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Take charge of your holiday spending and save

It seems like the holiday season sneaks up without much warning. Before you know it, there are gifts, parties, travel, décor and more to sort out. While the hustle and bustle is half the fun, it’s also supposed to be a relaxing time, spent in the company of family and friends. But it can be tricky to relax with January bills looming.

Here are some holiday spending tips to help you save money and focus on what matters most: time with loved ones.

Set a budget for gift shopping

Start with a budget. List all the people you plan to buy for – family, friends, co-workers, neighbours, the kids’ teachers and friends, etc. – and set a dollar limit for each person. Remember to factor in what you spend on gift wrapping, cards and shipping charges.

Now comes the hard part: stick to the plan. Avoiding spontaneous over-spending is the best way to keep your gift bill to a minimum. You can also:

  • Shop early. Not only will you avoid packed parking lots and long checkout lines, but you’re less likely to settle for an item that costs more because it’s convenient.

  • Or, shop late. Not going to visit someone until after the holidays? Wait for Boxing Week sales!

  • Shop online. Online deals often beat in-store prices, plus you’ll save on gas, parking and other associated costs. But first, know how to protect yourself from cyber risk.

  • Shop with flyers. Those mail-outs you usually toss into recycling or your email junk folder may be worth looking at this time of year.

Get creative

The old adage “quality over quantity” still stands. Here are a few ways you can creatively and sustainably gift, without breaking the bank.

  • Pay it forward. Have loved ones who claim they really don’t need anything? Make a donation on their behalf, whether a small monetary contribution or a donation of your time towards a cause you mutually care about. You can even do this on behalf of a few folks at the same time – like your relatives abroad.

  • Set up a secret gift exchange. There may be others with financial pressure during the holidays. See if your family, friends or colleagues are open to a gift exchange amongst the group, where everyone draws a name and buys just one gift

  • Regift and rehome. Consider doing a “regift” with others who are open to cutting costs, where well-intended (but unused) presents from over the years are wrapped and regifted. Make it extra fun by doing a swap-and-steal type of exchange.

  • Make it with love. Even if you’re not the crafting, sewing or baking type, you can still do something with a homemade twist – like making your own cooking spice concoctions, ornaments or cookies.

Share the party prep

Entertaining for large groups is a lot of fun, but can blast through your holiday budget. To keep costs down, provide the main course and have guests bring along the side dishes, appetizers, desserts and drinks. Not everyone needs to bring something – but if they offer, take them up on it!

Whatever your hosting plans are this season, make sure you celebrate safely.

Heading home for the holidays?

Travelling during the holidays isn’t always the most relaxing, but sometimes there’s no other option if your loved ones live elsewhere. Here are some ideas to help you spend less on holiday travel.

  • Avoid flying on the busiest travel days. Traditionally the Friday before Christmas is the busiest day, so try to book around it, if possible. If you can avoid the two-week period over Christmas and New Year’s altogether, you may be rewarded with cheaper airfare.

  • Pre-ship your gifts. Rather than taking presents on flights, which may result in significant excess baggage fees, have them shipped directly to the person if you purchase them online.

  • Pack a snack bag. For road trips and air travel, pack meals and snacks to avoid paying more for these items along the way.

  • Consider travel insurance. Especially if you’re heading outside of Canada. It’s a small investment that can save you from potentially big medical expenses abroad.

Stock up on surplus

Take advantage of post-season clear-out sales to stock up for next year. It’s easy to find discounts on things like holiday cards, wrapping paper, decorations and more once the holidays have come and gone. Make sure you leave yourself a reminder of what you bought, so you don’t accidentally double up next year.

Pay-off credit card debt

Shopping with credit cards is convenient, but if you don’t pay your balance in full each month, you risk spending a lot more for those holiday gifts. Consider a statement balance of $1,000, with an annual interest rate of 18%. By paying just the minimum monthly payment of $10, it would take you 10 years to pay off the debt from the accumulated interest. In the end, you will have paid an extra $798.89 in interest, nearly doubling your spending.

If you can’t pay the full amount right away, try to pay down as much as possible in the first two or three months to minimize interest.

Start saving in the new year

Saving for the holidays is easiest if you start early. When the new year begins, tally up what you spent the previous holiday season and divide it by 12. Then, start putting aside this amount each month in a TFSA. These flexible accounts have no withdrawal limits, and your money will grow tax-free, so you may end up with a little more than you initially planned.