The 2021 holiday of your dreams might include a lot of your family’s favorite recipes, the smell of hot cider and balsam scented candles, an elaborately decorated abode, and plenty of holiday gifts. But one of the worst money mistakes you can make is overspending during the holidays, and the costs of all those decorations, gifts, and food items can add up fast. Although we hope you enjoy the holidays as much as possible, we also hope you’ll enter 2022 without a bunch of new debt.
But spending less doesn’t mean your holiday dreams can’t come true. There are plenty of ways to save when you shop, which means you could bring home more gifts without breaking the bank. It just takes a little planning and strategizing before you shop, along with utilizing some special tools to get more bang for your buck.
So if you’re wondering how to save money on your holiday shopping, we’ve compiled our 49 best tips so you can pick and choose the ones that will work best for you.
Set a budget
According to the annual Deloitte holiday survey, households plan to spend an average of $1,463 on holiday travel, entertainment, gifts, and other purchases for the holidays this year. But you should determine your own spending limit ahead of time by evaluating your income and expenses.
Start by subtracting your spending from the year so far from your estimated annual post-tax income. Then subtract your expected necessary expenses for November and December. Finally, subtract any amount you plan to contribute to a savings or retirement account at the end of the year, or any extra amount you plan to put toward debt repayment. Whatever’s left over is your potential budget for holiday spending.
Start saving now
You can give yourself a little more room in your budget if you cut back on other expenses now. For example, if you’re accustomed to buying yourself a latte each day, cutting that unnecessary expense could result in an extra $100 for holiday spending once December rolls around. You might also try using an app like Digit to automate your savings without you having to think about it or remember to do it.
Stick to your list
Once you have your total holiday spending budget, allocate a budget for each person on your list. That includes your family, friends, teachers, co-workers, etc. Although you might be tempted to snag as many discounts as possible during Black Friday and Cyber Monday, try not to veer from your list. Otherwise, you may end up overspending.
Don't wait until the last minute
We’ve all been there. The last minute gift is often the most expensive — when you’re in a rush or feeling a bit desperate, you’re far more likely to forget all about those budgeting tips and go for whatever you find first.
Use a rewards credit card
Consider applying for one of the best rewards credit cards. These can really help you get the most out of your holiday shopping. For example, you might get generous cash back on all your grocery shopping or you might choose a card that offers attractive cashback rewards for online shopping. Or if you’re looking for a way to travel for future holidays without breaking the bank, you might pick one of the best travel credit cards so you can use your holiday shopping to rack up some points and miles.
Buy discounted gift cards
Buying discounted gift cards to use for your holiday shopping is a great strategy to save a little extra on your purchases. You can also buy discounted gift cards to give as gifts. You can save up to 10% or more on sites like Raise and Gift Card Granny, and some gift card purchases could earn you cash back as well.
Buy electronics on Black Friday or Cyber Monday
It’s a common belief that products reach their lowest prices around Black Friday and Cyber Monday. In fact, many items, such as furniture and home appliances, will be cheaper during other major sales. But deals on electronics, like TVs, laptops, cameras, and audio equipment, will indeed be unmatched. So snag these items if you need them or plan to give them as gifts. As much as possible, plan to buy other items, like toys and winter apparel, in January. You can save these items for next year’s holiday season.
Finish up last-minute shopping on Green Monday
Green Monday, which takes place on December 14 this year, is typically when retailers make final reductions to move stock before Christmas. If you still have shopping left to do after Black Friday and Cyber Monday, wait until Green Monday, unless the items you have your eye on are likely to sell out.
Get cash back with Ibotta
If you want an easy way to earn money from your receipts along with cash back for online shopping, check out Ibotta. You must preselect offers before you shop for in-store shopping, and then you’ll be able to scan your receipts to get cash back. You can also link your store loyalty cards to your Ibotta account to get automatic cash back, or click through Ibotta when shopping online to be rewarded. Once you’ve earned $20, you’ll be able to redeem your points for cash or gift cards.
Stock up on decorations for next year on Boxing Day
Expect huge discounts on holiday decor the day after Christmas, known as Boxing Day. It’s the best time to stock up on wrapping paper, ornaments, holiday lights, and more. Grab a couple of storage bins and fill them with decorations you can use when the 2022 holiday season rolls around.
Save money with Capital One Shopping
If you’re looking for more potential ways to save money shopping online, you might check out Capital One Shopping.1 It’s a browser extension that has saved its users $70 million this past year alone. It helps you save and earn in a few different ways. You can:
- Test available coupon codes with one click and apply them to your purchase
- Receive shopping credits for online and in-store shopping, which you can redeem for gift cards
- Add items to your watch list to automatically track prices
All these features work together to potentially save you money on your holiday shopping.
Capital One Shopping Benefits
- Capital One Shopping searches thousands of merchants to see if you're getting a great deal
- Don't miss out on a better price
- Search and apply coupon codes automatically
- Custom price drop alerts for products you've viewed or purchased
Buy off-season apparel
November and December aren’t the best months to buy winter apparel. You’ll find better deals in January, when retailers begin clearing out their stock to make way for the new season’s arrivals. Given this information, you can take one of two strategies: Buy summer apparel as holiday gifts, or wait until January to stock up on sweaters for next year’s holiday season.
Sign up for a free trial of Amazon Prime
If you don’t already have an Amazon Prime membership, now is a great time to sign up for a free trial. You’ll be able to take advantage of perks like free two-day shipping and free grocery delivery in some areas, which can take a lot of the stress out of your holiday shopping. You’ll even be able to take advantage of exclusive deals available only to Prime members.
DIY your decorations
Making ornaments out of pinecones, placeholders out of candy canes, and snowflakes out of popsicle sticks can save you money on decorations. Plus, these are activities your family can have fun doing together. There are plenty of ideas out there that are easy enough for your children to help with, as well as more advanced crafts for experienced DIYers.
Buy stocking stuffers as you go
Throughout the year, check discount stores and bargain bins for great prices on knick-knacks that can serve as stocking stuffers. Just be sure to set a budget for each stocking so you don’t go overboard.
Share bulk food with another family
You might not be cooking for as many people this year, as many families are choosing to stay put rather than travel to spend the holidays with relatives. Our FinanceBuzz fall travel survey found that 40% of people are less likely to have Thanksgiving with extended family this year. But that doesn’t mean you can’t take advantage of bulk discounts at stores like Costco and Sam’s Club. Just find a friend or neighbor to go shopping with and you can still buy your food in bulk to save.
Look for coupons online
Check online coupon sites for discount codes to help you save, or use a browser extension such as Honey to automatically find coupons while you’re shopping online. Just be aware that clicking through coupon sites can interfere with earning from cashback sites. If you’re trying to earn cash back, make sure the last link you click before your purchase comes from the cashback app or site you’re using.
Earn gift cards with Fetch
If you want to avoid clipping coupons, you can use an app like Fetch to earn points for scanning your receipts. After you buy your groceries, simply upload your receipt to the Fetch app to earn points for qualifying items. Once you’ve racked up enough points, you’ll be able to redeem them for a gift card of your choice. You can use your gift cards for holiday shopping or give them as gifts over the holidays.
Check store ads and manufacturer websites for instant or mail-in rebates on popular items. Just make sure you actually remember to fill out and mail the form, and save your receipt for proof of purchase. You can also stack rebate offers with cashback strategies to save even more.
Consider a store credit card
If you’re planning to do a lot of holiday shopping at one particular store, consider applying for a store credit card. You can sometimes get higher cashback rewards with one of these cards than with a typical rewards credit card, and they’re often easier to qualify for. Some even offer direct savings, like a percentage of your purchases or a coupon for a specific dollar amount.
Create your own holiday postcards
Buying holiday cards and paying for postage can add up. If you want to save a little extra cash, use a design website like Canva to create your own postcards from family photos. You’ll be able to print them at home and mail them for less.
Organize a gift exchange
Rather than buying gifts for all your friends and co-workers, consider organizing a secret Santa or white elephant gift exchange. You’ll just need to buy one gift instead of several, but everyone involved will get something special. With secret Santa, everyone blindly selects someone else in the group to shop for. When it comes time to open gifts, everyone gets to guess who purchased the item for them. With a white elephant gift exchange, everyone buys and wraps an item that could appeal to anyone, and then each person in the group randomly selects a gift from the pile and opens it.
Compare prices with Google Shopping
Just because you found a great deal on a product doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the best price on the web. To ensure there isn’t a better discount out there somewhere, run a price check with Google Shopping. Simply enter the product name into Google Shopping and sort by price to find the lowest available. Be sure to factor in shipping costs and return policies when making your decision, and only buy from reputable retailers.
Earn rewards instantly with Drop
If you want to earn cash back without worrying about uploading your receipts, give Drop a try. The free app allows you to link your credit and debit cards or shop directly from the app to automatically get rewards points for your purchases. It works with more than 300 popular retailers, and point values vary by brand. You’ll be able to redeem your points for gift cards, which you can use for your holiday shopping.
Get free shipping and free returns
It’s important to factor in shipping and return costs when deciding where to shop. As you compare prices, consider shipping costs. And if you’re not sure whether your family member will want to keep the gift you buy, purchase it from a retailer that offers free online or in-store returns. The last thing you need is to get stuck with return shipping costs after you’ve already spent your holiday budget.
Shop secondhand sites and apps
Shopping second hand is good for the environment and your wallet. Check sites like eBay for electronics and Poshmark for apparel and home items. You might be surprised at the low prices you can find on top brands. Some large retailers even have eBay stores where you can snag a discount on new and refurbished items, and some Poshmark sellers have new inventory for sale. Just be sure to check reviews to make sure the seller is reputable.
Buy handmade items
Handmade items make for one-of-a-kind gifts that can be easier on the wallet. Check Amazon Handmade and Etsy’s best-selling handmade items for unique gifts that won’t cost an arm and a leg. Some sellers even offer customizable gifts that will make your recipient feel extra special.
Shop outlet sites
Many major brands have outlet sites where you can find past-season goods at much lower prices. Although the colors and styles may not be the newest, the quality is the same. Google your favorite brands to find out whether they have online outlet stores.
Here are a few of our favorite outlet sites:
- 6pm — for footwear
- REI, The North Face, Arc’teryx, and Steep & Cheap — for outerwear
- J. Crew Factory, Last Call, Nordstrom Rack, and Saks Off 5th — for apparel
- THE OUTNET — for luxury goods
- Overstock.com — for home goods
Get rewarded with MyPoints
MyPoints not only rewards you with points for online shopping, but it also provides you with opportunities to earn money watching videos, taking surveys, and doing other online activities. There are flexible redemption options as well; you can opt for gift cards, cash, or even United MileagePlus miles.
Arm-knit scarves as gifts
Rather than shopping for cashmere scarves for your family members this year, opt for a cheaper, DIY option. It takes just 30 minutes to make a gorgeous, chunky-knit, infinity scarf, and all you need is two arms and a skein of yarn. Grab a bunch of different colors from the craft store and set to work making a few scarves as gifts. Check out this knitting tutorial to learn how.
Jar homemade spices or hot cocoa mixes
The internet is full of recipes for homemade spice mixes and hot cocoa mixes, both of which make excellent gifts for the holiday season. Some simple, inexpensive ingredients will yield you a ton of gifts, which you can hand out to teachers, neighbors, co-workers, or anyone in your family.
Check Craigslist, Letgo, and OfferUp
Local secondhand sites offer an excellent opportunity to get used items for next-to-nothing. With Craigslist, Letgo, and OfferUp, you can directly contact local sellers and negotiate pricing. Beware of scam artists, however. Always inspect the item before paying with cash or sending money through Venmo, PayPal, or Zelle. Never give out your credit card information.
Earn cash effortlessly with Dosh
Dosh makes it incredibly easy to earn cash back at hundreds of retailers just by linking the credit or debit card you typically use when shopping. Once you make a purchase, Dosh will notify you of the cash back you earned, which can range from 2% to 10% of the purchase price. You can even earn up to 40% cash back if you book hotels through Dosh. Once your balance reaches $25, you can cash out the balance or donate the money.
Subscribe to loyalty programs
Most online retailers have loyalty programs that allow you to get exclusive discounts for registering your email address. You can typically get a 10% or 15% discount just for signing up, and you’ll also get email notifications about new coupons, sales, and exclusive discounts. Take advantage of these savings as you complete your holiday shopping.
Wait to check out
Once you’ve registered your email with an online retailer, you may also receive special discounts for returning to an inactive shopping cart. To trigger these discounts, add everything you want to your shopping cart, but wait to check out. Within a few days, you might receive an email from the retailer with a limited-time coupon code for use on your order. As long as you don’t think your items have a risk of selling out, this can be an easy way to save money.
Avoid impulse purchases
With all the great pre-holiday discounts available, you might be tempted to buy small dollar items that aren’t on your list. Remember that these purchases add up and interfere with your holiday shopping budget. If you’re considering buying something you weren’t planning to buy, wait a few days. If there’s a limited-time sale, keep in mind that you’ll probably see that price again at another time during the year. If it’s not something you need right away, you can usually afford to wait.
Save on groceries and gas with GetUpside
GetUpside is an awesome tool that can help you decide where to shop for gas and groceries. You’ll be able to view retailers on a map and see what offers are available. Simply claim the offer, shop, and upload your receipt within 24 hours of making your purchase. You’ll earn cash back on your grocery store purchases and up to 25 cents per gallon back on gas. In some cities, you’ll even be able to get cash back on dining.
Buy your Christmas tree late
Black Friday and Cyber Monday are not the best days to buy your Christmas tree. In fact, data from Square and the National Christmas Tree Association revealed that tree prices typically increase on Cyber Monday and drop the week before Christmas. If you wait until Christmas Eve to buy your tree, you’ll get an all-time low price. The average cost of a tree the day before Christmas was just $50.
Help your kids narrow down their Christmas lists
Your kids’ Christmas lists can provide a great opportunity to have important money conversations that teach financial responsibility. It’s okay to put limits on what your child can ask for, and you can even discuss your budget directly with older kids. Explain that some gifts cost more than others, so they could get 10 new toys for the same price as one new video game system. Help them decide what’s most important to them and what can wait until they’ve saved enough in their piggy banks.
Research price history to get the best deal
Amazon prices change frequently, and just because you see an awesome discount on a product during Black Friday doesn’t mean that’s the lowest price it’s been all year. Prime Day discounts can sometimes be even steeper on some products. A good way to know whether to act now or wait for a better deal is to research an item’s price history. With The Camelizer, you can get access to pricing history charts for Amazon products from a browser extension and create price alerts so you know when an item reaches its lowest sale price.
Look for veteran, student, teacher, and senior discounts
Many retailers offer discounts for students and teachers, veterans, and seniors throughout the year, and you can usually stack these discounts on top of available coupons and sales. You’ll typically only save 10% or 15%, but every little bit counts. And these discounts can amount to huge savings on high-price items. For example, a student or teacher email address gets you access to discounts on laptops at Apple and Best Buy.
Earn gift cards while you shop with Shopkick
Shopkick is a free app that rewards you not just for shopping, but also for walking into stores, scanning barcodes, and other activities. It’s an essential companion to your holiday shopping, especially if you plan to browse in store. As with many other cashback apps, you can link a credit or debit card to get automatic points, called kicks, or upload a copy of your receipt. You can also visit partner websites directly from the app to earn kicks for your online shopping. And you’ll be able to redeem those kicks for gift cards.
Check for offers from your credit card issuer
Some credit card issuers offer special rewards or coupons for purchases at select retailers. These are usually limited-time offers you’ll find in your online account or on store websites. Some of these offers can be pretty lucrative. For example, in recent months, Amazon has offered 30% to 40% off (up to $50 in savings) to qualifying American Express cardholders who used at least some of their Membership Rewards points toward the purchase.
Check the offers in your credit card’s online account to see whether you can use any of the available offers for your holiday shopping. If the store doesn’t allow you to stack coupons, always check to make sure what’s offered is the best available discount.
Buy an artificial Christmas tree
Although artificial Christmas trees are typically a little more expensive than real ones, you can use them year after year, saving you money in the long run. Plus, they’ll save you the hassle of having to haul away your tree after Christmas, and they won’t shed pine needles all over your floor. If you want your artificial tree to look real, pay attention to the branch tip count. The higher it is, the fuller and more real your tree will look.
Save on wine
For many of us, holiday drinks are an essential and celebratory part of the season. But if you keep running to the liquor store for wine, you might run out of money before the season is over. Buy wine by the box or look for deals at stores like Trader Joe’s and Costco. If you want alcohol delivered, check Grizzly for the best prices, or take advantage of first-time offers from wine clubs like Winc, Naked Wines, and Firstleaf.
Take advantage of new customer discounts
Many retailers offer first-time customer discounts, so consider these as you compare prices at different stores. If you can’t get that gift on sale anywhere, you may be able to find it in stock at a retailer you’ve never ordered from before. This way, you can at least get the first-time customer discount, which is typically around 10% to 15%.
Many meal kit delivery services offer even more lucrative discounts for first-time customers, and they also offer special holiday menus, so consider these offers if you want to save on food over Thanksgiving or other holiday meals.
Gift an experience or service
If you’re short on cash, consider creating a voucher your loved ones can redeem for an experience or service at a later date. Think back massages for your spouse, snow shoveling for your neighbor, or a trip to the playground for your kid. You can gift services that cost you little-to-no money, and your friends and family will appreciate the thoughtfulness of offering them your time.
Look for group discounts
Sites like Groupon and LivingSocial offer discounts on products and services that make great gifts. They’re a great spot to look for gift ideas and save money at the same time. If you’re shopping for someone who has everything they need, consider giving a prepaid voucher for a cooking class or spa treatment. Or check Groupon Goods for deals on popular holiday items. We’ve even seen discounted Groupon gift cards on Gift Card Granny, which you can purchase to save even more.
If you’re on a tight budget but feel uncomfortable gifting something cheap, consider donating instead. Although $10 can’t buy you much in the way of gifts, a $10 donation to someone’s favorite charity can be really meaningful. And there are plenty of nonprofit organizations that could use the money right now. Often charities even provide a card or email you can send to someone to notify them that you donated on their behalf.
A special note about coupon and cashback sites
These sites make money through affiliate links. When you click on a link through one of these sites, the company receives commission for sending you to the retailer. Cashback sites pass some of this money along to you.
This is important to know because it means you’ll only be able to use one of these sites for each purchase. Clicking through multiple cashback sites won’t multiply your cash back, so make sure the last link you click before your purchase is from a site offering you the highest cash back for that store or item.
The bottom line
If you want to get through the holiday season without drowning in debt, you must know how to manage your money. That includes setting savings goals, establishing a budget, and using tools and strategies to save on your purchases.
Every time you have a holiday expense, think about which cashback site will give you the best value, which rewards credit card will reward you most, and which retailers offer the best discounts, including coupons and rebates.
And finally, try not to veer from your Christmas list. Holiday shopping is expensive enough without stress-buying overpriced bars of chocolate from the checkout line.