The holidays are one of the most exciting times of the year. The twinkling lights, classic movies and endless holiday parties are enough to make you feel giddy for months.
However, as amazing as the holidays are, they can also be stressful, especially if you’re living on a recent graduette’s budget. Between gifts for your family, best friends and significant other, your bank account can really take a hit if you’re not careful!
Don’t start stressing just yet, though. We’re here to help make Christmas shopping affordable with easy money-saving tips so you won’t break the bank this season.
1. Make your own coffee
We know you love coffee runs and you can’t imagine starting your mornings any other way. Especially now that your favorite coffee shops are serving delicious holiday flavors, it’s hard to drive by without stopping in to get your caffeine fix. But that $3 a cup adds up, so in the weeks leading up to Christmas, do a little DIY and make your own coffee! To have a cheaper cup of coffee that still tastes like the holidays, use peppermint-flavored creamer (or create your own flavored add-ins!) and you could save $15 a week.
2. Keep a money-spending log
Keeping track of how much money you’re spending month to month is a great way to determine if you’re overspending in areas where you could be saving. Though you should be doing this regularly anyway, if you haven’t started, the holidays are a perfect time to be logging your expenses, especially because it’s easy to lose track of what and whom you’re spending money on during this season. Download a money-management app for your phone and update it regularly to see where you stand financially.
iSpending is a simple app that allows you to see your monthly, weekly, or annual income and expenditures all on the homepage. Just input your income and expenses manually and categorize them as you see fit. Unlike other apps, iSpending allows you to make your own categories (you’re not restricted to categories already set up in the app) and generates helpful pie charts so that you can see exactly where your money is going.
If you’re looking for an app with more features, CashTrails is the way to go. It offers passcode protection, photo attachments (if you like to keep track of receipts, products you bought or paychecks that you’re inputting) and allows you to create groups to separate your business expenses from your personal expenses.
Having your expenses laid out like this is a great way to visualize how much money you have left over after all of your mandatory expenses (such as rent, car insurance or student loans) have been paid. It can also help you decide which costs you can briefly put on hold for the holiday season, such as dining out, ordering fast food and doling out money for cab fare.
3. Open a holiday spending account
Many banks offer Christmas Club programs, which are special accounts you can set up to safeguard your money strictly to use for the holidays. Setting this money aside not only ensures you have a holiday budget, but it also gives you a realistic look at what you can afford to spend. Not to mention, depending on when you open the account, your savings may grow with interest, too!
Ashley Oliveira, who works at Provident Bank, talked with HC about these holiday saving accounts. “Provident Bank doesn't require a minimum balance, and you can start at any time without having to pay back previous months,” she says. “Anyone who is interested can set the amount they want to save and how often to have the money transfer from their checking account into a Holiday Club Savings Account.”
Oliveira also explained why this special account comes equipped with a fee. “The purpose of the fee is to discourage the individual from withdrawing money, which in turn, will allow the person to save the money for Christmas,” she says.
4. Do a Secret Santa gift exchange among your friends
Your network of friends has only grown since graduation, so the list of people you need to buy gifts for can feel never-ending. Chances are most of your friends are feeling the same way, so gather your friends together in groups and hold a Secret Santa gift exchange, which means you can still all get into the holiday spirit without having to buy 20 individual presents.
“Last year my friends and I, who are all recent grads, participated in a Secret Santa gift exchange,” says Kimberly Horner, a 2013 graduate of The College of New Jersey. “Since we each only had to buy one gift, we saved a ton of money; plus, it was really fun!”
5. Make a do-it-yourself gift
When all else fails, DIY, DIY, DIY! A homemade gift shows the recipient how much time you put into the gift and can range from sentimental to silly—plus, you can also personalize the gift specifically to someone’s preferences so he or she gets exactly what he or she wants. Check out our DIY gift guide for ideas!
6. Hold a potluck instead of a dinner party
As you’re planning your holiday events this season, you might be thinking of having a sophisticated dinner party (since that’s what we do now that we’re in the real world, right?). But the work and money that goes into throwing an event for 20 of your besties adds up: From festive decorations to holiday-appropriate plates for the five-course meal you’d love to serve, what started as a budget-friendly night (hey, you decided to stay in rather than go out!) might end up being the equivalent to renting out a private room in a restaurant. Yikes.
Instead of bearing all the responsibility, loop your friends in and do the dinner potluck-style! Once everybody RSVPs, set up a Google Doc to determine who will be bringing what—and for those who aren’t top chefs, offer the option of bringing over silverware or decorations, too. Saving money on your holiday event means you’ll have more money to spend on gifts, which we’re sure your guests won’t complain about.
7. Take advantage of store offers and coupons
There’s no shame in sifting through sale racks or taking advantage of discounts when shopping for Christmas gifts! And though we don’t recommend procrastination, many places will offer blowout deals on festive merchandise the closer you get to the holidays, so if you do end up doing last-minute shopping, take advantage of these sales.
To be the first to learn about these deals, sign up to receive emails from your favorite stores. If you don’t want an inbox full of retailer emails, check sites like Racked, which posts exclusive sales and codes usually only found in brands’ emails (so you don’t have to subscribe to them). If you’re shopping online, be sure to check RetailMeNot before hitting the checkout button, or even download their app to be alerted when your favorite stores are running promotions.
8. Make a list and stick to it
It’s easy to spend too much during the holidays, even if you have good intentions—you might be walking through a local boutique and happen upon something you think is just perfect for your friend back home, or you’re at the mall to grab one item and end up picking up 10 because you thought of that many more people you want to get gifts. In other words, you might find yourself impulse shopping, even if it is for others.
Instead, make a list of all the people you need to buy gifts for so you can budget out a realistic amount of money to spend on each person on your list. Think ahead of time what you want to get for everybody so you don’t splurge on a luxe beauty collection for your former college roommate and then realize you don’t have enough money to buy your sister the pair of shoes she’s been wishing for all year.
Whether you decide to make your own gift, set up a special account to save money or cut down on spending temporarily to save up for holiday gift shopping, there are tons of small things you can do to stretch your dollar this season. Just remember, the holidays are a wonderful way to remind your family and friends that you appreciate them, so try not to stress out, and make sure that you enjoy this time of year!