Ask the Readers: How Do You Stay Frugal During the Holidays?

By Ashley Jacobs on 4 October 2016 68 comments

Editor's Note: Congratulations to Sam, Susan, and Jaclyn for winning this week's contest!

Halloween is almost here, which means we're getting really close to the full-blown holiday season. This is often touted as the merriest time of year, but it can also be the most expensive.

How do you stay frugal during the holidays? Many people choose to celebrate some holidays simply and go all-out for the one that is most important to their family — do you prioritize the holidays? Do you feel prepared for the holidays at this point?

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

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We're doing three giveaways — here's how you can win!

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If you're inspired to write a whole blog post OR you have a photo on Flickr to share, please link to it in the comments or tweet it.

Giveaway Rules:

  • Contest ends Monday, October 10th at 11:59 p.m. Pacific. Winners will be announced after October 10th on the original post. Winners will also be contacted via email.
     
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Guest's picture
Jenny D

My children are now adults, so my husband and I have simplified the holiday season (Thanksgiving to New Year's). The focus is on the meals. I do a meal for each holiday, not necessarily on the actual day, but rather when we can all get together. My daughter and son-in-law will alternate Thanksgiving and Christmas with his family, but most years we still get together at some point. I have pared down what I make so that it is easier for me, plus I ask everyone to bring a dish or contribute to the meal in some way. For Christmas, we still give gifts; last year we did a white elephant gift exchange and that was a lot of fun and great on budgets. I'm thinking about having everyone give gifts that they've made this year - anything from food to crafts. One year we had to give gifts that we found at the local thrift store...there are ladies who make crafts and donate them to the store, so everything was new if you bought one of those, but there were also some great donated items.

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Portia

Several years ago, we decided that Christmas spending had gotten WAY out of hand. We set a monetary limit of $50/person and announced it far ahead of time, so everyone had time to plan. Every Christmas since has been so much more enjoyable and much less stressful. In addition, we have put more thought and care into the less expensive gifts as compared to the pricier ones.

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Karen Patterson

I do a lot of cooking and baking from scratch and try to avoid eating at restaurants.

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mary sampson

I buy all my gift cards for recipients by early September and hide them away, I don't have to hassle about any gifts for anyone come December..I allocate the money all thru the year for the recipients..Having two birthdays one in late late October and one in early November takes me off my frugalness, one is the hubs the other our only child and I am done for the year, no hassles whatsoever & the people who get the gift cards can use them after Christmas sales in January and get really great deals!

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Guest

I just try to save throughout the year so that I don't have to worry about missing out when the holidays come

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Sam

We give our kids three gifts, no exceptions. This lowers the expense drastically, and we aren't frantically attempting to buy every whim and desire. Our adult family exchanges names and the price limit is $20...win, win! We have dinner with extended family and enjoy their company without gifts. As we grow olde, our budget has become smaller and we focus on the important parts of the season.

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Mami2jcn

I use coupons as much as possible & take advantage of store sales.

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Elena

I stay frugal by buying holiday food and décor using coupons

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Tina in NJ

My kids are older, so they want gift cards. We use credit card rewards as much as we can. The adults on one side give to charity instead of each other and on the other side of the family, we pull names.

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V

We have a list of who we're buying presents for and how much to spend on each of them. We stick to the list as best we can and leave a little room for unexpected gifts, such as work or church.

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Julie Wood

I shop months in advance and look for marked down items at stores and online to find great prices on Christmas gifts for my family.

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Matt

I go in on gifts with my parents with my siblings so they can get something nicer but we don't have to spend a ton individually.

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Heidi Kodi

Always, always make a budget! Don't forget teachers, bus drivers, co-workers, etc. I use survey websites to earn gift cards for my purchases and also make a lot of gifts. The key is to plan way ahead, so there are no last minute purchases that blow the budget. I stopped doing Christmas cards -it is not environmentally friendly to begin with. I do all my wrapping in gift bags that are kept and reused.

Guest's picture
Nicci

I always shop saws and pair coupons if possible. I also start early when shopping. Clearance is my best friend!

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SKB

I like to buy during the year when an item is on sale. These are generally stocking stuffers. Then one package to open because everyone wants a gift to open. But the best gift is a nice check or gift card to a favorite place.

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Stacie M

I try to buy as things are on sale. I have already started, and will continue throughout the holiday season:)

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Elle

I stick to a budget and shop year round for deals and don't wait until the holiday season.

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natasha

I stay frugal during the holiday season by shopping early and price matching great deals.

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Christie

We set a budget at the beginning of the shopping season, save up during the year, and make sure we stick to it so that the credit card bill is not a shock when it arrives. There is money already set aside, so there's no worries.

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Trish

We buy for kids only. Once they finish college they start to buy gifts for the younger ones. We set a price limit too. This way no one gets overwhelmed with shopping and spending.

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Lisa

I try to hit store sales in advance and then join a gift exchange at work so I don't have to buy presents for everyone. We do the same thing with my group of cousins. It cuts down on the gift giving but we still get together and hang out which is what the season should be about.

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Anna Sochocky

Check out fall artist markets or bazaars. Find eclectic items like handmade jewelry, pottery, or artwork for a reasonable price!

Guest's picture
Guest

I try to buy gifts ahead of time or make as many presents as I can. Just the other day I bought some craft supplies to start working on some scarves as a Christmas gift for friends. Handmade food or cards make great gifts!

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Gina

I stay frugal during the holidays by not traveling. I also save by doing a potluck for Thanksgiving and only giving homemade baked goods as Christmas gifts.

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Marie

We limit gifts to one per child and try to make it something meaningful yet inexpensive. We also do simple holiday activities, eg decorating homemade gingerbread houses, looking at Christmas lights in the neighborhood, and spending quality time family and friends.

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Julia G.

The holidays can be crazy busy and expensive. Here are a few of my ideas. Its hard to save for holiday gifts, so when you see things on sales throughout the year take advantage of seasonal sales. Buy an artificial tree instead of a real one & reuse it every years and saves a ton! Gift cards keep your spending in line with your budget because they are for an exact amount and save on returns because you get them at all their favorite stores. Bake cookies or other holiday treats for friends and neighbors saves on money & they will love the thoughtful treats. Most people have email, so send e-cards and save on postage. Don't scrimp on a holiday party, just host a potluck an draw names for your gift exchange

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Emily S.

We focus on experiences, not things. For example, we'll host a cooking baking party. It's affordable, festive, and everyone wins!

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Trish

We buy for kids only. Once they finish college they start to buy gifts for the younger ones. We set a price limit too. This way no one gets overwhelmed with shopping and spending.

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Susan Smith

We stay frugal buy setting a budget. I also make some items to give.

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Kelli

Because my husband's family has gotten larger over the years we usually don't exchange gifts among all the adults. We do gifts for pets and children and draw one adult name to buy for. We agree on a limit for that one gift too. There's usually a simple dinner at the in-laws' house, and we each bring one item of food or drink to share. They don't live too far, so there isn't really travel cost involved. It ends up being pretty frugal.

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Natasha

I shop early. It's easier to find good gifts if I'm watching a while before I'll need things. I also like making some of my gifts, since I'm a reasonably good knitter. (You have to actually enjoy the process of knitting, not just the end product in order for this to work frugally.)

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Guest

I shop during the year and stick to budget. I make gifts as well.

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Monique Hubert

I am so lucky that my family prefers to keep it simple and focus on spending time with each other. So I focus on experiences and don't stress material things. We all are way more concerned with enjoying our time together and doing fun things like going on hikes or baking cookies together, decorating, etc. And yes, I feel totally prepared!

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Tracy Hirsch

I don't. :) My family is not large so it's a time to show them I love them. For friends and co-workers, I keep it simple with homemade treats from the heart.

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Jeff

For me it isn't different than any other time of the year... I just don't spend much.

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Susan P.

I have switched to giving practical or necessary gifts to immediate family members and have had to stop giving gifts outside the family due to economic reasons. I like to give pottery I make which is one way to save money and be frugal.

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MelodyJ

Make several lists. There should be one for each category like food, decorations , clothes/accessories , gifts, etc. Then put money aside for those things.

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Mystica

Holidays are not extravagant in our home. Most people will think we very frugal but we do not think anyone is deprived!! Even a meal is just my husband and I as all children are overseas.

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Rebecca Ross

I have a gift list and dresser that I organize all my gifts in and keep track of what I have for what person. I buy good deals and clearance items throughout the year and almost have nothing to buy when Christmas rolls around.

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Jaclyn B

I make a list and stick to it! This keeps me from impulse buys or forgetting to buy for someone special.

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Louly

I use a credit card that has 90 day price matching, so I always get the best price on everything.

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Lyn Brooks

I find that my biggest budget buster during the holidays are impulse buys, so I make a list of each person that I intend to buy a gift for the holidays, and then I stick to my list. I have also found that food and entertaining costs are higher during the holidays, so I try to stick closer to my budget with careful planning of my menus so that I am less tempted to buy extra foods that are not on my menu. By planning our holiday menu several weeks in advance, I am able to make the best use of coupons and discounts as well as any specials or markdowns that I find at the store.

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Ernest S.

I try to set expectations and limits on gift spending, especially with friends. Also, we'll often play "secret Santa" so eat person only has to buy one gift and is capped in the amount he/she can spend.

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Chris

For decorating - I decorate for autumn (not Halloween or Thanksgiving) so we have one set of decorations that last over the two months but still make me feel festive for the beginning of holidays. For Christmas we focus on a budget and try to shop sales based on a list.

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Jennifer

I've started buying a case of steeply discounted red wine (seems more suited to winter) whenever I see it so that I can just grab and go during the holiday season. It works as a stand alone gift for parties, and instantly classes up a small trinket for someone.

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Karen Littman

I cash in rewards that I have earned all year long to defray costs. Also, I budget for holiday expenditures yearly so I am not suddenly surprised by unexpected bills.

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Patrick

I set aside money in our budget as Christmas money throughout the year. We buy small gifts for our siblings and spend more on our parents and the children throughout the family. It seems to work and everyone enjoys the season.

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MELISSA HANSSON

I use coupon sites to make the smartest purchases when items are on sale and have store and manufacturer coupons. I also shop for the holidays all year long, especially right after each holiday, when so much is available on clearance.

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Elena Rodriguez

I make lists! I usually will make one list with the people that I intend to purchase gifts for and then another with exactly where I can get it and how much. I also use that list to reference the price of the item and where I can purchase it, but I always try to find it for less than my target price.

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Tasha B

We buy through the year so there isn't a holiday rush or impulse buys. We've decided to give our kids four gifts: something to wear, something to read, something you want, and something you need. We have young kids so this helps simplify our list and manages their expectations (it's easier for our kids to decide what they REALLY want if they only get one want/toy)

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Donna D

We don't get crazy with gift giving and I also do a Christmas Club at the bank so I have the cash I need to go shopping.

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Laurajj

I always make a budget and stick to it. I do start early and get a little each month so that it does not all hit at once.

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Raina

Set a budget for gifts and stick to it.

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Bethany M

Skip the lunch out and coffee shop break.

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Ryan

I shop on Amazon and leverage my Prime membership to save lots of money.

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Lynda

i stay frugal by planning out my shopping list and trips

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Heather in L.A.

I keep a composition book that has a list of whom we give to, what we gift and how much. It dates back from 2010, this allows me to purchase gifts throughout the year, taking advantage of sales and not forgetting, that can be a problem. I try to have 90% of all Christmas purchased by the first of December. This allows me to relax, entertain and focus on being with friends and family and not rushing from one store to the next.

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April Chavez

I go shopping for gifts throughout the year when there is a sale. I use coupons and also buy at yard sales so I canals a stockpile of gifts.

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Suz_Glo

I have not even begun to think about the holidays! Thanksgiving may or may not be at my home this year so that is still TBD. As far as Christmas is concerned, it's so easy to get carried away with stuff and the number of presents under the tree. Especially when you have small children. So it's a lot easier for us now that our children are older to put the focus on fun activities we can do together instead of giving each other more stuff. If someone truly wants/needs something special I try to get it for them but I also set overall spending limits.

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Michelle D.

I have a big family so we do secret santa and use a website that draws names for you. It works out well so we only have to buy one gift instead of individual gifts for everyone.

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Brook Hart

My children are older so we have settled into a routine. I give each child a large gift usually purchased with my credit card points towards the end of the year, I pay my bills on my cards and pay off the cards in full each month. The points add up by the end of the year. I watch my inbox for coupons. During the year, small coupons as small as five dollars will buy a clearance item for my children. I recently purchased large Yankee candles at Staples for 2.00 a piece. Bath and Body Works has a great sale every fall and I buy the girls items for gift baskets for 3.00 a piece. I just did a deal for a personalized mug at Shutterfly and paid 5.00 with a 20.00 coupon. I will make a coffee basket for my daughters boyfriend. This is something that he really enjoys. I watch various blogs and buy deals from Groupon. Honestly most of my gifts are around 10.00 and are valued around 50.00. We cut out most friends and family members a while back. I do buy for a few small children. I try to make my gifts meaningful and try to make them something the recipient really likes. Christmas had lost it's meaning for me when people started naming what they wanted me to buy them. Now, it's small and personal and we love it.

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Ashley P.

I try to buy gifts during black Friday or will give homemade gifts like cookies in tins that I buy from the Dollar store.

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Happy Love

I start early in the year watching for good sale prices for gifts, and I stick to a budget.

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ana lee

I stick to a budget and I don't spend more than I can afford.

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amanda sakovitz

I keep the people I buy gifts for to a minimum

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J. Pario

I only exchange gifts with my parents and spouse.

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Pam ricks

I make my homemade fudge for family and friends

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Thomas Murphy

I find good deals online.