by Chelsea Hoffer

The Procrastinator's Guide to Saving for the Holidays

It’s possible to give amazing, thoughtful gifts without blowing your budget or saving months in advance. If you’re just starting to think about holiday gift-giving, start reading.
Soap for gifts

Nothing’s too good for the people you love — in fact, few things feel good enough. That’s why most people struggle with gift-giving and staying on budget. It’s hard enough to find the right gift: something they’ll truly use, love and treasure. So if you find something that’s perfect, but a little over budget, it’s hard to say no.

If you give a lot of gifts over the holidays, it’s easy for those little overages to put you way over budget. And that can mean going into debt, reducing your savings, or sacrificing other areas of your budget — probably not a trade-off your loved ones want you to make.

These tips will help you balance generosity with reality, so you can show your loved ones how much you care without making choices that’ll hurt you in the long run. Best of all, they’re designed to work within a few weeks or a month.

Do a little “saving sprint” in the weeks beforehand

It’s relatively easy to radically reduce your spending on discretionary items, particularly if it’s for a short, defined period of time and you have a specific goal to motivate you. Tracking your spending makes it easy to estimate how much you spend on discretionary stuff—making it easy to estimate how much you’ll save. If you don’t currently track your budget, estimating is fine. If your budget is anywhere close to the American average, you can save a few hundred dollars within a few weeks.

Cut back on eating out

Colder weather means it’s the perfect time to make slow-roasted vegetables and soups. Plus, eating in is cheaper and healthier. It’s a great way to balance out big holiday meals while saving money. So if you often buy lunch, start packing it. If you get takeout or visit restaurants for dinner, find a few delicious easy recipes and start cooking. If you usually eat out five times per week, and you save $9 per meal by eating at home, you’ll be able to set aside $45 per week. That adds up fast.

Don’t buy new stuff unless you really need it

This includes new clothes, gadgets, and the like. These purchases can usually wait a few months, and the pleasure of finding the perfect gift for someone you love makes it easy to be patient. Besides, if your family exchanges gifts, it’s possible someone will get you whatever you’re eyeing (or something that serves a similar purpose)!

Save on entertainment

The average American entertainment budget is a little over $50 per week. To divert some of that towards your gift budget, try watching movies at home (you can even eliminate rental costs by checking them out from the library), reading, playing board games, hitting the gym, finding free concerts, or finding other frugal ways to have fun.

Make your own seasonal beverages

Seasonal drinks — coffee, cocktails, chai, and tea — are nearly irresistible in the fall and winter. If you love them, try making your own instead of buying them. You don’t need fancy equipment to make pumpkin spice lattes, peppermint mochas, or homemade chai. They’re super fun and rewarding to make, and you can save a couple bucks every time you do.

Find ways to make extra money

If trimming your budget isn’t quite enough, look for ways to earn more. It pays to be creative; if you’re going to be out of town for a while, you might be able to rent out your house. If you have extra stuff lying around the house, you might be able to sell it. If you have the time to put in a little extra work, you can quickly add hundreds to your gift fund by getting a part-time seasonal job, babysitting for a few nights, or doing a few odd jobs.

Spend strategically

An amazing gift doesn’t have to be expensive. You can find lovely, thoughtful gifts affordably. It just takes a little extra searching.

Look for sales

If you’re able to find a deep discount on something you know your friends or family would love, jump on it.

Don’t disregard small, everyday gifts

Even the most ordinary things can be delightful gifts if they’re well-made, beautiful, and useful.

Try your hand at homemade gifts

Even if you don’t consider yourself ‘crafty’, there’s something wonderful you can make. Homemade candy or fudge is always a hit. Bath products like soaps, body scrubs, solid perfume, and lip balm are also easy to make and luxurious to use. If you’re a little more adventurous, you can try dyeing, leather-crafting, or pottery. No matter what, you’re sure to end up with something unique that they’ll treasure.

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