5 Ways to Save Money This Holiday Season (Without Disappointing Anyone)

UPDATED: December 12, 2023
PUBLISHED: December 4, 2023
Closeup of a woman's hands making her own Christmas gifts because she's learning how to save money this holiday season

It’s not so cheerful when money is tight. 

This year has been hard—financially, emotionally and, for some, physically. So, the holidays and all the cheerful “requirements” that come with it, from gift-giving for dozens of people to taking time off work, can just add another layer of stress in a season meant for joy and relaxation. Exhausted Americans are saying enough to the holiday extras.

A recent study conducted by CNBC-Morning Consult found that 76% of Americans plan to cut back on spending this holiday season. The Associated Press (AP) reported that spending had slowed in October, ahead of the holiday season. And it’s not just the United States—Dutch consumers are cutting back, and Canadians are spending less on holiday travel and gifts, new reports show.

Some companies are looking to ease the financial burden of the holidays, acknowledging the difficult times we live in. For example, shipping services are trying to counteract the dip in spending by cutting shipping costs for businesses.

How to save money this holiday season

But it’s not just the gifts, according to Olivia Howell, a single mother and startup founder at Fresh Starts Registry. “It can be tricky when things come up like holidays, especially those gift-giving holidays, because they also coincide with events like buying new winter clothes for my kids, or family parties, teacher gifts,” she says. 

Like other founders, Howell usually puts any money she makes back into her company, calling for some careful budgeting. But of course, she doesn’t want to sacrifice her kids’ memory-making. “I have to budget for the holidays too, as my kids deserve a childhood that is magical,” she says. 

To combat the guilt that often comes with feeling financially obligated during the holidays, Howell goes thrift shopping for pieces that can be gifted or used to decorate.

“Thrifting is really great for the environment, as it is a sustainable practice that helps reuse and recycle items, and thrifting is fun,” Howell says. “We need to take the shame and stigma out of wearing [or] using thrifted [or] consigned clothing and see it as a boon to everyone!”

Here are a few additional tips to save money this holiday season, both in and out of the office.

1. Go in with colleagues on a meaningful group gift

Maybe your boss has complained about their aching back all year. Pitch in for an ergonomically correct chair with a few colleagues, to prevent having to shell out too much money by yourself. And you all just might reap the benefits of having a happier boss along the way. 

You can prioritize other items that would benefit the office for a group gift, or you can lean into something specific, such as a hobby or interest you know your boss likes. A simple gift card to their favorite place to eat with their family is also an easy win and a snap to split with others.

2. Have the tough conversations

Maybe your family is used to extended family members bringing a few gifts per person (times a zillion relatives). It’s time to have the talk and not feel bad about it. 

“One of the ways I am tightening up the holiday spending this year is being really honest in the conversations I have with everyone about expectations. For example, my siblings and parents don’t need store-bought gifts, nor do my friends,” Howell says. Instead, she will be giving them watercolor painting cards that she makes.

Other types of helpful conversations include:

  • business leaders taking the charge and asking employees to write each other a message about what they appreciate most in each other, in place of gifts
  • talking to your kids about choosing meaningful presents or experiences
  • streamlining or eliminating some of the extras that add up: for example, bake for the delivery person rather than buy a gift card

3. Redefine holiday magic

Where do our massive expectations that cost oh-so-much money come from anyway? Howell says, “There’s a cultural expectation that the holiday season needs to be this majestic and magical time, and it can be frustrating to know you want to do all the things and buy all the things, but also, medical bills need to be paid, and food and health insurance, etc.”

By rethinking the meaning of holiday magic, and moving more toward scheduling quality time that isn’t within an expensive activity, such as movie nights at home with your family and your favorite snacks, you just might find your holiday spirit again.

4. Refuse to enter January with a new pile of credit card debt

There’s a reason credit card companies love the holidays. In fact, 38% of Americans plan on carrying holiday debt into the new year. But you don’t have to be a part of their game.

“Relying on short-term borrowing to pay for regular expenses without a clear plan for repayment can lead to a vicious debt cycle that may be difficult to overcome,” says Andrew Leavitt of Pinnacle Lending Group. “This is precisely how credit card companies generate substantial revenues, as consumers end up paying for decades to come.”

You can also give gifts that don’t have to be paid for all at once, such as zero-interest items or a summer vacation that allows you to save for an additional six months, as long as you have a specific and concrete plan in place.

5. Skip the holiday card—we already have social media

The holiday card tradition stems from a pre-social media era. Are you really sharing anything new by paying, sometimes hundreds, to make and ship holiday cards? Instead, you can post a meaningful and free holiday “card” and message on your favorite social media accounts.

“I’m only sending holiday cards to a select group of people who really supported me this year. People see my kids on Facebook all of the time; they don’t need a holiday card. That adds up fast,” Howell says. “Financial stress is excruciating, and it’s OK to dial it back some years.”

Photo by Caterina Trimarchi/Shutterstock.com