10 ways to save money during the holidays and still have the best time

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Dreading the holidays because of the expenses? The cost of gifts, hosting parties and other holiday activities can pile up. If you’re worried about your finances, cheer up! With a little planning and creativity, there are ways that you can still have the best time without breaking the bank. We’ve compiled our top tips so you can avoid starting the new year broke and in debt:

  1. Set a budget

    It’s always good to start early when planning for the holidays. Start a month or two earlier (six months earlier if you plan to travel) and think of your possible expenses. List them down. Make an estimate for each item. Adjust your spending but do your best not to spend beyond your budget. Make your estimate realistic but not too strict so that you won’t feel frustrated.

  2. See where you can save

    Review your monthly expenses. Find items you can totally cut or reduce spending on. A little savings here and there can amount to a lot especially if you start early.

    • Check utilities – Are you using your landline? If you and your family members each have mobile phones anyway, it might be a good idea to discontinue your landline. Also, check your mobile phone plan, cable TV subscription and gym membership. There may be better deals out there that can lead to more savings for you.
    • Brown bag it – You’ll be surprised by how much you can save each month by bringing lunch to work or by foregoing your Tim’s coffee every day. Think of other luxuries you can do without just for the season to boost your holiday budget. Do you always eat out or go to the salon every week? Maybe lessen the frequency to once or twice a month.
    • Sell stuff you don’t need – Look around in your garage or storage room and see if you can sell off some things that you are not using anymore. Make sure that they are still in good condition. You can use Facebook groups or sites like Kijiji to make it easier for you to sell merchandize.
  3. Give gifts wisely

  4. Know the gift-giving tradition at your community, school or workplace before you start shopping for gifts. In my home country, giving everyone (and I mean everyone!) little tokens is expected during the holidays. In Canada, receiving a gift can sometimes be seen as an (unwanted) obligation. So before you start shopping consider the following:

    • Have a gift exchange instead of buying everyone a gift – A Secret Santa is a great way to give gifts. It’s fun, exciting and it increases the likelihood of getting a quality gift since each person is buying only one present.
    • Give homemade gifts – Are you a great cook, baker or knitter? Baked goods and other food are always appreciated. These, together with handmade gifts are more meaningful and seen as extra thoughtful because of the effort and love spent on making these items (plus, they’re less expensive). But be aware that some people have food allergies or special diets. You may need to ask around first.
    • Give gifts of service – Offer to shovel snow for a neighbor, run errands for a friend, or baby-sit for free. These are unexpected and will be appreciated more than material things.
    • Don’t know what to give someone who has everything? How about donating money in their name? Pick a good charity or a cause that is close to that person’s heart. You get to control the amount of money you spend plus you (and your giftee) get to help out a cause.
    • Get your kids into giving – Instead of focusing on what they’ll get from Santa, get your kids excited about giving. Get them involved in charitable activities like toy drives, donating winter gear (like Koats for kids) and others.
  5. Potluck parties

    Planning a party? Make it a potluck! It is practical and the variety of food ensures that everyone will find something that they’ll like. You may want to ask people what they’ll bring before the party to avoid duplication. Also, be mindful of people with food allergies and the like.

  6. Make extra money

    If you have time and energy, there are many part-time jobs that are open during the season. You can try jobs in retail (cashier, stocking clerk, gift wrapping, etc.) call centres, delivery services and other holiday helper jobs.

  7. Don’t use your credit card

    The worst choice you can make is charging all your holiday expenses on your credit card. This will make it harder to keep track of expenses and easier for you to lose control of your spending. And of course, if you are not able to pay your debt before the cut-off date, you’ll have to pay the interest. This is another added expense. Experts advise using cash for purchases so that you can actually see and feel how much you are spending. Seeing your wallet getting thinner and thinner or getting tired of swiping your debit card are the best warnings that you should ease up on shopping.

  8. No last-minute shopping

    Don’t go to the mall for last-minute shopping. Chances are you will overspend since you will be forced to buy without comparing prices because of the time crunch. Also, factor in the crowd and the traffic and you’re in for nerve-wracking experience.

  9. Wait for Boxing Day

    December 26th is Boxing Day in Canada. This is the day where most stores offer big discounts on all sorts of merchandize. If your kids can hold off for one day (and if you don’t mind the crowds), this is the best time to shop and get great prices for things like toys, electronics, clothes and other gifts.


Things you can do earlier (tips to keep in mind to do next year)

  1. Start a holiday savings account

    Starting early is the key so that you can keep this in mind for next year. Experts advise starting holiday savings account as early as fall, right after your summer activities have died down. Once you have a budget in mind, you can start allotting a certain amount every payday to contribute to your holiday savings. If you are receiving your salary by direct deposit, you can ask your bank to program this for you by automatic debit. This way, you are assured that your savings are growing, not to mention earning interest.

  2. Book tickets early

    If you are planning on spending the holidays in your home country (or anywhere else) book your flights early. This is the peak season for travelling so prices are likely to be higher. Start scouting for promotional ticket discounts six months before or earlier. It’s also the best time to use the air miles you have saved up. Happy vacation!

 
Sources: 6 ways to save for the holidays, Laureen Miles Brunelli, the balance; and 9 best ways to save money during the holiday season, Jacqueline Curtis, Money Crashers. Accessed November 8, 2018.

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