The following is a guest post by Lisa @ Thriftability: a personal finance blog dedicated to saving green and frugal living!
Saving money during the holidays can be accomplished easily and efficiently – with some pre-planning and dedication to sticking to a budget.
The absolute best way to save money on holiday gift wrap and gift bags is to purchase them on the day after Christmas, when a roll of gift wrap can cost as low as $1, and gift bags as low as .25. Granted: this tip isn’t much help going in to the holiday season – but it will definitely save a bundle for next years’ gift wrapping. However, you can still save on gift wrap this season by asking store clerks for shirt boxes at the checkout, and many craft and retail stores like Hobby Lobby, Jo Ann Fabric, Walgreens, and Rite Aid have in-ad coupons for wrapping paper and the other necessities. Or channel your crafty side: wrap the gifts in old-fashioned brown paper (use a paper grocery sack turned backward to obscure the store logo) then embellish with twine or a ribbon and hand-stenciled holly berries, wreaths, and the like. This is a great project for kids and grand kids, too!
Holiday Letter vs. Christmas Cards
Sending holiday greetings is one way families and friends keep in touch over the course of the year. While some hold with the tradition of sending beautifully crafted Hallmark cards, others balk at the cost. For example: a Hallmark Christmas card, purchased in a boxed set, can still run $1.30 per card (boxed rate – $25.99.) Add stamps, and potentially the insert of a single sheet holiday letter and family photo, and your holiday mailing could top the $2.00 mark.
While many feel that sending a holiday email update is tacky, one way to save money is by sending a holiday letter via email, with a link to an online photo album on Flickr or any number of hosted services. This reduces the bandwidth used (rather than sending photos as attachments)… plus you only have to upload the holiday photo album once.
While holiday parties can be the highlight of the year in a social sense, they can also serve to drain the budget from a financial perspective. There are several ways around this expense – if you make a conscious effort to not over do. One way to save is by making your holiday party into a potluck. It doesn’t have to be a boring potluck… create an elegant theme (think: White Christmas or Winter Wonderland) and set the standard from the moment the invitations are distributed. Serve a holiday punch or spiced cider with the meal, and ask guests to bring their favorite bottle of wine or beverage on the side. Another option is to host a progressive dinner, where participants move from house to house, enjoying a different dinner course at each stop. This plan offsets the planning – and the cost – by spreading it out over several households.
If holiday travel is something you enjoy… or something you simply can’t work around, consider flying on low-traffic days during the week. Extending your stay by a day can pay off in lower airfare costs. If you’re driving to your destination, consider reducing the cost of your trip by assigning each adult driver a shift, and drive straight through rather than paying for hotels. If none of these options work for you, be sure to shop for the best rates (don’t forget last minute money saving deals!) on airfare and hotels online, rather than simply accepting the rates set forth by the airline or hotel chain.
Oftentimes, we can’t work around having family or friends visit during the holidays. While one might imagine it to be less expensive to have everyone stay with you, the fact is that the cost of hosting several other people – even for just a week’s stay – can add up! From meals to activities & entertainment, to the need for additional beds (air mattresses, roll-away beds, etc.), hosting friends or relatives isn’t always a cheap prospect. One way to defray the costs of hosting your holiday houseguests is to ask your friends and neighbors – as far in advance as possible- if they will have any extra: bedding, food warmers, dishes and cutlery… even board games or DVD’s to keep your guests entertained. Plan excursions based on local (free!) events such as tree lighting ceremonies, museum exhibits, and touring the neighborhoods to view Christmas lights.
Overall, the holidays can be less expensive – and less stressful – than one might imagine, with some planning and a little creativity. What are your best tips for saving money during the holidays? Share them with us by leaving a comment below!
photo by: meddygarnet