20 Holiday Spending and Budgeting Tips for This Season

By Kylie Ora Lobell · October 16, 2023 · 8 minute read

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20 Holiday Spending and Budgeting Tips for This Season

It’s the most wonderful time of the year. It’s also the time when Americans tend to go on a shopping spree. The average person spends more than $900 on holiday gifts, according to the latest research. And that’s before factoring in entertainment, food, or travel costs, or the higher inflation rate, which means your dollars don’t go as far as they used to.

Fortunately, it is possible to have a festive season without blowing your budget and starting the New Year in debt. Try the holiday budgeting tips below to help you celebrate the holidays affordably.

20 Holiday Savings Ideas

It is possible to enjoy the holidays on a budget. In fact, you may have even more to celebrate since you won’t be starting the New Year in debt. As you start making your lists for holiday gifts and activities to do, consider these clever ways to avoid overspending and still have fun this season.

1. Create a Holiday Budget

Before you start your holiday shopping, make a budget for gifts, decorations, and experiences. This will allow you to prioritize your spending in advance and identify where you can make cuts.

As a bonus, following a budget can be one way to help achieve financial security, so this could be a good practice to continue after the holidays as well.

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2. Use the Envelope Method

By making purchases with cash instead of credit during the holidays, you could end up spending more thoughtfully. Try the cash envelope system to help stick to your holidays on a budget. To do it, designate a few different envelopes for spending categories like holiday meals, decorations, and experiences, and then put cash for each into the envelopes. When you run out of money, it means you can’t spend any in that category (or you’ll have to dip into the budget for another category).

3. Host a Potluck

Hosting a gathering at your place and asking your friends and family members to bring food to the holiday meal is a good way to cut costs on your grocery bill. It’s also less stressful for you. Just make sure that you ask people ahead of time what they plan to bring so that you have enough different kinds of dishes and options for everyone.

4. Visit a Museum for Free to See the Holiday Decorations

Another holiday budgeting tip: Check out your local museum when there’s no admission fee (many cultural institutions offer a monthly or weekly date) as a fun thing to do for free. The holiday decorations will likely be up, and there may even be an exhibition of holiday ornaments or trees. It can get your seasonal spirit soaring at no cost.

Recommended: 23 Tips on Saving Money Daily

5. Take a Tour of Your Town’s Christmas Lights

There may be an area near you that’s known for looking spectacular at the holidays. Or perhaps you just drive around until you find some fun Grinch inflatables. Whatever the case, hop in the car with a friend or your family and tour the local lights and decor for a festive, free night out.

6. Hold a Cookie Swap

Instead of doing a Secret Santa gift exchange with presents, get together some friends, colleagues, or neighbors and do a cookie swap instead. It’s simple and fun: Everyone bakes a different kind of treat and then shares them, so that each guest goes home with an assortment of sweets. Just make sure each person is making a different kind of cookie so you don’t end up with duplicates.

7. Go Ice-Skating

Local ice rinks typically offer an affordable and fun way to get some exercise, along with helping to put you in the holiday spirit. It can be a great after-work outing with friends or colleagues or a family activity. You can all celebrate (and warm up) with hot chocolate afterward.

8. Head to the Dollar Store

Here’s one secret to not paying full price: Go where the discounts are. The dollar store is full of inexpensive holiday decorations as well as goodies you can put into gift bags or stuff into stockings. You can find low-cost ornaments, lights, balloons, and more to make your home more festive for the season.

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9. Give the Gift of Holiday Playlists

A custom playlist is a thoughtful gift for friends and family, and it’s another way of budgeting for the holidays. And now that most music is available online, making a playlist is easier than ever. Just create a playlist on Spotify or another platform, name it, and then share the link. The recipients will appreciate the tunes!

10. Check Out Your Town’s Calendar

Your town likely hosts lots of events you can participate in during the holidays. Search for Christmas tree lightings, concerts, parades, and outdoor movie nights, which are usually free or low cost.

11. Volunteer at a Soup Kitchen

What better way to celebrate the holidays than to give back? Look for local opportunities to volunteer at a soup kitchen or local animal shelter, for instance. Your community will benefit from your kindness, and you’ll feel great for volunteering.

12. Donate Toys to Families in Need

Another way you can give back — and get the entire family involved — is to donate toys your kids no longer use to children and families in need. Search for local toy drives happening in your community to find the best place to donate them to.

13. Get Friends Together to Regift

Here’s another alternative to a Secret Santa get-together: Host a regifting party with you pals. Everyone brings a gift they received but didn’t like or use, and then swaps them. After all, one person’s trash is another’s treasure.

14. Host a Game Night

Have some board games in your closet? Invite over friends and neighbors, and host a game night. Buy some snacks like popcorn, chips, and pretzels, and serve some beverages like soda, water, beer, or wine to stay on budget.

15. Use Your Credit Card Points

If you have credit card points racked up, the holiday season can be a good time to use these rewards to purchase gifts as well as book hotels and flights at a discount.

16. Make Your Own Decorations

If you log onto Pinterest, you’ll find a number of DIY holiday decorations you can make yourself for a fraction of the price of store-bought. For instance, you could create a wreath out of cranberries or string up popcorn on your Christmas tree.

If you have a natural area nearby where pinecones are abundant and yours for the taking, consider a winter walk to gather some. You’ll get some fresh air and exercise, plus these and any pine boughs on the ground can make a festive seasonal display at home.

17. Get Creative with Gift Wrap

Rather than buying expensive wrapping paper and ribbons, find some low- or no-cost ways to make your gifts look great. For example, you could use craft paper that you decorate with a few colorful flourishes with a marker. Yarn or twine can work well in place of ribbon and save you money.

18. Make Some of Your Gifts

You can construct some great gifts at home without having to spend much on materials — and at the same time, get the satisfaction of practicing a more sustainable way to shop. For example, you could make a family cookbook with treasured recipes and stories about the person they came from. If you sew or knit, you could whip up items like scarves or tote bags, and if you’re a whiz in the kitchen, you could make jams and jellies, and more.

19. Save Your Shopping for the Biggest Sale Days

Black Friday and Cyber Monday are great times to save on certain items. The key is knowing in advance what price actually constitutes a deal. Many stores advertise their upcoming sales around this time of year, so you should have plenty of time to research and comparison-shop.

20. Avoid Last-Minute Purchases

If you put off shopping until the last minute, you’re much more likely to blow your budget. Schedule time to shop before the holiday season is in full swing to help you avoid the impulsive overspending trap.

The Takeaway

The holidays don’t have to be expensive for you and your family to enjoy them. Focus on spending time with loved ones, investing in your community, and exploring your DIY side to get the most out of the season while spending the least.

It can also be helpful to start saving up money ahead of time. You could designate a certain bank account for the holidays, for instance, and contribute a little bit to it each week.

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How much does the average person spend during the holidays?

The average person spends more than $900 on gifts alone, according to the latest research. That doesn’t include decorations, holiday entertainment, or travel.

Is it possible to celebrate the holidays on a tight budget?

Yes! There are many ways to celebrate the holidays without spending much money. For instance, you can make gifts and decorations yourself. Rather than buying and cooking an elaborate holiday dinner, you could host a potluck and ask each guest to bring a dish. And you can take advantage of no-cost seasonal activities like free nights at a local museum, holiday parades, and outdoor movie nights in your town.

Photo credit: iStock/Tijana Simic

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