13 Ways to Come Out of Christmas With a Healthier Savings Account
If you're not careful, the holidays can leave you broke. What starts out as innocent purchasing can get out of hand quickly. You know how it goes. You start buying items on your list and before you know it, there's something for yourself in the cart. Then three more. Then you're moving cash from one account to another to cover the unexpected expenses. It's a vicious cycle, and it's hard to control when it's already out of hand. (See also: 25 Ways to Slow Down During the Holidays)
This year, stop the cycle before it even starts. Make a plan to come out of the holidays with more money in your savings account then you have right now. Sounds like quite a feat, but it's completely possible. Here are 13 ways to do it.
1. Pick Up Seasonal Employment
This year retailers opened their doors on Thanksgiving Day (some as early as 6 p.m.) — and many people who had to work weren't happy about it. They were upset that it was cutting into time with their family, a frustration with which I can sympathize, but what this means is that there's likely an abundance of seasonal positions available right now to ensure that year-round staff doesn't get burnt out during the holiday rush.
By picking up a side job during the holidays, you can make some extra cash to offset what you'll pay for gifts, you can elect to send part of that part-time check to your savings account, and you might even help someone spend more time with their family if you're working instead of them. I don't see the downside to this situation yet — do you? (See also: Ways to Earn Extra Cash Over the Holidays)
2. Offer Budget Holiday Services in Your Area
Don't want to commit to seasonal employment at a retailer? There are still plenty of ways you can pad your pocket if you know how to market yourself.
You can offer to run errands for people who may be disabled or don't have a car, shovel snow when the weather permits, hang holiday lights for neighbors, start a gift wrap service, sell holiday baked goods, or cater holiday parties. These ideas are just the tip of the iceberg if you have marketable skills, a drive to get out there and make some dough, and have the knowledge and resources to find the right people who need your services. (See also: 5 Ways to Make Extra Income Online)
3. Make a List and Check It Twice
Start the holidays by making a list of the all the people for whom you want to buy a gift. Notice my choice of words here: "For whom you want to buy a gift." (See also: The Ultimate Gift Guide for Every Budget)
If you're buying gifts for people because you feel obligated, you need to reconcile and change that situation; it's costing you more money than you want or need to spend. If you feel that putting an end to the obligatory gift buying will create an awkward situation, have a conversation in advance.
For instance, if there's someone who always buys you a gift with whom you don't particularly want to exchange with this year, talk about it. A couple years ago when my brothers and cousin all had kids, I had to let them know that I no longer intended to buy the parents presents anymore, just the kids. It was becoming way too expensive for me to buy gifts for six kids and three couples. They understood, and I was able to save a little money while still making sure that my nephews got something good from Santa. All you have to do is speak up and be honest about what you can afford. Most people will understand, and, frankly, they'll probably be relieved that they don't have to get you anything this year either.
4. Set a Limit for Each Person on Your List
Every year my husband and I have a limit that we intend to spend on each other, and every year we exceed that limit. Not this year though. This year, we're drastically reducing the Christmas budget for each other — by more than half, in fact — in order to get a few other finances in order. (See also: Gift Giving Hacks to Save Your Money and Sanity)
I suggest you do the same. With your whittled-down list, assign an appropriate dollar amount next to each person's name. There are two benefits of doing this in advance:
- You'll know exactly how much you're spending this season (if you actually stick to the budget); and
- It's easier to shop for presents when you know how much you have to spend.
It beats wandering around aimlessly looking for the right gift just to discover that you can't afford it when you find it.
5. Just Say No to Impulse Buys for Yourself
This is another area where I'm guilty.
When I'm out Christmas shopping, it never fails that after I find a great gift for someone on my list I also find two great gifts for me. It's a very bad habit that can add up quickly. To help curb this potential problem, find another (cheaper) way to treat yourself while you're out shopping. Perhaps it's a bite to eat at the food court, a matinee movie, or a glass of wine at a nearby happy hour. By treating yourself to this inexpensive reward, you may be less likely to splurge on a bigger ticket item when those feelings that you "deserve to do something nice for yourself" start to surface. There's a whole lot less guilt afterward, too. (See also: 9 Ways to Stop Impulse Buying)
6. Stockpile Coupons and Plan Shopping Around Sales
The snail-mail circulars and email coupons will start bombarding your inbox fast and furious this time of year, and it's best to keep them on hand just in case you need them. I keep every coupon that comes my way to maximize the holiday savings when it's time to go shopping. In addition to the coupons, I plan my shopping around sales (and pop-up sales), and I fortify my buying power with relevant savings apps (like Target's Cartwheel), asking for additional discounts at checkout (like student or military discounts), comparing certain stores' price-match policies, and taking advantage of any rebates that may be available from post-purchase surveys and the like that are often found on receipts. (See also: Guide to Price Matching)
7. Shop in Person and Only Use Cash
The popularity of plastic has skyrocketed over the years because it's so convenient. The problem, however, is that because you're not actually seeing the physical money leave your hand, it's often hard to keep track of how much you've spent on debit and credit cards, which can cause you to overspend without realizing it.
This year, make a plan to only shop with cash and in real stores opposed to online, so you can avoid overspending on plastic. Take out exactly enough cash to cover the amount you've elected to spend on those on your list — and when the money is gone, quit shopping. Of course, you'll have to be smarter about your purchases, and it may take you a little longer to find the perfect gift, but you can do it. When you're through, pat yourself on the back for all the money you just saved.
8. Use Credit and Debit Cards If It Makes Sense
Cash should be your primary method of payment when shopping this holiday season, but there are instances when buying gifts on your credit or debit card may make sense. For instance, I bank with Bank of America, and they have a program called BankAmeriDeals, which features cash back from participating retailers. By selecting these deals and shopping at these retailers (totally free; they're literally waiting for you right now), I qualify for 10% to 20% cash back — whatever the particular deal is from a particular retailer. That's a savings I wouldn't receive if I used cash, and a savvy move if I want to send more to my savings account. (See also: Best Credit Cards for the Holidays)
9. Get Creative With Handmade Gifts
Not every gift you give has to be purchased. In fact, some of the most amazing gifts I've ever received have cost very little and they were handmade by the giver. If your budget is particularly tight this year or your list is overwhelming, consider making handmade gifts of your own. The Internet is ripe with millions of ideas — just search and get to work. (See also: 20+ Gifts You Can Make Today)
10. Re-Gift When It's Appropriate
There are some people out there who have an ethical dilemma with re-gifting — but not this guy. Here's the thing: I would rather re-gift something that I received that I don't want or don't have any use for so that someone else can enjoy it. Sure beats letting it sit around collecting dust or going to the trash. It goes without saying that the financial benefit of this tactic is appealing, since I don't have to shell out for another gift when it's my turn to give, but I think that's also a win-win for everybody. I don't have to pay for a new gift, and the new recipient of the re-gifted gift gets something that they'll like — considering, of course, that I've thought enough about the new recipient to make sure they'll like it, an important part of the re-gifting process. Take strides to ensure that the original gifter doesn't find out, either; no need to hurt someone's feelings unnecessarily. (See also: A Simple Guide to Regifting)
11. Sell Whatever You Don't Want, Need, or Haven't Re-Gifted
Have gifts that you don't want, need, or couldn't re-gift? Use your online resources to sell the items and make fast cash.
For still-in-the-box items with barcodes, I recommend Amazon, where you can pocket a fair amount of cash depending on the condition of the item and your willingness to undercut the competition. On the other hand, eBay is great for more obscure presents you might receive, like those retro Smurfs drinking glasses that your aunt picked up at the local antique mall. Trust me, there's somebody out there who wants even the most random things that you have. The point is, you have lots of options to unload your unwanted gifts that will make you money instead of take up space. (See also: 7 Ways to Offload Unwanted Gifts)
Another tip here is to take advantage of the buying season when you can. If you exchange presents with friends or family early in December and you receive a gift you don't like, figure out what you want to do with it right away. If you list the item online well before Christmas, you'll have a better chance of unloading it since people are still shopping; you may have a harder time after the holidays when we all tend to rein in the spending a bit.
12. If You Come in Under Budget, Send It Straight to Savings
Have money left over from your holiday budget? Send it straight to your savings account where you can put it out of sight and out of mind for safekeeping. Whatever you do, do not spend the surplus on you. Christmas is right around the corner; free gifts will be coming your way.
13. If You Receive Cash Gifts, Send Those to Savings, Too
There's nothing wrong with using the gift cards you received on yourself; they were given to you for that purpose, and we all deserve a little bit of luxury every now and again. If you receive cash, however, take it straight to the bank. Put it in your savings account so you can offset some of the gifts you had to buy this season. You likely won't break even, but you can at least sleep a little easier that you were as responsible at Christmastime as you could be while still managing to have a little fun. Happy holidays! (See also: 10 Reasons to Ask for Cash This Christmas)
Have even more tips on how to come out of Christmas with more in your savings account? Let me know in the comments below.