Ask the Readers: How Do You Save During the Holidays?

By Ashley Jacobs on 26 November 2013 (Updated 3 December 2013) 80 comments

Editor's Note: Congratulations to Linda, Ryan, and Carissa for winning this week's contest!

The holiday season is one of the most expensive times of the year, what with millions of people spending extra on food, decor, travel, and gifts. For the budget-conscious, it takes strategic planning and prioritizing to keep costs low.

How do you save during the holidays? Have you changed any part of your festivities to make it more frugal? What is your biggest holiday budgeting challenge this year?

Tell us how you save during the holidays and we'll enter you in a drawing to win a $20 Amazon Gift Card!

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Guest's picture
Caitlin

I take careful stock of all of the ingredients, interesting odds and ends, and craft supplies I have accumulated over the year and see what unique gifts I can make by hand. For things I need or want to buy new, I look at the Goods section of Living Social and Groupon - and combine the deals with a promo code whenever one comes out! I also check local stores for interesting small gifts made by local artisans - buy local whenever possible!

Guest's picture
Mary Happymommy

I save by taking advantage of Cyber Monday sales.

Guest's picture
MG

We celebrate both Chanukah and Christmas and have birthdays in the Fall. To accommodate all of the gifts, we have always purchased gifts throughout the year. We also use apps and websites to track prices for things or activities that would make nice gifts. It is important to take advantage of time to better manage money. Otherwise, the rush at the end of the year will cause you to overspend.

Guest's picture
Jennifer Marie

I save by shopping around and by looking for online deals.

Guest's picture
Olivia

For Thanksgiving and Christmas meals, we squirrel away a bit of the grocery budget the months before and purchase traditional fare when it goes on sale. Since we make food items for certain family members as Christmas gifts we do that with ingredients as well.

For purchased Christmas gifts, we budget a set amount each paycheck and start shopping early. (Like right after Christmas, hitting clearance sales.) We've started buying discounted uncanceled postage from stamp dealers, as our families are some distance away. (Look up "discounted postage" on line.)

I felt a bit awkward sending a package literally covered with stamps at first, until I realized the elderly couple ahead of me in the post office line had done the same. I make it easier for the PO people by calculating the amounts by denominations along each row of stamps. My favorite teller jokes with me about it.

For the at home family gifts I've made reusable wrappings, by sewing up drawstring cloth bags and decorating boxes. As we figure what shapes and sizes most items come in, I've added to our collection.

Hope these ideas help someone.

Guest's picture
Betty

Over the years, i have cut down my gift giving list. No one was disappointed! I also look for bargains all year. My biggest challenge is spending money for holiday parties. Each department throws an event that you have to pay to attend, so I have to pick and choose.

Guest's picture
Guest

I try to look for quality items that are nice but also practical, and try to get everything on sale. For friends I try to get something inexpensive but personal that shows I know them and I care.

Guest's picture
Peg Mooers

I teach my children that Christmas is about giving and serving others

Guest's picture
Christie

First thing we do is make a budget and STICK TO IT! We only spend about $30 per person for Christmas, so we have to get creative. It makes us thankful for what we do have, not focused on finding the most expensive thing, and really enjoy our time together as a family. And best of all, no big bills in January. Just peace and contentment knowing we only spent what we had already saved ahead of time.

Guest's picture
Nancy

I have done Christmas on the cheap ever since my mother died of cancer on Christmas Day. At first no one expected me to go to great lengths for the holiday and I just kept it that way over the years. My husband and I give gifts only to the children in the family. I decorate simply with inexpensive poinsettias, bowls of fruits and nuts, branches and berries that I get from the fields behind our house, and some candles. I make two kinds of cookies that my mother always made. We don't get a tree anymore--they are very expensive for something that doesn't last and our grandchildren who are toddlers and crawling infants can't leave them alone. We host a spaghetti dinner on Christmas Eve and contribute a bottle of wine to Christmas Day dinner at relatives. Family time is more important than the trappings.

Guest's picture
Mel

Hate to admit it, but Black Friday/Cyber Monday sales. Thanksgiving week sales cut my gift budget by a third.

Guest's picture
Guest

make and bake to save money

Guest's picture
Jessica

We're scaling back this year since funds are tight amongst our various family members. We're doing a secret santa type exchange among the adults in my immediate family, and my husband and I are just getting each other a small gift since we both needed to get new winter coats pre-Christmas. I bought one toy for our 1 year old, since he doesn't need much and is too young to understand gift exchanges and holidays.

Guest's picture
Monica

We try to make as much as we can- gifts and food. It helps save a little.

Guest's picture
Aly0306

During the holidays there are so many deals!

I work a full time job and its hard to know all the good deals going on, so I look at deal blogs. Most of the time it's from savvy shoppers who can score great gifts for cheap. They tell me about rebates, promo codes and coupons that can be used to sweeten the deals.

Guest's picture
michelle

I save money by not eating out as much. Definitely need the cash for gifts!

Guest's picture
Christine P

Plan menus and food lists in advance. It's easy to buy "special" food in every store. Some of it is fine, but saying yes all the time adds up.

Guest's picture
Ernest S.

I make sure that all my spending throughout the year is on a rewards credit card so it can offset my holiday travels. Then I usually buy wrapping paper and cards right after the holidays of the previous year, as they are significantly discounted. I also discovered cheap wrapping paper and cards at Ikea ... in case anyone is looking for some!

Guest's picture
NJJ

I stick to a list and a budget an avoid using credit cards!

Guest's picture
Emily

I like to save up gift cards throughout the year and spend them on presents for the kids at Christmastime.

Guest's picture
Moriah London

Last year I was a single mother to a three year old. This year I've gotten married and gained two more children and two grandchildren. There's a lot more preparation that goes into shopping for the holidays than I had to do last year. I can be very impulsive with money, and if I had saved and/or spent the holiday money all at once I would have made some very bad and split second decisions. I've been working a retail job the past few months and taking $40 per paycheck to pay for holiday gifts. My husband is the bread winner. With that being the case, everyone I'm buying for knows not to expect much. I started off with a budget of $20 for everyone and as I've finished everyone, I've added another $20 to each person's budget,etc. Most of the gifts are small but since everyone knew the budget they were able to tell me exactly what it is they want within the budget.

I bought the gift wrap after I bought the gifts so that I'd know the exact sizes of things I need so that there is little waste or extra things I needed to buy. I make good use of Dollar Tree. They have gift wrap, clothing boxes, tape, ribbons, etc this time of year.

I also don't buy anything that's edible. So much money was wasted in years past buying things like chocolate. With a lot of people to buy for, I want them to have things they love and can keep long-term if they so choose.

Donna Freedman's picture

I do a lot of shopping year-round at clearance tables, yard sales and thrift shops.
I cash in reward programs and either give the gift cards outright or use them to shop for presents.
My biggest holiday challenge this year is that my main source of income went away and I have chosen not to rush to replace it. Thus I'm happier than ever that I have those reward programs.

Guest's picture
Gina

I make homemade gifts instead of buying gifts. It's cheaper and more personal.

Guest's picture

I do it like I do it with my everyday shopping! I take advantage of coupons, promo codes online, or cash back via my Discover It card!

Guest's picture
Trang

Handmade gifts (like food) not to mention holiday sales!

Guest's picture
Diane

We don't exchange gifts with friends & only minimal gifts with extended family, mostly just the kids. I shop the sales, in person & online~ I'm not really big on Black Friday, though I will go out for some limited shopping. I get a nice, inexpensive fresh tree at Home Depot. Since I have years of collected ornaments, I don't buy much other than replacement lights, as needed.

Christmas has always been a big deal in our family from my youth, so I do plan for the fact that I'll be spending extra money. We enjoy the tree & decorations, opening gifts & a big dinner, so that's part of my overall spending plan for the year.

Guest's picture
Guest C

I ask what they want/what they like and don't spend any extra money on other gifts I think they would might like (because they usually don't because my tastes are questionable, lol). I also sell some of my stuff like books, DVDs, etc to stores like FYE or Amazon.com where I can get gift cards/money to spend. I've learned from being a price coordinator at a store for a few years that the best sales aren't on Black Friday, but after that closer to Christmas or when a store has a very large ad (like TRU's Big Book). Black Friday is often a lot of hype - our over-filled return bins a few days after it is living proof.

Guest's picture
nancy

What is TRU?

Thanks,
Nancy

Guest's picture
Guest C

TRU = Toys R Us, sorry

Guest's picture
Elaine

Money is especially tight this year, due to medical expenses and job loss. Gifts are from the dollar store, baked at home, or handmade. For entertainment, my husband and I are going to the library for books and movies. We also enjoy playing Scrabble on occasion. We do not eat out and we do not have cable TV, and we are trying to only buy "necessities". We went to a local food co-op program this week, and paid $10 for 60 lbs. of produce. For our $10, we received 9 zucchinis, 6 cucumbers, 2 yellow bell peppers, 3 little watermelons, 1 cantalope, and a large bag of green beans. We made ratatoulle and zucchini bread, and processed and froze lots of green beans, (cut off both ends, boil 3 min., cool off in ice water for 3 min., drain, then seal in plastic bags and freeze) the cucumbers make good snacks, and the melons are good for desserts. We also made a trip to the grocery store that advertised a free turkey up to 24 lbs. with a $150 purchase. We bought everything on sale, for example, dried beans and lentils, powdered milk, buy one get one free round steak to cut up into stew meat (enough for at least 4 meals), buy one get one free roasts, that we cut up into 7 smaller roasts, 97 cents for 10 lbs of potatoes, and we tried the store brand bath tissue to see if it is tolerable (it was, and we also received a coupon at the register for $1.50 off another package). We spent the $150, and picked out a 22 lb. turkey. In the summer, we were at the local thrift store and saw a (new sealed in the bag) craft kit to make a christmas tree skirt, so that is my current project. We don't feel deprived, we look at it as a challenge to see how well we can do the holidays without spending a lot.

Guest's picture
Elena

I save money by shopping for gifts on sale and using coupons

Guest's picture
Brenda Faulkner

My biggest challenge is to not buy anything on credit - I am committed to paying cash for holidays.

Guest's picture

We do a lot less gifting. It's more important to find one special thing than it is to shower someone with stuff they don't need anyway.

Guest's picture
Jessi

As i think of gift ideas, i add them to my wishlist in amazon before i forget them and then regularly check to see if the price drops. if it does, i purchase (amazon prime customer too) and I can snag it at a deal. Amazon prime allows me to buy whenever the mood hits me (or when the sales timing is right) and not have to worry about paying shipping charges. It also keeps me out of the retail stores where I can easily be swayed by add-on items I don't really need to buy.

Guest's picture

Perhaps the best way to save money for the holidays is to plan for it all year. Setting aside some extra cash for the Holiday season will put less stress on your budget when December rolls around.

Guest's picture
Christina

I try to keep my eyes out for good bargains throughout the year for gifts and keep to a short list of those I am exchanging with and budget ahead of time.

Guest's picture
Stefanie

1 - I shop around for the best prices online - whether I will be buying online or in a store.
2 - I set a budget for spending and stick with it.
3 - I shop at craft fairs all year long and pick up things that I think people will love (same with garage sales, store sales, etc.).
4 - I use coupons and discount codes to get money off and free items - like the 20 free personalized holiday cards I got from Walgreens last week.
5 - I enter drawings (like this) for free gift cards and goods to use for shopping.
6 - I do my best not to travel by air or too far by car between mid-November and the start of January.

Guest's picture
Laura J

To save during the holidays, I always start early! Then it does not hit my budget all at the same time! I watch for great deals and try to get as much as I can ahead of time so I can enjoy December!

Guest's picture
Kirby

I stopped buying gifts for those who I don't regularly see or have a meaningful relationship with.

Guest's picture
Linda B

I buy holiday presents throughout the year when they're on sale. I also reuse all my holiday decorations. (I did buy some new garlands this year to replace the ratty old ones, but they too were on sale.)

Guest's picture
A Fun Mom In Florida

I buy any gifts not going to be homemade online. I look through all the black Friday ads and pick out what I need. This year I've already done ALL my gift buying though Kohls which has super great deals. I buy online BEFORE the Thanksgiving rush as I get the same deals WITHOUT standing in line and it's all shipped free!.
The rest of my gifts are homemade cookie trays. I start baking 1 or 2 cookies at a time and freezing them. when I start to make the platters up...i'll have 12-15 assorted cookies on each platter! EVERYONE loves this gift. I buy the flour and butter on sale in freeze it until baking time cutting my cost way down.

Guest's picture
Rebecca B. A. R.

I buy gifts through out the year, keeping a list of who to buy for, and who I've gotten things for, and I store everything in a dresser. I try to get deals at thrift stores and on sale items, too. I also try to make some of the gifts I give to others.

Guest's picture
OFG

We spend more time together but purchase less gifts overall. We either limit the amount we can spend on each other or forgo gifts all together.

Guest's picture
Thias

The wife and I decided to limit our spending on each other to $50. It isn't about the gifts but just about spending time together. Now the fun is searching out the best deals to make that $50 go a long way!

Guest's picture
DeeDee

Will be out there Black Friday. Over the years we have really cut back on gift giving, mostly just the kids and our mom's get gifts. I do my own baking too.

Guest's picture
J. Pario

I buy gift baskets at church fundraisers. Those usually feature silent auctions, and the money goes to a good cause.

Plus I'm done by November 1.

It helps that the only folks I have to shop for are my parents.

Guest's picture
Alissa A

I buy joint gifts with others, hit the major sales, and always buy Christmas "stuff" the day after Christmas and save for the following year.

Guest's picture
Monique

I stick to a budget and try to remember what's important to me, which is time spent with friends and family.

Guest's picture
Jen

I checked out of the commercialism years ago and stopped buying gifts. Now my family and friends get together and enjoy a nice meal and good company. Much less stress for all involved!

Guest's picture
Karl

I look for deals online and search for coupon codes

Guest's picture
KelR1

I use gift cards I have acquired throughout the year, like to Amazon, to buy gifts. Also, sites like Retail Me Not for coupon codes to online stores. Last year my family decided to buy gifts for pets and children but draw names amongst the adults, so I don't have as many people to shop for anymore.

Guest's picture
Kate Hesser

We save money during the holidays by setting the rule that we will not travel nor enter a big box store or mall during the month of December. We save on gas, avoid impulse purchases and then do most of our shopping online, which allows us to be more balanced and deliberate.

Guest's picture
Lynda

i make a list of what i'm going to get for gifts and i try to stick to the list.

Guest's picture
Guest

I bought a fake tree due to allergies. Now I keep that 50 bucks or more I would have spent on a fresh tree eachyear

Guest's picture
Michelle

I buy fundraiser cookie dough when the kids at school are selling it. It keeps for months in the freezer, I take it out and make cookies for my coworkers for the holidays.

Guest's picture
nancy

I buy things ahead of time throughout the year, that I think people will like, or I have knowledge that they will need it. I buy wrapping paper on sale, but sometimes use funny papers from the Sunday papers instead. It is already premeasured and cut, colorful, and since we receive two papers it is free.

Biggest challenge #1 this year: Stuff is everywhere due to moving everything (to reduce damage and loss) until the roofers could get here after many months to replace our roof after Tropical Storm Lee. Most items are stacked in boxes, stacked several feet high. I think I am buying some duplicates because I have lost track of some purchases. Thankfully, nothing purchased has an expiration date.

Biggest challenge #2 this year: there is so much stuff out there, and I would like to buy it for little kid relatives, but realize they do have parents, grandparents, other aunts and uncles, and already have too much stuff.

Biggest challenge #3: car repairs are busting my budget big time.

Guest's picture
Dana G

I save by stalking online for coupons and by taking advantage of the best credit card rewards and storefront options. I have multiple credit cards for this purpose, although I pay off the credit cards at the end of each month. Also, I try to stick to a gift plan - it becomes all too easy to just grab random gifts for people as you shop. While this is great if you have the extra money, when you're trying to save it's best to stick to a well-thought plan of meaningful but affordable gifts for friends and family. I start developing a list in early November and then can keep an eye out on sales.

Guest's picture
dayla

While we shop for the children in our families, my husband and I participate in Secret Santa with the adult members of our family so we are each only buy one larger gift. We all agree on set price to spend. Also, when it comes to the kids, we always include a book (or several) along with a toy and buy those books from used book stores (with coupons!).

Guest's picture
Mary

A national retailer sends out monthly discount cards. I wait until I get the 30% off and combine it with a $10 off $30 purchase coupon they put on the newspapers and purchase merchandise on sale. I bought my daughters Fila yoga pants and jacket. The total for both daughters was $52. For friends, I bake cookies/breads with ingredients I keep stocked during the year using sales/coupons. We're doing projects inside our home so I bought $150 Lowe's gift cards at the grocery store and received a $25 off $50 purchase coupon. I combined that with other coupons and purchased $138 of groceries (NOT junk food) for $49. I do online surveys etc. to earn points toward gift cards and I collect the codes from coke products which I use for free movie tickets.

Guest's picture

I'm using a combination of DIY gifts (mostly baking), groupons (I love gifting experiences), Cyber Monday Sales (love amazon), and post holiday shopping (my family celebrates on the old calendar, January 6th!)

Guest's picture
Vero A.

I wrap my gifts frugally in homemade paper and wrapping (fabric, maps, magazines, decorated brown bags, etc.).

Guest's picture
Holly S

I sign up to get on the email list of any store that I know I will be purchasing gifts at. Often I end up with at least one coupon or "deal" from them before I actually go to make my purchase. I also try to price match as often as possible.

Guest's picture
Caroline

My friends and I don't really do the gift exchange. We would just invite each other for a home cooked meal or pot luck and watch a movie at home. If we find something we would like, we would just give it away the next time we see each other. Thus stress-free!

Guest's picture
Guest

We don't get carried away by the commercial aspect of the holidays. We usually set a limit on the number and cost of gifts, and also have cut down on mailing greeting cards because of the rise in postal costs. It's easy to get swept up in the giving and getting of gifts, but it you think about it, do you really need all that stuff? By keeping your costs under control, you alleviate your holiday stress at the same time. You can be relaxed and happier during the holidays.

Guest's picture
MELISSA HANSSON

We use the same color scheme every year and so can carry over decorations and wrap from season to season. I shop sales throughout the year, so most of my gifts are purchased by November, too.

Guest's picture

I save money during the holidays by starting my shopping early so that I can find most of my gifts on sale. I also make a realistic Christmas gift list, it's just not in my budget to buy gifts for everyone!

Guest's picture
Kay

I purchase gifts throughout the year, buy gently-used for the kids when I can, and shop online to find the best deals for what I buy new. Before I checkout, I always check discount code sites to further my savings. Late Dec./early January is a great time to buy gifts at a discount. I am generally done with my shopping by Thanksgiving, which allows me to skip the crowded stores and skip the hassle and stress as well.

Guest's picture

We give a lot of homemade gifts, but we take it to an extreme. We have a large garden, and each year, I plan things that I will grow to give as gifts. Some examples: We have grown and dried luffa sponge gourds, grown and dried cayenne chile peppers, we make peach and berry jam to give as gifts, and grow heirloom popcorns that also end up in gift baskets. We usually pair these dried or jar items with homemade baked goods such as apple pie, gingerbread cupcakes with cream cheese icing, and handmade peppermint bark or New Orleans pralines. We assemble all of this into family gift baskets, which we deliver to our friends. If they have children, we usually throw in a small, new toy or item we know they will enjoy.

For charity gifts (think toy drives) I have a box I fill year-round with toys bought on deep discount-- and nice toys. I'm usually able to find $3 princess barbies or hot wheels track sets, etc. throughout the year. I buy one or two, or however many will fit into the budget. I've also bought brand new unopened toys at yard sales. Come December, our toy donation box overflows, and the output of money and time was minimal.

The real key for us though, is to just make sure we are honestly and carefully considering the receiver. A gift is useless if it doesn't fit their interests, their life, or their wants. So, we spend a lot of time matching the right gift with the right person. The thought really does matter!

Guest's picture
jestjack

We take the benefits from the "rewards" on our credit cards and redeem for gift cards, many times with a discount. Then we take these cards and couple them with the many deals and discounts available on Black Friday and after. This strategy has worked well for us and tends to place less of a burden on our Xmas budget. In addition, I know there is give and take on Xmas trees...real versus artificial...Many years ago we chose to go artifiicial actually a 'green" decision.... After 10 years the gals wanted a new tree as ours was "old". But I resisted because...I'm cheap.... This year our tree is celebrating it's 30th Xmas....still looks good.... and now the gals love it because it's "vintage" and carry's so many memories.

Guest's picture
Rusty

I save by looking for online deals.

Guest's picture
GuestHolly Ann

Throughout the year I save points on my credit card from paying bill and other necessities. I then redeem them for Christmas gifts.

Guest's picture
Deb

We get together with friends and do gift exchanges and shop sales throughout the year and make homemade baked goods for gifts. Our biggest budget challenge this year is that we are both currently unemployed and looking for work. Fortunately, we have used credit card points and gift cards to make purchases and are limiting our gifts.

Guest's picture
Anissa Gooch

I use cash back sites and coupon codes and watch for everything to go on sale.

Guest's picture
Happy Love

Sales, coupons, and ebates. I do all of my Christmas shopping online which let's me do price comparisons more easily and avoid the hassle of not being able to find what I'm looking for.

Guest's picture
ambrosia

We buy a small Christmas tree instead of a more expensive full-sized one.

Guest's picture
Tabathia B

So far I have saved by shopping black friday and by shopping online using online codes

Guest's picture
Abby

I save by shopping sales for great deals during the holidays.

Guest's picture
Carmen

I don't spend very much on my great nieces and nephews (yes, we still buy for them) - I try and keep it between $5-10. It's a challenge, but they get so much they really don't care.

Guest's picture
Kristine R.

Two words: CYBER MONDAY!