Six Money-Saving Strategies for Taking Advantage of the Holiday Aftermath

The gifts are unwrapped. The meals have been eaten. The family and friends have gone home. You’re left with a stack of gifts and a refrigerator full of leftovers.

What now?

Believe it or not, the aftermath of the holiday season is a great time for saving money. Not only can you extract some value from the items you have on hand, the post-holiday week and the days and months afterward offers many opportunities for trimming the cost of future holidays.

Here are six strategies for making all of this work. Some of them start on the day after the big holiday celebration. Others start over the next month and even into the next season. All of them will save you money throughout the coming year if you take advantage of them.

Strategy #1: Make Some Individually-Packed Meals

If you’re like many people, the remnants of a big holiday meal will fill up your fridge. You’ll drag them out for a meal or two of leftovers, but soon you’ll not want any more of that food and you’ll still have quite a bit of it left in the fridge.

What I like to do in these situations is to take out some freezer-safe and microwave-safe containers (like these) and pack individual meals in there using the leftovers. I then label them appropriately (the date and the contents) and pop them in the freezer. Then, in a month or two when I need a quick lunch, I’ll pull them out and have a very tasty meal.

This is a lot better than eating leftovers over and over again until they go bad and then chucking the rest of what’s left. We might eat one meal of leftovers and then box up the rest for individual meals.

Strategy #2: Buy Wrapping Paper, Cards, and Other Holiday Decorations Before the End of the Year for Next Year’s Holiday Season

During the week between Christmas and the new year, stores tend to unload their wrapping paper, cards, lights, and other holiday decorations at a low price because they need to get rid of stock. But who wants those items after the holidays? You do.

Just stock up on all of that stuff and stow it away in the closet along with your other holiday items that go into storage. Then, next year, when you pull things out for decorating, you’ll find all of that wrapping paper and all of those cards sitting there ready to go.

Stores in many parts of the country offer huge discounts on these items. If you take care of your purchases for the following year in the next week or so, then you’ll save a pretty substantial amount of change when next year’s holidays roll around.

Strategy #3: Designate Some Timeless Gifts for Re-Gifting

Everyone receives a few gifts for holidays that they open, quickly wonder why on earth someone purchased this for them, and then smile and gracefully say thank you. Of course, after the holidays, you’re stuck with an item that you don’t really want.

Spend some time thinking about that item. Is there anyone who you regularly buy gifts for who would actually enjoy this item? Most things tend to be a hit for some people and a miss for others, so if you received a “miss,” ask yourself if there’s someone for which it would be a “hit.”

If you can think of someone, stow away the gift until the next holiday season. Pack it up with your holiday items with a note on it reminding you that this is a gift for that person so that when you go about unpacking the holiday stuff, you find the gift and know immediately who it is intended for.

Strategy #4: Make Next Year’s Holiday List Now

At this point, you should still have this year’s holiday shopping list still intact. You should also have a really good idea of what kind of gifts were hits for people and which ones were not.

So why not do the smart thing and assemble a gift list now rather than later?

My strategy for this is to store the list on my phone and set up a calendar reminder to review that list every month. I use Evernote to store the list and Google Calendar to set up reminders so that I remember to look at it throughout the year.

Why do this? Over the course of a twelve month period, it’s very likely that you’ll see big sales on the specific items that you’re looking for. Thinking of giving a $25 gift for Aunt Petunia? Think about what she enjoyed this year, add a few ideas to your list right now for next year, and then look for those items during the coming year. Eventually, you’ll likely find one of those items on sale for $8 or so, knocking her off your Christmas list at a very reasonable price.

The key is to have a couple of ideas for everyone so that when you look for sales, you have a lot of potential matches. There’s nothing better than finding a great gift for someone on sale, and when you are able to do that in July because you planned ahead, that’s a big frugal success.

Strategy #5: Talk to Family About Cutting Back Next Year

The best time to talk about cutting back in the future is in the week or two after the holidays when the bills start rolling in. People tend to overspend sometimes during the holidays and aren’t really interested in thinking about cutting back on spending when everyone is celebrating. However, when the bills arrive… that’s when people begin to look at the holidays with regret, and that’s the perfect time to talk about cutting back.

In early January, get ahold of some of the members of your family and ask them what they think about cutting back on spending in the coming year. Suggest switching to a drawing for gifts rather than buying gifts for everyone, or perhaps setting a dollar amount cap on the gifts.

Doing this can save a ton of money for everyone involved. Sure, it’s a difficult conversation to have, but if you’re willing to initiate it you’ll likely find that many people will be on board. Plus, it turns the focus away from gift giving and back toward family, which is where the focus should belong.

Strategy #6: Make Homemade Gifts for Next Year

Rather than spending lots of money on gifts for next year’s holiday season, plan to make some gifts instead. Many people don’t think about making gifts until December when there is a massive time crunch anyway, so homemade gifts just seem stressful. However, if you start early in the year, it’s actually not bad at all.

For example, you might make everyone little jars of homemade vanilla extract, which tastes absolutely amazing. It’s not all that hard to make, either, as it just requires some vanilla bean pods, some alcohol, and a lot of time spent with a big bottle sitting in the cupboard. It’s a great frugal gift, but it works best if you start making it in the early part of the year so that the vanilla is really potent by the time Christmas comes around.

Similarly, making gifts like handmade soap or homemade beer or jelly or crafted items take some time, but they can be done throughout the year. You don’t have to jam all of that stuff into December.

Homemade gifts are often pretty inexpensive when it comes to the actual ingredients. The value comes from the invested time, and that time can be slowly invested throughout the year.

The key here is to make a plan. Start in the early parts of the year by making things that can wait until the holidays and gradually add more and more items to your collection throughout the year. By December, if you’ve planned well, you’ll have a ton of items to share with those on your list, making for some wonderful thoughtful gifts that don’t break your bank.

Final Thoughts

My philosophy on saving money in the Christmas aftermath is to simply let the bills be my guide. Every year, even though we plan ahead for the holidays, the expenses really add up. Of course, without these strategies, the expenses for the holidays could be utterly devastating.

Take the time to put these ideas in place. Pack the leftovers smartly on the day after your holiday celebration. Regift smartly, and make a smart holiday list for the following year. Then, follow through with those plans by reminding yourself regularly (using your calendar) to take steps to make sure you’re making and buying inexpensive gifts for the coming year.

When these plans all come together, you’ll have a holiday season next year that doesn’t destroy your wallet.

Trent Hamm

Founder of The Simple Dollar

Trent Hamm founded The Simple Dollar in 2006 after developing innovative financial strategies to get out of debt. Since then, he’s written three books (published by Simon & Schuster and Financial Times Press), contributed to Business Insider, US News & World Report, Yahoo Finance, and Lifehacker, and been featured in The New York Times, TIME, Forbes, The Guardian, and elsewhere.