Tight on Cash? 9 Creative Ways to Stretch Your Holiday Budget

Holiday budget
Yulia Grigoryeva under Creative Commons
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You’ve done everything you can to set aside money for the holidays, and you’re doing your best to stretch every dollar.

But December has somehow come faster than you expected, and you still can’t seem to make the numbers add up.

Are you going to have to cut your travels short? Drop a few items from your shopping list? Sacrifice some of your favorite dishes from the holiday meal?

This time of year yields so many memories and, for some, rare moments with loved ones. You don’t want to give those up because of a tight budget!

Here are our tips for squeezing the most out of your remaining holiday budget — and you can start today.

1. Make Your Shopping List… Better

Knowing what you need to buy and sticking to the plan is the first step to saving money on any shopping trip.

But you can save even more by making your holiday shopping list work extra hard for you.

Our holiday shopping budget worksheet helps you keep track of not only what you need to buy, but also where you’ll buy it and how you’ll pay to get the best price. Use it to hold your coupon codes, maximize cash back, save “buy” links and do the budgeting math for you.

2. Use Credit — But Do It Strategically

When scraping together savings for the holidays is simply out of reach, you’re probably tempted to pull out your credit card.

While we wouldn’t normally advise charging purchases you can’t pay off right away, we understand that expenses can pile up during the holidays. We found one way you might be able to do it without creating — or adding to — a mountain of credit card debt.

The shopping club Reveli offers an interest-free way to buy your holiday gifts. Here’s how it works:

  • Decide what on your list you’ll need to charge, and where you want to buy it. For example, let’s say you want to buy a computer from Best Buy that costs about $1,000.
  • At Reveli, you’ll choose a Best Buy gift card for $1,000.
  • Rather than charging your credit card directly, Reveli will put a hold on your card for the amount of your gift card — $1,000.
  • When you sign up, you’ll make your first monthly payment, which varies depending on the amount you borrow. For a $1,000 purchase, your monthly payment will be $125.
  • With each monthly payment to Reveli, the hold on your card decreases — so it’ll reduce to $825, then $700, etc. Instead of charging $1,000 all at once to Best Buy, you’re only charging $125 each month to Reveli.
  • As long as you pay off the $125 on your credit card bill each month, you won’t rack up interest on the charge. (Pay less, and you’ll accrue interest as usual.)

Reveli charges a monthly membership fee, so you’ll pay $4.99 to sign up for the first month, then $9.99 per month after that.

Because the fee is the same no matter how much you charge, it looks like the more you borrow, the more this service helps you save.

If your credit card has an average interest rate of about 17%, you’ll need to charge at least $600 to save money using Reveli. Consider your card’s actual interest rate and your holiday shopping list to see how much you could save.

3. Make Smart Travel Plans

With the high level of demand, travel can be one of your biggest expenses during the holidays. While you’ll save the most by planning ahead, we know sometimes you just need time to pull the money together.

If you’re still working on travel plans for the holidays, here are a few ideas to help you save money:

  • Purchase flights at 1 a.m. on Wednesday to catch un-purchased discounted fares from Monday and Tuesday.
  • Fly on the holiday itself. If your family is willing to be flexible, you can save big by flying while others are celebrating.
  • Avoid ATM fees by packing cash and knowing where to find no-fee ATMs on a road trip.
  • Pack your own snacks before heading out on the road or to the airport.

4. Take a Wacky Side Gig

There’s still time to take on a side gig or two to bank a little cash before the holidays hit.

You may not want to take on a full- or part-time seasonal job, but you can still earn some extra money on the side before Christmas. Pick up a few hours of work through TaskRabbit, GigSalad, Craigslist or Amazon’s Mechanical Turk.

These short-term gigs won’t monopolize your time during this busy season, but they’ll help you make a little extra cash for holiday shopping, meal-planning and travel.

5. Get the Best Prices by Knowing When to Shop

Before you shop, decide what’s worth buying now. Black Friday sales have passed, but the best prices for many products are still to come.

Early December is a great time to buy toys, so if you missed out on those Black Friday sales, you could actually be better off.

Winter apparel tends to go on sale as December wanes, as well. If you can wear last year’s clothes for a month or two, you could save a lot by stocking up halfway through the season.

For fitness equipment or linens, you’ll want to wait until January. For TVs, wait until March. And have patience for jewelry — that will be most affordable over the summer.

If the people on your holiday shopping list want items that will be priced better after Christmas, consider purchasing gift cards — and throwing in the bonus gift of smart purchasing advice!

6. Buy and Sell Gift Cards

Speaking of buying gift cards… you can save and make money by doing it strategically this year.

Buy and sell gift cards through a gift card exchange site to make the most of your money.

When you buy gift cards through these sites, you get them at less than face value. That means automatic savings on whatever you buy with them — whether you’re gifting the card directly, or using it to buy other gifts.

If you have unused gift cards sitting around now, you could turn them into cash by selling them to other shoppers.

Or, you can make back some of the money you’ll spend over the holidays by selling any gift cards you receive for Christmas and know you’ll never use.

7. Create Your Deal-Stacking Plan

Don’t settle for the price you see listed! You can always squeeze a little more from even a great price.

We recommend you read through our full deal-stacking guide — but for time’s sake, here are the highlights:

  • Search for coupons before you buy. You can use these to save more on top of existing sales.
  • When you shop online, do it through a cash-back site to earn rewards for every dollar you spend.
  • Pay with a cash-back credit card to increase the percentage you’ll save.

8. Buy Cheap Gifts (That Don’t Look Cheap)

Find cool, personalized gifts for the people on your list without overspending.

Support someone’s interests or help them kick off a new hobby with a gift like a novelty wine stopper or tea infuser, bonsai tree seeds or baking mixes.

We found 50 cool gifts like this for under $10! Find gifts that aren’t only novelties, but also utilities — the kinds of things someone will adore but wouldn’t buy for herself.

You can also get creative to keep the cost of your gifts down. Re-gift tactfully and make good use of quality freebies, and you could get through the holidays with your budget intact.

9. …Or Make Your Own Gifts

I’m in love with the idea of making sweater mittens for my family!

I’m also adding these hand-decorated plates to the to-do list for my nieces and nephews this holiday season:

  • Pick up a set of cheap dishware (I’m getting mine at the thrift store.)
  • Decorate with colored Sharpie markers. You don’t have to let the kids have all the fun! Add some of your own designs.
  • Bake the dishware at 250 degrees for 20 minutes.
  • Delight Grandma and Grandpa, aunts and uncles with the personalized, one-of-a-kind table service or decor.

You can also make your own holiday cards or gift bags without much crafty know-how. It’ll add a delightful personal touch to every gift and save you from spending a ton of money on what turns into trash the day after Christmas.

Your Turn: What’s your favorite strategy for stretching your budget over the holidays?

Sponsorship Disclosure: A huge thanks to Reveli for working with us to bring you this content. It’s rare that we have the opportunity to share something so awesome and get paid for it!