When the holiday season comes around, do you find yourself wondering what’s dropping faster: your cash flow or the temperature outside? Whether you like it or not, the holidays are officially here, and it’s time to get ready for the chilly months of November through January being harsh on more than just our skin—they can take a hard blow to our wallets as well.
But how can you enjoy all the holiday cheer without overdrawing fear? With a little bit of forethought and some strategy, it isn’t as hard as you might think. Take a look at these 10 ways you can save money during the holidays, without missing out on any of the merry fun:
1. Rent outfits for holiday parties
If you’re going to be attending more than a few holiday parties this year, dressing up in a new frock for each one can set you back a lot of cash. Instead of buying a new outfit for each event, try renting your look from a company like Rent the Runway, Le Tote or Gwynnie Bee. That way you’ll have a fresh new outfit for each Instagram-worthy event you attend, without repeating anything.
2. Have a white elephant gift exchange with friends
We know you love your ladies, but giving them each a personal gift can add up quickly, especially if you have a large squad. Instead of buying each of your friends a gift, host a white elephant gift exchange. Everyone who brings a gift gets to play, and everyone ends up with a gift.
Make sure to set a price range for the gifts so no one ends up with something completely worthless or overly expensive. Want to take this game up a notch? Encourage your friends to include a wide variety of gifts in the mix. That can mean a nice bottle of wine, a selection of adult toys, lottery tickets, you name it.
3. Have a Secret Santa with family
Assuming most of your family is over the age of 15, they probably don’t care too much about getting gifts anyway. But instead of nixing the gift-giving altogether, consider doing a Secret Santa where everyone gets one great, personal gift, or a homemade Christmas where the gifts have to be handmade. Not the crafty kind? No worries! Handmade gifts can be colored, cooked, constructed, or even crocheted.
4. Host potluck parties
If you’re usually the hostess with the mostess, having all your friends over for food and drinks can get pretty pricey pretty quickly—but that doesn’t mean you can’t still channel your inner Monica Gellar this year. Instead of supplying all the food and drinks on your own dime, make your party a potluck and invite your friends to bring appetizers, desserts, and drinks to share. You’ll get a great selection of goodies without footing the bill on your own.
5. Purchase second-party gift cards
Have you ever wondered what people do with gift cards for stores they will never shop at? The answer, and the way for you to save money if you’re buying gift cards this holiday season, is Cardpool. Their site lets you buy and sell gift cards for a discounted price, usually for around 5 percent less—but some as high as 35 percent less—than their actual monetary value. If you’re planning on buying a gift card for someone, make sure to check out Cardpool first.
6. Set a budget and stick to it
The biggest and most obvious way that spending gets out of control is when we don’t plan ahead for much we can spend. Before you even think about holiday shopping, take a look at your monthly budget, and see how much you can spare. If necessary, start cutting down on non-essential purchases in the months leading up to the holidays so you can spend a little extra on your gifts. One less Starbucks cold brew for you is one more thoughtful gift card for your mailman.
7. Consider non-monetary gifts
Instead of going straight to the mall for gifts this year, figure out if any of your friends or family might actually prefer something non-monetary. Is your sister dying for a night away from her kids? Offer your services as a babysitter for a night. Mom and dad struggling to set up their new iPhones? Volunteer yourself to help them for an afternoon instead of sending them to the Genius Bar.
8. Shop early for flights
If you travel over the holidays, you know how quickly those costs can shoot up, especially if you wait until the last minute to book. Instead of procrastinating, sign up for alerts for your intended route on Google Flights. Their matrix tracks flight prices as they fluctuate and will notify you when they go up or down. Multiple options of airports in your area? Google Flights allows you to input several departure and/or arrival airports and can then factor those into your alerts too.
9. Embrace free activities
The holidays are a time of parties, gift exchanges, and happy hours, which are all money-sucking activities on their own. To offset some of that inherent spending, switch out some of your usual activities like going to the movies or having brunch every Sunday for things that are more affordable. Try taking a walk around your local park for date night, touring the Christmas light displays in your area, or watching your favorite festive film at home. The cheesier the Hallmark movie, the better.
10. Get cash back
You know you’re going to be spending a little bit more during the holidays, so you might as well make the most of it. Use apps like Rakuten, (formerly Ebates) Ibotta, and Drop to get a little cash back on each of your purchases at bigger retailers. If you can, put your gift purchases on a credit card rather than your debit, so you’re able to rack up points. Put that Target run to work for you!