5 things I've been doing all year to make the holidays more affordable

Jackie Lam Nov. 6, 2023 Business Insider

No matter how hard I try to have a slow December and carve out some time for respite and reflection, the end-of-year gatherings, gift-giving, and general busyness can feel like a whirlwind.

Despite feeling the season's crunch, one thing I've long avoided is overspending and digging a debt hole. I do five things that let me budget for seasonal shopping year-round, and it has helped me steer clear of holiday debt hangover.

1. I keep a spreadsheet of my holiday expenses

Yes, it's true. My tiny cabin for one (plus a cat) might have "piles of shame" with small mountains of stickers and stationery, but one thing I do stay on top of is maintaining a budget for the holidays.

I'm one of those keeners who creates a spreadsheet for everything. My holiday shopping is no exception. My list includes everyone I would like to get a small gift for, as well as festive attire, gift wrap, greeting cards, shipping costs, food for parties, and ingredients for baked goodies.

I also factor in how much I might need for gatherings. Next to each item on my list, I jot down a ballpark amount and any ideas for presents each person might enjoy.

2. I pare down my list

Besides keeping track of my holiday-related expenses, I see how I might pare down my list or lower my expenses.

For instance, instead of gifting everyone at the post office gift cards to Starbucks, I'll consider baking brownies, which will be less expensive. Or in lieu of buying a gift for every cousin and their child, I buy a single present for the entire family.

3. I keep a gift fund

I have a Qapital banking account that I use for some very short-term savings goals. While I have an Ally savings account for an emergency fund, family fund, and other goals, Qapital is where I keep slush money, or funds I can pull money in and out more freely.

Because Qapital's interest rate isn't very high, I only keep money I intend to keep in there for a short time. This is where I keep a gift fund. I set up an auto-save rule and set aside $10 a week. My gift fund is used primarily for Christmas gifts and birthday presents.

4. I shop during sales throughout the year

I scoop up on deep discounts at sales and clearance racks throughout the year. I try to support local businesses as much as possible. Many of them have semi-annual sidewalk sales.

I don't have a firm budget for how much I spend each month, but I typically pull from my gift fund or my splurge fund from such purchases. That way, I can "spread my spend," and don't have to scramble at the last minute for gifts.

While I do what I can to scoop up the best deals possible year-round, I tend to wait until later in the year to purchase gifts for any kids on my list. That's because kids' tastes, proclivities, and interests tend to change quicker than adults' do. Plus, if I'm considering getting them the latest toy, those might be released later in the year or go on sale during Black Friday.

5. I make the most of my Buy Nothing Group

Another way I save on the holidays is by keeping an eye out for items throughout the year in my local Buy Nothing Group that I can use for gifts, baking, gift wrap, and attire.

This year, I've been gifted a brand new cocoa bomb mold, animal cookie cutters, and organic cocoa that I will be putting to use for my baking needs. Plus, I've received sundry items for gifting, such as stuffed animals, treat bags, gift boxes, baskets, and stocking stuffers.

While I'm mainly involved in my Buy Nothing Group to get to know my neighbors and foster community, I've found that it's a great way to save money. Escaping the inevitable busyness that is the holiday season might be nearly impossible. But by saving for holiday expenses year-round and looking for deals, I can avoid a financial hangover in the new year.

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