We’ve all heard of the 12 Days of Christmas right?  But who here needs all those animals and people taking over their homes during an already busy and stressful season.  I’m here to give you 12 solid ideas on how to cut your holiday spending and make Christmas a little easier on the pocketbook.

  1. Set a spending cap

Having a budget for the holiday season and sticking to it is really the best advice I can give you.  How many times have you gone over the budget while buying gifts for friends and family?  How many times have you gone shopping with no set limit?  Setting a limit to the amount you want to spend and sticking to it is the best strategy for an easy Christmas budget.  Figure out how many people you want to buy for and how much you are going to spend on each of them.  That’s your budget!  Once you make those decisions stick to your guns and don’t deviate from the plan.  Going a little over here and a little over there will add up to big money at the end of the holiday season.  Set a limit and stick to it.

  1. Only use cash

Using cash for Christmas purchases makes it all feel real.  We experience a disconnected feeling when we purchase items on a credit card instead of using cash.  A credit card purchase almost doesn’t seem real until the statement comes in the following month.  That’s when buyer’s remorse kicks in and we really feel the weight of the holiday season.  Using cash makes us realize, in the moment, how much we are spending and how close we are to the limit set in our budget.  We can feel the weight of money leaving our pocket and the shock of spending too much right away instead of a month later when the bill comes in.  This gives us time to readjust our spending habits or return items in order to make sure we will make it through the holiday season on the budget we set up to begin with.

  1. Shop early… really early.

The best time to start shopping for Christmas is Boxing Day, but that’s a blog topic for another day.  Since you can’t go back in time to start shopping last year, let’s focus on this year.  Start shopping now!  Look for deals in the flyers and hide those gifts around the house until Christmas Day.  The time to look for deals is not December 1st, it’s right now.  Take advantage of great prices during Black Friday sales.  Look for end of season deals on things the stores are trying to get rid of.  There are sales going on all year long, take advantage of them sooner rather than later and your Christmas budget will go a lot further.

  1. Save your spare change

This is another suggestion that should be started on Boxing Day but it’s never too late to start saving loose change.  Did you know an empty 2L bottle of pop filled with dimes will hold over $500?  As Canadians we carry a lot of loose change.  Even Loonies and Twonies are considered change because they jingle in our pockets and don’t feel like real money.  Save that change all year long and by the time you fill that jar on your shelf you might have Christmas paid for.  Start saving today and you just might have enough to cover part of the budget for this year.  Saving spare change can add up quickly, take advantage of that and use it to offset your Christmas spending.

  1. Look for diamonds in the rough

It’s easy to shop at the big box stores and with major online retailers, but it can also be very expensive.  It’s time to explore your home town and see what’s out there!  Check out local craft shows and flea markets.  These places are filled with homemade gifts that won’t break the bank and they are everywhere during the holiday season.  Local thrift stores have great gift ideas as well.  They often will have clothes, books, and furniture that are as good as new at very affordable prices.  Don’t be too proud to shop at these places, they have great items and you could be supporting a local business as well.

  1. Real trees vs. fake trees

Ok, this can be a touchy subject.  People are as divided on this topic as they are on the whole Pepsi vs. Coke debate.  Personally, I like artificial trees.  They’re easy to set up, most are pre-lit which is a huge bonus for me, they don’t shed, and pose almost zero fire risk to the home.  I know they aren’t made here in Canada and are not the best for the environment, but with some care an artificial tree could last 10 years or more.  Compare that to the cost of purchasing a real tree every year ($45 a year for ten years would cost $450!) and you will be saving money in the long run.

  1. Don’t buy this year’s hot gift

Ever year there seems to be a new must have gift.  The television reports on it and people go crazy searching the store and internet for one to give a person on their list.  My question is this, when was the last time your child played with that Fingerling toy from last year?  What about that Hatchimal they just had to have?  Avoid the popular gifts and focus on something else.  Those fad gifts are short lived and all you’re really doing is setting a precedent for future, more expensive “must have” gifts.  Buy the people on your list gifts they will use and remember for years to come without breaking the bank.

  1. Don’t buy for everyone

Every year people feel the need to buy something for everyone in their life, from the paper girl to their significant other.  While it may not be possible to include everyone in a gift exchange (unless you want to invite your child’s bus driver to dinner), plan a game of gift stealing with the people you are celebrating the holidays with.  Here’s the idea, each person buys one generic gift and places it under the tree.  You draw numbers to see who goes first (going first in this game is bad).  The first person picks a gift from under the tree and opens it in front of everyone.  The next person can chose to either pick a new gift, which will end their turn, or steal the gift from the first person.  If your gift is stolen you get to steal someone else’s gift or pick a new one from under the tree.  The next person does the same and so on until everyone has a gift.  You might want to limit the amount of stealing that goes on or the game can last quite a while.  It’s a fun way to enjoy the gift giving tradition while still keeping the budget under control.  If you don’t like that game, Google some other ideas and see what you can come up with.  There are all kinds of different ideas out there to make gift giving fun while still staying under budget.

  1. Christmas potluck

Having people over for the holidays is a popular and exciting part of the season. Most people feel the need to foot the bill for the whole night however and that can lead to a very expensive dinner.  Instead, hold a potluck dinner where everyone can bring something to contribute.  This makes the cost of buying food a lot cheaper and brings everyone together to enjoy good company and great food.  Do the same thing with alcohol if you can.  It’s not fair for you to have to provide wine and drinks for everyone just because you’re hosting the party.  Ask everyone to bring a little something over and you can all enjoy the night for a lot less money.

  1. Reduce, reuse, recycle

We hear this mantra every single day so why not start doing it for Christmas too?  Are you the type of person who carefully unwraps each gift without tearing the paper?  Do you save all those expensive gift bags and boxes?  Now it’s time to use those carefully saved items.  People may look at you like you’re from another planet when you say you plan on reusing the wrapping paper, but reusing a gift bag or box is very socially acceptable.  Why spend $5 on another bag next year when you can simply throw them all into the decoration box for the following year.  Think of how many gift bags and boxes you receive each year.  It could add up to a lot of money that will stay in your pocket.

  1. Gift baskets – buy or make?

I know that gift baskets are not on everyone’s giving list this year, but they make great gift ideas and can really be tailored to a specific person and budget.  Instead of getting someone else to make the basket for you try making it yourself.  You can find all kinds of different and interesting items to include in the basket for little money.  Even the basket itself can be purchased at a thrift store for pennies on the dollar.  Hit up the local dollar stores for some great and cheap ideas to fill those baskets.  These are especially good when giving to young children.  You can make $15 go a long way for the child that loves stickers, balloons, and craft supplies.

  1. Homemade gifts

If you are already thinking of making your own gift basket why not go all the way and give something made entirely by you.  Nothing has more sentimental value to me than a homemade gift from someone.  Homemade candles, a hand crafted card, or even some delicious baking says “I really put a lot of thought into your gift this year”’ and really, it’s the thought that counts.  Be careful using this tip.  Some craft projects are just not financially worth it.  Factor in all the costs associated with the gift you want to make to determine if you really are saving money or not.

There’s no need to spend a ton of money trying to please the people on your gift giving list this year.  Keep the presents to a minimum and set a budget so you don’t over spend and you will be a lot happier come the New Year.  There’s no better present to give yourself than no new debts in the New Year.  What are some of your holiday tricks for spending less money?