holiday no-gifting letter here that you can borrow. Plus a few tips on how to collect the courage.
- Get rid of expectations. Holiday traditions are usually social constructs. Sometimes, it’s hard to ignore social expectations. Not everyone is as open to ditching tradition like your closest sibs are. But choosing to opt out of an office potluck or gift exchange could mean saving $50 for someone you prioritize more. Likewise, by simply reducing what you think it means to deliver an “acceptable” gift or contribution can mean saving precious dollars during this time. It may be emotionally difficult, but becomes surprisingly easier after a few tries. Think of it as reframing your actions to match your values. Where do your true priorities lie? By investing your hard-earned dollars on many mere acquaintances, you are taking away from those closest to you, too. Every yes is balanced by a no. Good reminders during this special time.
- Make homemade gifts. I published a list of simple (mostly home-made) gift options before. Something as simple as baking pie or making cookies would do. If you’d like to get crafty, making wax candles, bars of soaps, or decadent essential oil blends would be appreciated.
- Make consumable gifts. My husband and I love being in the kitchen and we will oft make jars of homemade sauces, gift baskets of pasta meals, or homemade syrups for coffee. For example, this orange simple syrup recipe is perfect for fancy Cafe Nicos. I have one girlfriend who makes candied almonds, toffee bars, and other sweets and ships them to our door. It’s a family tradition she’s been keeping for years, and they make a whole event out of it!
- Shop second hand. Thrift stores aren’t as inexpensive as they once were. Nowadays, they could cost as much as buying brand new. But there are other ways to shop second hand. For example, we joined our local Buy Nothing Group. It’s a great way to acquire another man’s trash and turn it into my own treasure. If you love to scout, this may be a great version of online, second-hand shopping. And some people give away things with tags still on it! Young kids especially love any kind of toy. They’re just so happy to unwrap a box!
- Gift free books from your Friends of the Library. We live in a community with lending libraries. I walk by it every day when I do my dog-walks (check out how I make $1k a month taking care of pets here). By checking in each time, I find random books of all genres, most of them very good. I’ve got a few bookworms in my life. So I package a few of the same genre to gift to my friends, along with a pouch of hot cocoa or bar of chocolate. I LOVE finding books they would want to read.
- Use up old gift-cards. There was one year when I discovered that Mike had been hoarding gift cards. Not in any intentional way. He just didn’t want to shop at those particular stores. I nabbed them and spent them to buy other people gifts. Or when I was really lazy, I just re-gifted the gift cards! They were in a box collecting dust and we were able to declutter them, which was a win-win.
- Gift based on love-language. I once wrote a post on how our enneagrams can determine our financial strengths. Likewise, our love languages affect the way we receive gifts. Thankfully, not everyone has the same love language. Some people like acts of service, so gift ideas would include babysitting their little ones while mom and dad have a date night or coming over to help gift-wrap. Other people’s love language are words of affirmation. A really well-written card that tells them what they mean to you is all they want for Christmas. For those who like quality time, perhaps puzzling at home or cooking a meal together will do. If your significant other loves physical touch, maybe a foot rub, facial or massage at home would be wonderful to them! And even if your person likes gifts, did you know that gift-lovers care more about the significance of the gift rather than the price tag? You can buy someone a diamond ring but if you let the concierge choose it or the recipient feels like you didn’t take their style into consideration, then it could mean very little, even though it cost a lot!
- Say no to junk-for-junk gift exchanges. You know that White Elephant game? I almost never sign up for those! Only a lucky few walk away with something worthwhile. Most of the time, I call these junk-for-junk gift exchanges, especially when the price limit is set low. I try to avoid them or when I participate, I opt for the most practical gift. Last year, I fought for a pasta kit. I figured I might as well take home dinner!
- Socialize selectively. This is a BIG one. When I first started my financial independence journey, I decluttered my friends. I realized that some of the people I hung out with still loved to party, or loved to shop and spend their money. I reprioritized my life to set myself up for who I wanted to be. And then I selectively said yes to certain gatherings, and said no to ones that did not add value. It was the best thing I ever did. I remember the days when I would bemoan, complain and physically dread certain events that I was only going to out of obligation. By being socially selective, I’ve eliminated stress, my sense of fakeness, and that which wasted my time. This holiday season, socialize selectively.
- Be creative in your get-togethers. Get-togethers don’t have to be fancy. They also don’t have to be expensive. Be creative. Make dinners a potluck. Do a boardgame night. Or watch movies with popcorn. Play music like you’re in a band. Our friends and I love gathering for pizza or bowls of pasta, and playing video games on the Switch. The girls gab while the boys have the time of their lives. We also used to do Fantasy Football together on Sundays. Creating a league meant an excuse to eat food and gather at someone’s house on the weekends. For the holidays, be creative in your get-togethers.
- Plan your get-togethers around something other than dinner. Hosting a dinner party for 12 can be quite expensive. If “potluck” isn’t an option for your circle, why not plan your get-together around a different time? Doing a breakfast gathering is simpler and cheaper than cooking an elaborate dinner. Breakfast gatherings are actually me and Mike’s favorite! We love to do coffee, bagels, donuts, pancakes, or waffles. A one-pan quiche is amazing! Bowls of fruit or a box of croissants really isn’t that difficult to get-together, and it’s affordable. Other ideas include an afternoon tea party with tiny sandwiches and cookies, a light cocktail mixer with appetizers, or a ‘fancy brunch’ with charcuterie and mimosas. Doing this can cut your grocery costs in half.
- Cut costs elsewhere. One way we cut costs is by dining out less. Since we are already attending a number of gatherings and eating tons of heavy foods, we try to cook more dinners than normal and eat at home. Another place one can save is on entertainment. Skip the movie theatres and opt for a bit of family time instead. To be honest, we are usually exhausted from the social events this month. We relish any time to just stay in.
- Opt for e-cards. This is the first year we are sending a few holiday cards by post with Basic Invite. But for the past five years, e-cards is really all we do. It’s convenient, efficient, and free.
- Find free holiday activities. We love free holiday activities. I prepare an advent calendar each year which contains fun things to do throughout the season without spending money. This was one I made a few years back! It’s literally my favorite list I have ever made.
- Return unwanted gifts. Some people think this is mean, but as the queen of decluttering, this is one of my favorite things to do. My family, by now, has been warned of my distaste for clutter. I have asked them many times to skip the gifts. Shall they choose to continue gifting me things that aren’t things I need or want because of their own merriment, well that’s up to them. But I do return unwanted gifts, and they know that I will. Most members simply enjoy the task of shopping and wrapping during this season, without a care what happens after the giving. If that’s what it takes to spread joy, I’ve learned to let that part go.
- Use nature for decor. Holiday decor gets expensive and requires storing year round. As minimalists who practice small space living, we don’t have much other than a fake tree and a handful of ornaments. We have two stockings to hang and three tabletop pieces we thrifted years back from Goodwill. One can save on holiday decor by bringing in garlands, berry branches, acorns and other natural elements into the home. This year, we plan to pick oranges from the groves by our house and make dried orange ornaments out of them.
- Stay home for the holidays. I understand not everyone has the privilege of living close to their loved ones and staying home for the holidays. But holiday travel can get expensive (especially with today’s gas prices!). Staying in makes a huge different. Even if you have to travel to see relatives, maybe stay home more often in the month of December. Those few times you skip driving can add up! Limit your grocery runs, forgo the movie theatres, and shop online (hopefully there’s free shipping).
- Borrow what you need. My mum luckily lives down the street and owns everything one would ever need for the holidays. I make sure to ask her for bakeware, cardstock, and even ingredients, prior to buying some of my own.
- Reuse old wrappers and bows. This is another thing I can find at my mum’s house and my SIL’s. Avid savers of gift bags and bows, my SIL has even gone so far as to fold up used wrapping paper neatly. She doesn’t tear into gifts like I do. Instead she flicks the tape off neatly, as does my husband.
- Regift gift cards and other gifts. Does this sound audacious to you? Not to me! I grew up watching my parents do this all the time! My mom works at a school and receives candles, soaps, Starbucks gift cards, and boxes of chocolate from her students year round. She would save some of the unwanted scents or fast food gift cards and gift them to nieces, nephews, and friends!
- Limit your own luxuries. I like to remind myself that the holidays are a time to give to others. That’s the true meaning for me. So I skip my coffee runs while I’m out shopping. I skip spending my fun money, getting my nails and hair done, ordering wine with dinner, plus other little luxuries you can think of.
- Travel outside of the popular dates. If you must travel, try to do it a few weeks before or after Christmas. You may find the flights and hotels are a bit cheaper. Another popular idea is celebrating after the holidays. Last year, Mike’s side of the family got a bout of COVID and our holiday party got postponed two weeks. Because it was in January, we were able to buy gifts on sale, groceries on sale, and avoid the crowds! Woo-hoo!
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