5 Easy Ways to Save Some Green This Holiday Season

Photo: Anita Martinz

Given that Christmas has become a $400 billion annual spending spree here in the U.S., sometimes I think Scrooge had a point during his "bah humbug" period. Certainly a little spending moderation can't hurt this holiday season, and it might even put us back in touch with the true spirit and ideals of the season. Here's how to enjoy the holidays and avoid a financial hangover come New Years Day.

Agree on a sensible gift exchange plan with family and friends.

Don't be shy about broaching the subject of having a scaled-back gift exchange with family and friends. Many times, others will thank you for having the courage to bring it up. Consider setting a spending limit — and sticking to it — and adopting a "secret Santa" plan, whereby each person in the family draws a name and buys a gift only for that person rather than for everyone in the family.

Or consider an alternative gift exchange plan, like only giving homemade items, re-gifted items, gifts of your time, or just exchanging cards instead of gifts. Remember, it's the thought that counts.

Make entertaining more about special people and activities than about expensive food and drink.

Celebrating with family and friends need not leave your bank account as empty as Santa's workshop after the holidays are over. Put the focus of holiday entertaining back where it belongs — on enjoying good times with good people.

Make meal events a potluck or progressive dinner, so that everyone can share their favorite recipes (and some of the cost). Host a brunch rather than a dinner party; brunch-foods like egg dishes, breads, and salads tend to cost less than dinner fare. And deemphasize food and drink by planning fun group activities, like an old fashioned caroling party or playing games instead of having a traditional — and costly — cocktail party.

Decorate with creativity, not credit cards.

It's easy to overspend when it comes to decking the halls, but simple elegance usually trumps glitzy glamour when decorating for the holidays. Take an inventory of decorations you have on hand before you shop for more; it's easy to forget about items you have in storage or bought last year at after-Christmas sales. Incorporate inexpensive greenery and other natural materials as much as possible, including those you might collect from your own yard or swap with neighbors.

If you buy a real Christmas tree, buy the largest one you can find for the price and cut off unneeded lower branches to use in wreaths and garland. Or consider buying a truly "live" tree — one with the root ball still intact — and plant it in your yard after the holidays; according to the U.S. Department of Energy, as few as three strategically planted trees in your yard can significantly reduce household heating and cooling expenses.

Take stock of what you already have before you hit the stores.

Every year billions of dollars worth of gift cards go unused, either expiring or losing value; start your holiday shopping by digging out any gift cards, rebates, and gift certificates you have tucked away in a drawer and use them before they expire to buy gifts for those on your shopping list. Also, "re-gifting" an item you already own is officially in this holiday season, provided that you truly believe the recipient will appreciate it and it's in good shape. Remember: It's only re-gifting if you believe it's re-gifting (or, in the case of intimate apparel, if you've worn it more than one night).

Take time out for those in need.

Volunteering your time as a family to help those in need this holiday season is not only the right thing to do, but I'll bet you an eggnog that it will inspire you to spend less, too. Helping those who are truly needy gives most of us a new appreciation for the blessings we already have. Check out the following websites for volunteer opportunities in your area: VolunteerMatch, Idealist, BeTheChange, 211, Give and CreateTheGood.

And here's a gift that just about everyone can afford to give this holiday season.

This post from the Green Cheapskate by Jeff Yeager is republished with the permission of The Daily Green.  Check out more great content from The Daily Green:


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Guest's picture

I can not imagine people having unused gift cards. Everytime I receive a gift card, I have always been so excited about it that I use it immediately. I love all of your ideas and hope to start a gift exchanging tradition with my family this year. We've never done that, but my family has also never been very big on gift giving either. We've always understood the importance of the holiday and just spending quality time with each other and appreciating it.

I will be de-cluttering my house this year to find things to re-gift.