The month of December seems to always be a month of nickels and dimes slowly eating away at a family’s budget. There are always little expenses that need to be handled due to the holiday season, whether it’s related to gifts or to food or to travel or to … well, countless other little things.
Like many other things in my life, I try to keep a frugal eye on the holiday season and look for little ways to reduce or eliminate common expenses. Since this season is filled with so many little expenses, there are a lot of ways to reduce the cost without reducing the quality of the season.
Last month, I wrote about twenty tactics my family uses to save money during the holidays, but most of those tactics are what I would call “big” tactics. They require some planning, but they can usually save you significant money and most of them don’t relate to a holiday at home, as the list is rather travel-oriented.
On the flip side, here are eight “smaller” tactics my family uses to cut back on spending this time of the year, mostly around our own home.
We pull the bulk wrapping paper out of storage. Why is it in storage? We bought it last year on the 26th or 27th of December when stores mark that stuff way down to get it off the shelves. Then, we simply toss it into storage for next year in our “giftwrap” tub that we keep in the storage area under the stairs.
We re-use gift bags. If someone gives us a gift in a gift bag, we will fold up that bag and re-use it for a future gift. If they write on the tag, we snip the tag off then make another one using a bit of ribbon and a bit of card stock. It’s much harder to do this with wrapping paper, but as I mention above, we get cheap wrapping paper.
We make our own Christmas cards. If you have some spare time and send out your own cards, this can be really fulfilling. We do it some years, largely depending on our time constraints. Just get blank cards and a couple of reusable stamps or some Christmas images from a magazine and go crazy. This works really well with kids as it gets them into the project, too.
We make a gift list in advance of any shopping or gift-making. The first thing we do each year is make a list of the people we intend to buy gifts for. (We actually make this list not too long after the previous year’s Christmas.) Then, we try to brainstorm gift ideas for each person as well as a dollar limit. Ideally, we find good gifts for people that fall well under the dollar limit, but we do not shop for a gift without that list and we follow it to a tee. That list has kept us from overspending on many people every single year.
We make a huge batch of cookies for small gifts to acquaintances. We have a lot of friends that we like to give small gifts to each year, which could really add up. Instead, we just make a giant batch of homemade cookies. We will pack four or six of them in a square of cellophane, wrap that cellophane around it, and tie it off with a ribbon. It’s very attractive, very inexpensive, and works great as a small gift for an acquaintance. Doing this as one big batch makes the cost per cookie really low and adds up to only one afternoon of effort to make a lot of little cookie bundles.
We sometimes give “help” as a gift, too. We’ll do things like give an evening or two of babysitting to families with young children or offer errands for elderly friends and family. It doesn’t cost us anything, but it drastically reduces stress and helps the recipient with difficult aspects of life.
We use slow cookers for holiday meal prep. When you’re preparing a holiday meal, it’s pretty easy to mess things up and end up with too many things needing the oven at once. I know others who, in an effort to save time, buy items from the store that are already prepared as an expensive and usually mediocre substitute. Our solution to both problems is to prepare meal elements in crock pots. Mashed potatoes, for example, work great in the slow cooker. Cook them as normal an hour or two before the meal, then just put the mashed potatoes in a slow cooker on “warm” for an hour before the meal is served. It’s cheaper and tastier than using prepackaged food.
We make our own holiday decorations. I mentioned the 3-D snowflakes recently, but we also make lots of regular snowflakes and trees out of paper. We also turn old photographs into decorations, cutting snowflake shapes out of them or turning them into photo cubes.
Here’s hoping your holiday doesn’t overburden your wallet!