Next Christmas may be 353 days away, but it’s never too early to start planning and saving!
We travel to Hungary every November and often don’t return until the first week of December. Then, we are all busy enjoying the souvenirs nobody wants – horrible, miserable, colds and sinus infections. We were sick this year almost right up until a few days before Christmas and just not filled with any kind of holiday spirit!
I hadn’t had anything prepped or done any kind of shopping. I found myself at Winco shopping for groceries for our Christmas Eve dinner on Christmas Eve. I had no idea if we had wrapping stuff left from last year – or where it may be. We had to buy a real tree this year because our artificial one was still in storage back in our hometown. I had no gift shopping done. No stocking stuffers. I found myself at Target early on the morning of Christmas Eve rushing to pick up things I had ordered online, scrounging through the Christmas section looking for things that would be fun for my son’s stocking, and just generally hating life when I should have been home eating cookies and looking at the tree lights sparkle with my family.
And because I was so unprepared, I was paying the price – literally. The pain of paying near full retail right-before Christmas for things that would be marked down 50% to 90% in a few days was awful. And I felt rushed. And I was stressed. And, being the frugalista I am, I knew it didn’t have to be that way. Well, never again!
If Christmas came with a big unexpected expense or a lot of little last-minute things popped up that wreaked havoc on your monthly budget, vow that this is the year to get all of that December spending under control…or at least to hit the ground running and be ahead of it all!
Here are 12 Easy Ways we can all start saving for next Christmas!
Shop the Holiday Clearance
The ‘After Christmas’ sales are a great time to plan ahead and stock up on items for next year. Yes, the selections may be slim picking even before Christmas at many stores, but you may be able to find an abundance of leftovers at other places. And, come January 1st, the discount percentages will be 75% to 90% off! Stock up on holiday specific things like wrapping paper, gift bags, bows, ribbons, greeting cards, and candy canes. And look for holiday items that can be re-purposed throughout the year (for everyday use or for other holidays) like picture frames, baking supplies, and table ware.
Shop Yard Sales
Yard sales, rummage sales, and the like are such awesome places to score cheap Christmas items! And the best part is you can totally haggle and walk off the lawn feeling like the Grinch with a sack full of Christmas loot! Much like shopping thrift stores, you’re likely to find decorations, lights, candles, table ware, artificial trees, tree stands, gift wrap items, bakeware, and maybe some new gift items. The best part of shopping a yard sale is that the junk, I mean, the gently used items, are coming direct from the previous owner so there is no overhead mark up in price or sorting necessary. Look for sales in the summer, especially in gated communities, where the residents only have one day per year (thanks to HOA rules) to get rid of all their unwanted stuff. Folks will be ready to wheel & deal the stuff out of their garage and may even offer it up for free come the end of the day.
Sell Unwanted Items
Turn that clutter into cash – fast! Go through room by room and find things that you can sell at a yard sale. Ask neighbors to join in and make it a block sale to maximize your traffic. You will earn some extra cash and get organized for the new year! Don’t want the hassle of a yard sale? Try selling your stuff online on sites like Craigslist, ebay, or Facebook.
Sites like Cardpool.com offer an easy way to sell unwanted gift cards for a percentage of the face value. You can take the payment in cash and turnaround is quick.
Earn Amazon gift cards by trading in unwanted DVDs, phones, books, electronics, video games, and more with Amazon’s Trade-In Program.
Trim the Gift List
Have you heard of the “4 Gift Christmas”? Kids are gifted with just four gifts for Christmas: Something to Wear, Something to Read, Something You Want, and Something You Need. We started doing the “Only 3 Gifts” thing when The Boy was small (only three gifts are given because that was how many gifts the baby Jesus received on His birthday) and it has been such a lifesaver when it comes time to shop for Christmas gifts – and with controlling the toy overload.
Maybe you can start to limit buying gifts for extended family members (distant relatives, family you only see on Christmas, etc.). Can you have the adults draw names for gift-giving and maybe set a spending limit? Perhaps you can start a tradition of buying just for young kids in the family.
How about sending out your holiday Thank You cards saying something in your note like “Thank you for the wonderful gift, but please know that your presence with us at Christmas is always gift enough for us.” This may gently communicate to family and friends that they are not obligated to buy a gift and won’t feel awkward if they suddenly stop buying gifts.
Several years ago I decided I wanted to learn how to knit. I had seen my sister-in-law create the most amazingly beautiful scarves, mittens, and caps – and it seemed simple enough to do! I headed to Hobby Lobby and bought yarn and needles and hit up YouTube for simple beginner’s videos. Well, long story short, it took me 3 years to finish one scarf, but I had such pleasure in finally giving that scarf to my son for Christmas this year!
I think people tend to think homemade or handmade gifts are cheap or tacky or won’t be good enough to gift. But, if something is done from the heart, it is always a perfect gift to give. Fresh-baked cookies or banana bread wrapped nicely in a (thrift shop) tin, kid-painted wrapping paper, handmade greeting cards, soaps – whatever you have a talent for or are up for experimenting with. Pinterest is bursting with homemade gift ideas for all different skill levels!
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Buy Gifts throughout the Year
Save your time, some money, and loads of holiday stress by keeping track of the types of gifts you’ll be buying for next Christmas. Have a gift idea list (that can be updated periodically) and plan to make purchases all year as you spot a deal. Many stores hold clearance sales several times throughout the year. Target has an awesome toy clearance sale every year in January and July where toys are marked down over the course of a week (usually at the end of the month) starting at 30%, then 50%, and finally 75%. This is a great time to stock your gift closet for birthdays or Christmas very cheaply.
You can also stock up on stocking stuffers or items for Operation Christmas Child boxes. Look for seasonal clearance sales (after summer, after the back to school rush, after Easter, etc.) for small items like bubbles, chalk, crayons, stationary, socks, small puzzles, card games, stickers, pencils, markers, watercolors, Hot Wheels, etc. to avoid all the last-minute purchases (and higher prices) in December. Keep a little bag or basket for each stocking you are buying for so you can see exactly what you have already purchased and not overbuy.
Use Loyalty & Reward Points
You can find extra cash to boost your holiday budget with reward and loyalty programs from your financial institution, with your credit card company, via apps for your mobile device, or just by purchasing products. You’ll earn points that can be redeemed for air miles, rental cars, gift cards, discounts, “money off” coupons, or even free merchandise.
Apps like Ibotta and Checkout 51 are simple ways to earn money back on items you may be purchasing anyways. Just download the app, browse the current offers and add them to your account, snap a photo of your receipt, and the rebate money will be added to your account. And, if you are new to Ibotta and sign up here, you can get a $10 bonus when you redeem your first rebate in January!
Other reward sites I love are Kellogg’s Family Rewards, Swagbucks, and Disney Movie Rewards (start looking through all those Disney DVD boxes for codes!). You can collect free points and then redeem them for gift cards, manufacturer’s coupons, or merchandise. If you’ve got little ones still in diapers or use baby wipes, Huggies also has a rewards program.
Start a Christmas Savings
Withdrawing money from your bank account in December can be painful. Charging up a storm on your credit cards (and then having to repay all of that debt in January or for months to come) can be even more painful. Try a simple home savings plan: Save $1 a day (just a buck!) for a whole year, and you’ll have $365 in cash to spend next Christmas. If you start January 1st and save only until November 30th, you’ll have an extra $334 saved up. How abut collecting all the loose change from around the house, in the couch cushions, in the laundry room, in the bottom of your purse, in the car…toss it all in a jar and watch it grow during the year! One year we saved all of our spare change and had over $450 in “found” money! Wowzers!
Many financial institutions offer a Christmas Club savings account. Every month you can redirect money from your main account into a separate account earmarked for Christmas spending. You can also do this on your own with your monthly household budget.
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If you are hosting family or friends for the holidays, you know the grocery bills alone are enough to send your carefully planned Christmas budget spiraling. Why not take some of the burden off with planning a potluck or buffet-style holiday meal. You can still set a beautiful table and enjoy a classic traditional meal (and not spend hours in the kitchen), or serve food buffet-style and allow your guests to mingle. Ask guests to bring a favorite holiday dessert, side dish, salad, or beverage to share, maybe something special from their Christmas meal traditions growing up. As the meal is being served, it may be fun to have folks share a special Christmas memory or why the dish is so special to them, or even pass along a recipe card.
You can also make a few dents in the grocery bill by buying non-perishable holiday food essentials as they go on clearance or on sale. Stock up on canned items like pumpkin, evaporated milk, vegetables, and cranberry sauce. Baking items like holiday spices (ginger, cloves, all spice, cinnamon, pumpkin pie spice) usually go on sale after the holidays. Look for chocolates or candy items to be marked down after Christmas. You will have a nice little stockpile for next Christmas and to donate to your local food pantry.
Recycle & Re-purpose
Stretch your holiday savings by recycling and re-purposing as much as you can. Save left over disposable serving items (holiday napkins, cups, plastic utensils, table cloths) for next year, for school lunches, or for a summer picnic. Save wrapping paper (mom always knew what she was doing by carefully opening her gifts one seam at a time!), ribbons, gift boxes, bows, gift bags, etc. to use for next year or another gift occasion. I think I have seriously been using the same bag of ‘peel-n-stick’ bows I bought on clearance for 25¢ over 20 years ago!
If you received a gift that doesn’t exactly suit your taste or was perhaps a duplicate, consider returning it and adding that money to next year’s gift fund. Or add the gift to your gift closet (add a little Post-It note with the giver’s name to avoid an embarrassing situation) and give the gift to somebody else who may get more use out of it than you.
Literally. Thrift stores and consignment shops are a fabulous place to look for gently used items for the holidays. Look for Christmas decor like ornaments, bows, garland, lights, candles, wreaths, or artificial trees. If you’ll be cooking or hosting the meal, grab an extra Crock Pot, baking pans, cookie tins, or tableware. You may be able to find some items for the kiddos as well like holiday-themed pajamas, Christmas or winter books (for that Christmas Book Advent Countdown), or even toys, puzzles, and board games.
Also check out your local dollar stores for savings on holiday greeting cards, gift bags, serving trays, stocking stuffers, candy, and the like.
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Consider gifting experiences next Christmas instead of more toys or random little gifts that will never be played with or appreciated and will just become resentful clutter. A list of experience gifts can also be helpful to other family members and close friends that are looking for ideas for gifts for your family or the kiddos – and they don’t have to cost a single penny!
We are homeschooling on a budget and have recently started to mention our son’s interests when asked about Christmas gift ideas (he’ll get to do an activity that he is really wanting to try and we get something educational knocked off our homeschooling wish list, it’s a win – win!). For example, he is really interested in archery right now, so we asked Grandpa to consider purchasing a few months of archery lessons for him. When we lived closer, Grandpa would give “tickets” good for things like a lunch date at our son’s favorite restaurant or a lesson in his woodworking shop. We know how much The Boy loves all things LEGO and LEGOLand, so we gifted him with an annual membership pass this year (there was an amazing deal we couldn’t pass up!). The experiences will create such wonderful lasting memories and won’t become clutter.
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Something else that may also help to get your Christmas spending under control, is to start gentle conversations with family and friends about next year’s expectations and what you’re wanting to do a little differently. Obviously, this tip will not be as easy to carry out (and many of you know right now that your family will not be on board with any kind of change in holiday traditions), but it may be worth a shot.
What are some of your favorite ways to save for Christmas?