No matter what religion, tradition or Hallmark card you find meaningful, it’s impossible to deny that the holiday season is upon us. As stores begin to prematurely deck the halls, I’m reminded that the winter months are time for us to show friends and family just how much they mean to us, but this often means spending to show them some love. Personally, I think gift giving is a beautiful way to show someone you’re thinking of them. But I can’t deny the heavy hit my wallet takes to make that happen, and I want to brighten my family and friends’ season without overspending this year.
This year in particular, experts estimate that holiday spending by consumers may grow to the highest levels since the 2008-2009 recession. I’m looking to show my gratitude to those who mean the most to me without delaying my student loan payments by a year, so here are some helpful tactics I’m going to use to reduce the shock-value the holidays can have on my bank account:
1. If I’m buying presents online, I’m going to use coupons and other budgeting resources.
Sites that offer cash back for purchases made at partnering companies can be very helpful. FatWallet, Ebates, Extrabux, Shop At Home and other similar sites will put a percentage of your overall purchase, from sites ranging from Sephora to ACE Hardware, back into your account. Though percentages are often low (hovering around 2% back), if I use them every time I buy a gift for someone online, I will start to see a return.
Speaking of coupons, online resources like Honey, RetailMeNot and even Google will take the stress out of coupon treasure hunting. Before completing your online purchase, quickly scan coupon sites like RetailMeNot.com or Coupons.com to make sure you aren’t missing out on any deals. If you don’t want to search deep into the internet to find a coupon, Honey is a web application that scans for available coupon codes and automatically troubleshoots each code to find you the best deal. It’s a Google Chrome application that makes me look like a big spender, despite the fact that I’m slowly becoming an HBIC (head boss in coupons.)
2. DIY whenever I can.
Let’s face it: not all of us are crafty. I certainly am not the most creative, nor the best with a glue gun. But even for those of us who are Pinterest-edly-challenged, there are opportunities to shave off a few extra dollars by infusing some DIY opportunities into our gift-giving plans.
I’ve made my own “art,” and had great results. Pouring some dark, hot coffee onto a canvas can serve as an unexpected (and pretty!) addition to the home or office of your best caffeine addicted friend. I soaked a colorful teabag and dripped some of the dyed water over the canvas to add some additional color in there, too. If you’re not willing to risk burning yourself for the sake of art, you can find free images online that look surprisingly good in a nice frame, which you can find on the cheap at a store like HomeGoods or WorldMarket. (This is why I now have a cartoon pug with a party hat above my bar cart as decoration. No regrets.)
I’ve also tried making my own holiday greeting cards. Instead of purchasing those fancy cards with their slightly half-assed greetings, I like to find images online that are perfect for my recipient. Then I print it out as a half-page image (you can do it on card stock if you’re feeling fancy), fold, and write your season’s greetings inside. Rather than purchasing greeting cards at $3 a pop, spend a few cents worth of ink to tell your loved ones what they mean to you. I use resources like Flickr and Google Images. (Selecting the “labeled for reuse” option, so that you’re in compliance with any and all of the site’s copyright laws.)
Since PRESENTation is everything (see what I did there?), there are several ways for you to DIY your gift wrapping. Take apart the Trader Joe’s bags you used for a $25 grocery haul, flip them inside out and use the plain brown interior to wrap your gift. You can accessorize this wrapping in a number of ways, like dipping a pencil eraser into some paint for cute, dainty polka dot wrapping.
3. Keep the person I’m giving to in mind.
Before I get caught up in the thousands of “wish list” ideas that will be published across blogs, magazines and Instagram feeds, I remember that the purpose of a gift is to express your appreciation for a specific person. Taking a step back and considering what that person would truly enjoy, use, or take to heart can save you a lot of money.
There are people in your life who might value a day set aside for quality time more than an expensive watch. If you and your friends don’t have the budget for presents this year, go old school and give each other “coupons” for activities you and your friend can do to celebrate the holidays. Set aside some time to explore your city, take a long walk, or find free activities to do together rather than spending unnecessary funds on a material gift.
If there are people in your life that would be emotionally moved by food (is that just me?) take the time to bake or make them a special treat. Making your own cookies, brownies, or cupcakes can go a long way with your desert-passionate friends, and can cost as little as $5 a pop with the right recipes.
4. Start prepping (and saving) for next year in advance.
Here’s a fun fact that I can never seem to remember: holidays happen every year. Like birthdays, they always seem to be around the corner. With the madness that previews the season, I always forget to save incremental amounts early so that my savings is strong enough to withstand a holiday hit. I set aside money for my regular savings, but often forget to manually set aside separate money for the holidays. I currently use a tool called Digit to essentially trick myself into putting aside separate holiday savings. It’s an app that will pull a small amount of money out of your checking account, and deposit it into a savings account within the application (so, separate from your larger savings account). After using Digit for about five months, and selecting the “save less” amount, which only pulls about $3-$4 out of my account at a time, I have racked up almost $300 that I didn’t even notice coming out of my budget.
The holidays and colder months are a time to hunker down and get cozy, spend quality downtime with loved ones as snow days impede our everyday routines. Regardless of what holiday you may choose or choose not to celebrate, there is no denying this season allows for valuable time to spend with friends and family. Those friends and family deserve to know how much they mean to you, but showing them doesn’t have to break the bank. By shopping smart, creating what you can, and considering what would be truly meaningful, you can deliver some kickass gifts and ensure your bank account stays intact this gift-giving season.
Lizzie is a communications professional based in Washington, DC. When she isn’t at work, you can find her at dance rehearsal or eating – but probably eating. Follow the frolic on Instagram.
Image via Pexels