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 don’t start the new year 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. 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 forgoing 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 sell merchandize.
  3. Be smart about gift-giving

  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. Homemade and handcrafted gifts are seen as extra special 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 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 charity or a cause that is close to that person’s heart. You control the amount of money you spend, plus you and the recipient contribute to a good cause.
    • Get your kids into giving – Instead of focusing on what they’ll get from Santa, get your kids excited about giving. Encourage them to participate in charitable activities like toy drives, winter gear donation (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. And again, be mindful of people with food allergies and special diets.

  6. Make extra money

    If you have the time and energy, consider taking a side job or starting a small business. There are many part-time jobs 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. If you are crafty, you might like to try creating holiday decorations or handmade gifts.

  7. Don’t use your credit card

    The worst choice you can make is charging all your holiday expenses on your credit card. You’ll have a harder time keeping track of expenses. It will also make it easier to lose control of spending. Experts advise using cash for purchases so that you can actually see and feel how much you are spending. And if you do use your card, make sure to pay on or before the cut-off date so you won’t have to pay interest.

  8. No last-minute shopping

    Don’t go to the mall for last-minute shopping. The chances of overspending is higher because you won’t have time to compare prices or think about your decisions thoroughly. Factor in the crowd and traffic and you’re in for a highly stressful experience.

  9. Wait for Boxing Day

    December 26th is Boxing Day in Canada. This is when most stores offer big discounts on all kinds of merchandize. If your kids can hold off for one day, 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. 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 and 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. Prices are likely to be higher in December because it is the peak season for travelling. 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!

Article updated November 22, 2022.
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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