I am like a kung-fu ninja when it comes to holiday shopping. Maybe it’s because I have a 5 year old son and know that when he’s in tow, I have to move quick. Oh, who am I kidding? I just like to get my shopping done then get out of everyone else’s way, especially during the high-volume shopping season. Ticking off my holiday shopping list quickly, however, does not mean I’m willing to spend unnecessary dough. I’ve compiled a list of money-saving tips that actually work for my family and for my friends’ families. Happy shopping!
Buy in Bulk
There are plenty of ways you can buy in bulk without having to worry you’ll end up with 22 cans of cranberry sauce and 18 pounds of potatoes in your pantry. Chances are your holiday meal consists of a lot of the same dishes that will grace the tables of several of your friends, so agree to split up your ingredients after buying the larger portion sizes then split the bill straight down the middle. This works equally well for non-food items like stocking stuffers (socks, candy, kits w/ travel-size bath and toiletry items, nail polish sets, etc.)
Use Discount Sites
These sites are really fantastic for finding deals on things you might not think of on your own. For instance, 55% of paintball excursions, 51% off painting (and wine!) classes, and 51% off home cleaning services. Try Groupon, LivingSocial, and GiltCity. I’ve found some really cool gifts for both my parents, my in-laws and my kiddo using these sites.
Buy Gifts the Whole Family Can Use Together
This is especially true of big-ticket items but still a good habit when making smaller purchases. You’ll get more use and enjoyment out of fun activities everyone can participate in whether you’re buying a Wi-Fit, a board game, or one of these bad boys.
Two Birds, One Stone
During the holidays, it’s important to many of us to give back to the less fortunate. Realistically though, this cuts into your budget…but it doesn’t have to! Buy gifts for your family and friends from merchants who have matching gift programs. Every time you purchase something from them, they distribute a comparable product to someone in need.
When shopping in-store, pay with cash. It’s a lot tougher to hand over a $100.00 bill than it is to absentmindedly swipe your credit card for the same purchase. You’ll be more mindful about what you’re spending and what you’re spending it on. That funky dancing Santa may not look so appealing if you have to hand over cash money to bring it home.
Chances are, you’ll be invited to several holiday parties this year. Typically, you bring a bottle of wine, champagne or some other gift for the hosts. You also might have to hire a babysitter if it’s an adult-only shindig. Now, not to be a party-pooper, but it can all add up quickly! A word to the wise: it’s okay to (politely) say no. If the party is hosted by your in-laws, you’ll probably want to go. If you’re invited to a party thrown by co-worker you barely know, it’s okay to decline. Be sure to lavishly thank them for the invitation and keep your explanation for declining their invite simple, “I’m sorry, but I already have plans that day.” Attend only those parties you truly want to go to and save yourself time and the stress of spending extra money.
The Gift of Time
If only there were a way to give people more time in the day…guess what, there is! Rather than buying a gift, consider “giving” someone an afternoon off or an afternoon on. This could mean babysitting your sister’s kids for a couple hours while she run errands or simply relaxes. Or it can mean dedicating an afternoon or evening every week to watch a movie with your family or do dinner at your parents’ house. The gift of time may seem a little strange at first since it’s not wrapped up in a pretty bow but everyone appreciates it. (You can always present it in “voucher’ form with a cute, cheap clock if you really like the idea of wrapping all your gifts.)
Pick Names Out of a Hat
We do this religiously in our family and its cut my shopping list virtually in half. With large families, this gift-giving method is a life-saver. You can go old school and grab names out of a hat or for the more technically-advanced, putting everyone’s name in a random matching generator online. It’s especially fun when done Secret Santa style!
Social Media to the (Budget) Rescue!
Did you know that by simply “Liking” a brand on Facebook or following it on Twitter, you can receive special offers in the form of discount codes and samples (which are perfect for stocking stuffers)? It’s true. You can even be proactive about it and reach out to them. For instance, if you’re planning to travel this holiday season, shoot your hotel a tweet to say how much you’re looking forward to staying with them and you just might be surprised with a complimentary upgrade when you check in! Even if you aren’t, it’s a small effort that doesn’t take much time.
Speaking of Holiday Travel…
If you’re flying, bring your own (empty) water bottles rather than paying the exorbitant prices once you’re through security. It really adds up when you need to buy two or more for the family! Additionally, save your money (and sanity) by packing smart. Choose clothes you can mix and match easily to cut down on items you must pack and wear your bulkier items on your flight to save space in your suitcase.
Smartphone apps are extremely helpful for finding deals and staying on budget during the holiday season. Here are a few that have gotten great reviews:
- Snaptell: This app is incredibly intuitive. You simply snap a photo of any media product (a book cover, DVD, cd, etc.) and it will look up the online and in-person prices and reviews.
- LearnVest: This free personal finance app enables you to see the big picture as you spend money during the holidays. Whether you’re planning a big family vacation next year or a new car, once you have set up your profile, you’ll be able to see how each dollar you spend now affects all of your financial goals.
- Shopkick: This is a free shopping app for mobile devices that offers customers rewards for walking into stores. It uses points called “kicks” which are usually awarded when users walk into participating stores. You can use the “kicks” you earn to buy things like movie tickets and Starbucks drinks (to keep up your energy while being a shopping ninja!)