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


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This year’s holiday spending is expected to top last year’s by 3% or 4% — pretty hefty, considering the average American expected to spend more than $900 on holiday gifts last year.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t usually have a spare $900. If you want to go all out this holiday season, how do you plan to pay for it?

No worries if you haven’t been stashing money all year — most of us probably didn’t either. Now the holiday season is nearly upon us, so it’s time to start thinking about building that stash.

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

Make a little time each week until Christmas to focus on at least one of these. Do all 9, and you can easily build a shopping fund that’ll help you check off everything on your list!

1. 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.

We’re kind of obsessed with Acorns around here (and not just because it gives you $10).

We love that anyone can use Acorns to start investing. You don’t have to have an MBA or even make it all the way through “The Big Short” to understand how to invest with this app.

You just link your bank account and Acorns does the rest by rounding up your purchases to the nearest dollar and investing the change in the stock market.

To get the $10 bonus:

  1. Download the free Acorns app.
  2. Link your bank account, and spend money the way you normally would. Your digital change will get automatically invested.

It probably won’t save you enough to retire on, but it’s a terrific reward for using a free app, and an easy way to set aside money for the future, without even thinking about it.

2. 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!

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. 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.)

5. Share Your Receipts With This Company

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

Earny 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 refunds!

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

6. 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.

7. Open a Savings Account That Actually Saves You Some Money

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.

You can open a savings account at your local bank branch, but my suggestion is to go with an online bank — you’ll be less likely to withdraw the money.

There are a bunch of great online banks, but one of our favorites is American Express because right now it’s offering an interest rate around 100 times what a normal bank offers (with no monthly fees). Here’s the promo link:

Even better? If you don’t spend it, your balance in that account earns up to 1.25% interest — over 100 times more than regular bank accounts.

8. 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.

9. You Can Do Better Than Online Coupons…

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.

This content is not provided by American Express. Any opinions, analyses, reviews or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author’s alone and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by American Express.

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.