How we make Christmas easier on our budget
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Who's ready for Christmas? I believe there are less than 16 weeks left! I am a big ol' Christmas fan and start celebrating mid-November. The sooner I can get my decorations up, especially all the twinkly lights, the happier I am.
For many families Christmas can bring extra stress, especially in the financial sense. There are so many things asking for money that even families with a comfortable budget can still feel the pinch. Over the years we've come up with several ways that help us ease the increase in spending that the holidays bring and I'm ready to share those ways with you!
1. Set a budget
You can't make something easier on your budget if you don't have one to begin with! Look over your finances and figure out a reasonable amount to spend. Make sure you think about everything that you will need to spend. It's one thing to have a gift budget for your family but what about extended family? What about teachers or friends? How about decorations or crafts? Will all your Christmas baking and cooking fit in your current grocery budget? Plan for as much as possible so you aren't caught off guard when an expense comes up.
2. Start setting money aside
We have a special savings account marked for gifts that we transfer money into each month. We pull from this for extended family birthdays if there are more than what our normal "gift budget" allows for but mostly it gets used for Christmas. We want to make sure that the budget we set up doesn't get nickeled and dimed away by other purchases during the year. You may not be able to set aside a whole lot but even a few dollars every week can really add up quickly! But if it's not set aside, either in a separate account or in cash that you don't touch, it can easily be spent without much thought. We can also transfer money out of it if we find great deals for gifts on sale or clearance. And speaking of sales and clearance...
3. Shop clearance all year long
As soon as Christmas is over we start hitting up clearance racks for the following year. We give our kids pajamas every Christmas Eve so we know to keep our eyes open for deals. We try to buy a size or two up from their current size to make sure they will fit. Even if we can only snag a couple pairs at a significant markdown it frees up that much money to use in other areas.
We also try to watch the toy clearance that happens at Target in January and July in the hopes of picking up a few LEGO sets that the kids want. We've learned over the years to not buy a toy that seems like a great deal unless we know for sure it will be a hit with the kids. We've bought many that they were excited about for a month or so but ended up in the donation bin by March. We want to buy them toys and other gifts that will be loved and appreciated longer than the snow sticks around at the very least.
Seasonal items like bubbles, chalk, water guns, school supplies, mittens, and hats that we go through frequently can often be picked up for a fraction of the price as that season ends. A few years ago I snagged five packs of little gloves for less than $1! They make great stocking stuffers (I like giving a few practical items) or just help stretch the budget when it's needed.
4. Shop used
There can be amazing deals found at garage sales, thrift stores, consignment shops, and various places online like Craigslist or Facebook Buy/Sell/Trade groups. We have found so many great deals, especially on Christmas Eve pajamas and special outfits.
Just like with clearance and sale items you need be be smart about your purchases. A good deal is not a good deal if it won't be loved or used often.
5. Healthy living rewards programs
Our health insurance offers a rewards program for adult members willing to track their eating, fitness, and other healthy habits. We earn points for each item we track and are able to change those points in for gift cards to hundreds of places! This has been our biggest help in saving for Christmas every year but we lose it if we don't put in the work. It only takes a few minutes each day to log our food, water, steps, and activity but forgetting means missing out on those points. Some years Micah and I each hit our max rewards but others we only manage to earn about a quarter of what we could have. It's all about effort and we kick ourselves in those years that we've forgotten.
This year I'm about three quarters to the max and Micah is about a third of the way there. I'm hoping we can find a few challenges to complete and bump our totals up before we need to cash out!
Check with your health insurance company to see if they offer any type of rewards program. We used to have Blue Cross Blue Shield and they had the program but now we are a with a different company and they offer it as well. It doesn't hurt to ask!
Swagbucks is another rewards program but the earning opportunities are significantly different than that of the healthy rewards program. You can earn points by answering surveys or daily polls, complete opt-in offers, shopping at various websites, watching videos, and multiple other ways. It's possible to earn hundreds of Swagbucks each day with some effort. I tend to turn the videos on my phone while I'm working on the computer and let them play in the background.
I've been a member of Swagbucks for about six years and I've earned over $900 through them without a whole lot of effort. I've bought presents for the kids, items to treat myself, new stuff for the house, even a new camera lens for my DSLR several years ago. It's worth the time I put in when I can cash in my points for Amazon gift cards and buy just about anything I could want or need.
I don't have a huge amount of time for coupon clipping anymore (I used to LOVE using coupons) but I still need to save money where I can. Ibotta has helped us shave a little off our grocery bill each week. It might be less than $1 each week but that's $52 each year!
To use Ibotta you have to have a smart phone, either with iOS or Android, and download the app. After creating an account you will find hundreds of products that you can earn rebates on. Some of these will be very specific items but other times they offer "any brand" rebates so as long as you buy that item, no matter the brand (even store brand!) it will count for the rebate. There are also frequently rebates for produce items which are hard to find coupons or other deals on. Submit your receipt and you will get credited with the money. Once you've earned the minimum amount you can cash out for gift cards or even cash through PayPal.
Right now if you join you get a $10 bonus - just for signing up and redeeming your first rebate! The minimum for most gift cards is $20 so you will be halfway there. It's an easy way to save a few pennies each week toward your Christmas budget.
Shopkick is another rewards program but this one rewards you simply for walking in to certain stores and for scanning specific items. I love that all I need to do is open the app as I walk in to places like Target or Walmart and I get my kicks. The items to scan change frequently and the amount of kicks vary from about 10 kicks up to 100 or maybe more! Certain stores also offer kicks for buying items and submitting your receipt, similar to Ibotta, or for using your linked card.
You want to know how awesome Micah and I are? Sometimes on date nights we will go to Target or Walmart after dinner and walk around scanning items to get kicks. The couple that saves together stays together? You can also get the kids involved and make it a scavenger hunt to find the correct items!
9. Scale back
This is the biggest way we save on Christmas. We don't (or try our best) not to go over board. I know it's incredibly fun to spoil the kids or other family members at the holidays but I really don't think they want you going into debt for them. We have worked hard to teach our kids that we have a budget all year round and if something doesn't fit in the budget then we can't buy it. We also really try to impress the importance of being grateful for what we do get and not wishing for more. So far so good but our kids don't care about the newest tech or fanciest clothes... yet.
I've realized I don't need to have eight million Christmas decorations or make an incredibly fancy and elaborate Christmas dinner. The kids don't need to open fifty gifts (nor do I want to wrap fifty gifts) and they will survive with homemade fun rather than the silly kits of holiday cheer sold at the store.
We also don't need to buy gifts for our sister's next door neighbor's boyfriend's dog. Okay, that's a bit crazy but you understand. You get to decide who you buy for and how your money will be spent. If someone gets upset for not buying them a gift that is their issue, not yours. A nice card or thoughtful message can mean more than any money spent.
By scaling back on what we think "needs" to happen during the holiday season the amount of money and stress can be significantly downsized as well. They aren't going to remember getting thirty trinkets in their stocking but they will remember if Mommy is frazzled and Daddy is stressed because they tried to do too much and spent too much money. It's not worth it. Keep it simple.