This Post Will Make You Cringe — and Then Start Saving for the Holidays

A father lifting his son to put the star on the Christmas tree
Honest Abe


Some of the links in this post are from our sponsors. We’re letting you know because it’s what Honest Abe would do. After all, he is on our favorite coin.

We know: The holidays are nearly four months away. You’re still melting in summer heat. The kids just started school. You’re still getting used to seeing pumpkin spice on menus everywhere.

Are we really ready to talk about holiday shopping?

Yes. Absolutely.

You don’t have to break out the hot cocoa and ugly sweaters yet. But the earlier you can start stashing money for the most spendy-ful time of the year, the better.

10 Ways to Build Your Holiday Shopping Fund

The biggest challenge with building your shopping stash? All that money you have to spend now.

Where are you supposed to find extra to set aside to buy presents for a holiday you don’t even want to think about yet?

The secret is to not think about it. No, really.

Here are 10 ways to bolster your shopping budget by making and saving money over the next few months — without trying.

1. Harness Your Online Snooping Skills

make extra money

vlado85rs/Getty Images

A simple side gig you can do on your own time from home is a great way to bank extra bucks — especially if you’re busy with a day job and those kids whose presents you’re trying to save money for.

We love this gig, because it lets your inner nerd shine.

Wonder is an online company that helps customers by providing research and resources to answer a variety of questions. That’s where you come in.

The company is recruiting web researchers. You would get to set your own schedule and choose which projects you want to work on. Then, you get to indulge your enjoyment of internet rabbit holes and deep dive into subjects to find the answers and resources customers need.

Pay is per project, and Wonder advertises top researchers can earn $15 to $25 an hour. Someone with experience as a Wonder researcher, however, told us $13 an hour is a more realistic expectation, based on the time you’ll put into each project.

Bonus: You’re going to crush it on trivia night.

Learn more about the gig and how to apply here.

2. Open a Savings Account That Gets You in the Giving Spirit

When I was growing up, my mom’s strategy for saving for Christmas was simple: Part of her paycheck automatically went into a special bank account she couldn’t touch until the holidays.

I don’t celebrate Christmas with gifts as an adult, but I still use my mom’s out-of-sight, out-of-mind method to build my savings for other things.

A portion of every paycheck goes into my Aspiration Summit Checking Account.

This helps me mindlessly save about $3,000 a year I can spend on everything from vacations to unexpected car repairs. Even better? If I don’t spend it, my balance in that account earns up to 1.0% interest — 100 times more than my regular bank account.

Plus, if thinking about the holidays gets you in the giving spirit, you can use this checking account to kickstart your charitable activity for the year. Aspiration donates 10 cents for every dollar it makes to economically sustainable charities.

And you can join in the effort by automatically donating any amount you choose from your Summit account each month to a charity of your choice. Support causes like education, the environment, health, human rights, water access and the fight against poverty.

Santa Claus might not be real, but this helps you get pretty close.

3. Earn Cash Back While You Shop for Necessities

make extra money

Ivan Bliznetsov/Getty Images

If you feel like you can’t afford to set money aside for gifts because of everything you have to buy now, use the Ibotta app to earn money while you shop for groceries, booze and other necessities over the next four months.

The app lets you get cash back on your groceries and more just by taking a picture of your receipt.

Here’s how it works:

  1. Sign up for Ibotta here with your name and email address.
  1. Browse through the cash-back offers in your area and take note of them next time you go to the store — they change every week. When you see an offer for something on your list, claim it, and snap a photo of your receipt with the app when you get home.

You’ll get a $10 sign-up bonus for redeeming your first receipt!

  1. Once you’ve reached at least $20 in earnings, you can request payment via PayPal or Venmo.

Some examples of deals I’ve seen in my area recently:

  • 50 cents back for buying a gallon of milk (no brand requirement!).
  • $1 back for buying graham crackers.

You’ll bank a total of $11.50 in your shopping fund just for stocking up on after-school snacks!

And it’s more than food. We recently saw a deal for up to $17 back on Uber rides.

Take your savings strategy a step further, and use Ibotta while you stock up on the goods you’ll need for holiday parties and dinner.

Throw one bottle of wine or liquor in your cart each time you go shopping. You’ll ease the burden on December spending and earn around $2 cash back per bottle when you buy booze with Ibotta’s cash-back offers.

4. Save Without Thinking About It

It’s no brilliant secret that investing can be a smart way to grow your money.

But it feels restricted to a few wealthy elite.

Stash is different. This app lets you invest as little as $5 into a set of simple portfolios reflecting your beliefs, interests and goals.

You can set it up to pull a set amount of money from your bank account at regular intervals, so it automates your savings.

You can transfer money back into your bank account anytime, so you can use the money you’ve stashed for holiday shopping. But keep your automatic savings going after the holidays, and watch your money grow with investments.

Bonus: Get an extra $5 when you sign up!

Here’s how to get it:

  1. Enter your email here.
  2. Download the Stash smartphone app and create your account with the same address.
  3. That’s it! Within two days, your $5 bonus will land in your Stash account.

5. Sell Last Year’s Secret Santa Disaster

selimaksan/Getty Images

selimaksan/Getty Images

Still holding onto last year’s uninspired Secret Santa gift from Susan? (For crying out loud, Susan, you could muster a little creativity.)

Sell it. She’ll never know

You can list just about anything on Letgo, a peer-to-peer marketplace app.

Just snap a flattering photo of whatever you want to sell, and spend less than a minute creating your listing. In no time, it’ll become someone else’s treasure!

6. Start a Side Gig (It’s Easier Than You Think)

When you have trouble saving money, make more instead. If you don’t want to dive into a seasonal retail job, try the gig economy.

You have a lot of options — ride sharing, odd jobs, delivery — or listing your place on Airbnb.

If you live in a popular location (or one with an unusual event hitting in the next few months), you could bank a few hundred or a few thousand dollars.

Whether you have a spare room, an unused vacation home or just a backyard that can accommodate a cozy tent, you could earn money letting people crash at your place. (Even if you don’t have the space, you could earn money by showing tourists around town.)

Here’s the link to sign up as an Airbnb host.

(Note: Hosting laws vary from city to city. Please understand the rules and regulations applicable to your city and listing.)

7. Use a Personal Savings Assistant

Do you ever feel like your bank account balance is dwindling away due to unknown forces? What is it — Santa’s evil elves? (Is that where they get the money for all those Christmas gifts?!)

I’m not going to say it’s definitely not elves. But it’s probably not elves.

More likely, it’s those little things that seem like small expenses, then slowly add up to chip away at your balance. Or it’s that gym membership you signed up for on New Year’s Day 2008 and never bothered to cancel. Because, seriously, you’ll get there soon.

A new app called Trim can help you spot all these little roadblocks to your savings goals.

It just takes a few minutes to sign up through Facebook or with your email address, and to connect your bank account. Then you can keep track of your money by texting Trim — like your own personal assistant!

Your new bot-buddy Trim responds to commands like:

  • “Spend Amazon”: You’ll see how much you’ve spent this month on Amazon (or at Starbucks, Chipotle, etc.)
  • “Subs”: Monitor your subscriptions, so you know exactly who’s getting your money every month. Trim will even help you cancel unwanted subscriptions and negotiate for money back when you experience outages or other service issues.
  • “Balance”: See your bank account balance.
  • “Recent”: Share an account with a spendthrift spouse or kid? Use this command to keep an eye on transactions.

8. Do Your Shopping Online

Wavebreakmedia/Getty Images

Wavebreakmedia/Getty Images

From cash-back websites to better deals, we’ve found tons of ways shopping online can help pad your bank account. Here’s one more — and it’s super simple!

With Paribus, you can get money back for the things you buy online.

Paribus scans your inbox for receipts and tracks the items to find price drops. Then it takes advantage of retailer and credit card company price protection policies to negotiate money back on your behalf.

So if you’re doing some early holiday shopping, use this service to make sure you’re getting the best price on everything — and even earn some surprise refund.

If you’re just building your shopping fund for winter, consider doing your regular shopping online, so Paribus can help you put some of that money back into your bank account.

It’s not too tough to make the switch. Even grocery staples are available on Amazon!

9. Shop Through This Website and Earn a Free $5

Because you read The Penny Hoarder, you might have heard of Swagbucks. It’s a site that’ll pay you to take surveys, watch TV and shop online.

It can also help you earn cash back on your purchases.

If you aren’t already a Swagbucks member, you can get $5 just for signing up.

Once you’re in, shop your favorite stores through the platform. That way you’ll earn rewards points — SBs — for every dollar you spend. For example, Swagbucks offers two SBs per dollar on Ulta purchases and one per dollar when you buy a gift card through MyGiftCardsPlus.

You can exchange SBs for gift cards to major retailers or even PayPal — so this is a perfect way to rack up a few bucks towards holiday shopping. For context, 2,500 SBs earn you a $25 PayPal gift card.

Use the gift cards to shop for friends and family — or gift them directly, and save everyone the hassle of returns.

10. Open a New Credit Card

We know a lot of people are afraid to use credit cards. Debt, fees and the temptation to spend beyond your means make them seem like a poor financial choice.

But if you use a credit card just to buy the basics and pay off your balance each month, it can actually be a great tool. Rewards, cash back and miles to help you travel for free? Sounds like a smart move.

For example, with the Barclaycard CashForward™ World MasterCard®, look at the ways you can rack up cash rewards:

  • Get a $200 bonus after you spend $1,000 in the first 90 days.
  • Earn 1.5% cash rewards on every purchase.
  • Every time you redeem, get a 5% bonus to use toward your next redemption.

That’s free money for holiday shopping, plus a reward for claiming it!

Here’s the link to apply for the Barclaycard CashForward™ World MasterCard®.

Advertiser Disclosure: Many of the credit card offers that appear on this site are from credit card companies from which The Penny Hoarder receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). We do not feature all available credit card offers or all credit card issuers.

Dana Sitar ( is a senior writer/newsletter editor at The Penny Hoarder. Say hi and tell her a good joke on Twitter @danasitar.

Honest Abe


Some of the links in this post are from our sponsors. We’re letting you know because it’s what Honest Abe would do. After all, he is on our favorite coin.