It’s late October, meaning the holidays (and possibly your in-laws) will be here before you know it.
But if you’re stressing about how to afford gifts for everyone on your list, you’re probably going about your holiday shopping the wrong way.
While we’re just weeks away from the holiday season — just 61 days until Christmas — there are steps you can take now to save money. We asked J.J. Montanaro, a financial planner for USAA, and Anna Newell Jones, who writes about living frugally on her blog, And Then We Saved, for some tips on how to cut costs on your holiday haul.
Set a budget — and stick to it
A list will help you avoid impulse purchases and keep track of how much you plan to spend, say Montanaro and Jones. Be sure to discuss your plan with family members and think about how you might alter your holiday gift-giving traditions — maybe you’ll eliminate gifts for adults in your family or set a price limit for the gifts you do buy. Jones also suggests thinking outside of the (gift) box. “Talk with your family about how you can all work to shift the focus onto the creation of holiday traditions instead of thinking so much about material items,” she says.
If you’re worried about not meeting the expectations of your friends or family members, your best bet is to just be honest. Jones, who started her blog to chronicle paying off nearly $24,000 in debt, says those conversations don’t have to be awkward. “I think just kind of being up front and forthright about where you’re at is so helpful and I found it’s really refreshing to a lot of people to just come out and talk about it.”
Create a short-term savings goal
Back in the day, banks offered special accounts known as Christmas Clubs that allowed you to tuck away extra money year-round in anticipation of the holidays. Mobile banking makes this concept a lot easier. Banks such as PNC and Simple allow you to create short-term savings goals, dedicated to upcoming events or big-ticket purchases. Consider creating one exclusively for the gift-giving season. (Bonus points if you’ve already done this.)
If your bank doesn’t offer such plans, look to online programs such as SmartyPig, which lets you set specific savings goals and a timeframe to reach your desired amount. You could schedule a $50 withdrawal from your bank account every two weeks and end up with a couple hundred dollars in your goal savings account come December. With SmartyPig, you can also transfer your savings to gift cards, an option that increases your savings by an additional percentage.
And if you’re worried about finding the money to save, Montanaro suggests getting creative — from selling old stuff to cutting back on extras like your morning Starbucks runs or dinners out with friends. If you go that route, Montanaro says it’s important to “turn that good behavior into savings right away.” So don’t let the money sit in your wallet — transfer it to your savings or stash it in an envelope.
Regift (yes, really)
If you decide to scale back on the gifts you usually buy, it doesn’t mean that you have to stop the gift-giving tradition altogether. One option is regifting. “It’s not that bad as long as the thought is still there,” says Jones.
If you’re regifting a present, make sure it’s because you know your friend/family member will like the gift and get use out of it — not because it just happens to be lying around. And remember, it doesn’t have to be a traditional regift. Subscription services like Birchbox, which send customers a curated batch of products each month around beauty, lifestyle or other themes, may present regifting opportunities, so be sure to keep track of unopen products that might suit someone in your gift-giving circle.
Do it yourself
And while you’re thinking differently about gift exchange taboos, consider do-it-yourself gifts. You may not be a master knitter, but maybe you bake an amazing banana bread or you’ve come up with a great body scrub recipe. Look to Pinterest or DIY sites like P.S. I Made This… for inspiration. You’ll have to factor in material costs and make sure you have the skills and time required, but the DIY approach can help you save money while still adding a personal touch to your gifts.
If you’re going to use credit, use it wisely
If you’ve ever relied too heavily on credit cards during the holiday season, you know what it feels like when the bills start rolling in after the New Year. But if you’ve already done the work of setting a budget and saving the necessary funds, you don’t have to rule out your credit cards completely.
“I don’t think there’s anything wrong with it as long as it’s done in a way that’s within their budget and is not a tool to extend them to spend what they don’t have,” Montanaro says.
Take advantage of reward programs
Credit cards may actually come in handy at holiday time if your card offers rewards — and you know how to maximize them.
“It may be that some of the hard work is already behind you. You just have to take advantage of it,” Montanaro says. Some credit cards allow you to put points toward gift cards or merchandise that might already be on your list. Others offer cash back for certain purchases. You may also have access to similar rewards through travel programs.
Look for deals online and on mobile apps
Looking for discount codes and free shipping deals is kind of a no-brainer. It’s also an incentive to shop year-round and not just in the weeks leading up to the holiday season, something both Montanaro and Jones recommend.
Programs like Ebates and Ibotta (available on Android and iPhone) offer cash or gift card rebates for shopping at certain stores. You can look for discounted gift cards on sites such as Raise.com or Gift Card Granny or through service-based reward programs like Verizon Smart Rewards. But some rewards may come at a cost, so as Time points out, it’s important to read the fine print. Weigh whether the discounts you’re finding are worth the extra time and effort and any data you may be sharing with companies as a result.