4 Ways To Save As You Start Your Holiday Shopping

If you're struggling to put together a plan for participating in the upcoming holidays while still covering your own basic needs, you're not alone. Finding money in your budget for holiday shopping can be stressful even in a good year. This year, inflation rates are the highest they've been in 40 years, according to The New York Times, meaning the prices of goods of all kinds have skyrocketed. In a survey conducted by 4over, more than half of American participants reported feeling significant stress over the cost of gifts this year and nearly a third see no other way but to go into debt to get through the season.

You can take control of your holiday experience and your budget through careful planning and intentional spending. From digging deep to evaluate your personal relationship with the holidays you choose to celebrate to scouring the internet for easy ways to get a discount, here is exactly what you can do to ease the holiday burden on your bank account this year.

Plan ahead

When was the last time you sat down and really thought about the holidays and what they mean to you? Consider spending some time journaling to gain insight into your own holiday values. According to a study published in JMIR Mental Health, journaling can help you achieve more mental clarity and ease anxiety. Write down a brief description of all your favorite holiday memories. Then, look for a common theme. Are all your best holiday moments based around gathering with friends and family? Seasonal dishes and drinks, like homemade eggnog? Do they center around giving and receiving gifts? Day drinking? Religious ceremonies? 

If gift-giving makes the list for you, start making a plan immediately. Make a list of everyone for whom you feel truly motivated to buy a gift. Be mindful of including mere social obligations. Your mailman won't be devastated by not receiving a gift. Once you've decided who will receive a gift, it's time to set a realistic limit on how much you'll spend on each person and be prepared to stick to it. It's up to you whether every person gets the same limit or certain individuals are assigned a higher one. Be realistic. If you've been struggling, it's okay to set a limit that's lower than in previous years. It's the thought that counts, after all. Then, jot down a few interests of each person on the list to get the gift ideas brewing.

Consider alternative ways to celebrate

If it turns out that you love the idea of spending extra time with loved ones this holiday season but cringe at the thought of gift exchanges, consider changing the way you celebrate. Communicate with your friends and family to see how they feel about the idea of making this year a homemade holiday season where the only gifts allowed are those you each make yourselves. The possibilities for homemade gifts are endless and can easily be customized to fit the giver's skills and the receiver's interests.

Even young kids can create handmade gifts like these recipe jars from Bake That! On YouTube. If you happen to be even minimally skilled at painting, knitting, making miniatures (via Tinycrafter), or any other handmade hobby, you can find a project fit for your loved ones. You may also want to consider proposing an agreement to skip gifts altogether this year or to only give to the children in the family. In place of the usual presents, look into the possibility of a memorable group activity like ice skating or heading to the movie theater to see the latest holiday flick. There's a good chance that your loved ones are just as worried as you are about affording gifts and will jump at the chance to alter the typical traditions.

Maximize opportunities to save

If you genuinely value gift-giving as an integral part of your holiday celebrations, there is absolutely nothing wrong with that and there are ways to make it work for your budget. For starters, begin your shopping as early in the year as possible or just set aside a small amount of money dedicated to gifts each paycheck. Consider opening a savings account that allows you to organize your savings goals, like Ally's bucket system. This allows you to spread out the added expense. 

Instead of becoming attached to a very specific item for each person on your list, develop an idea of their general interests so you can be open to lower-priced or sale items they'd still enjoy. Mark your calendar to make sure you don't miss major sales events like Black Friday and Amazon Prime Day. Many stores offer rewards programs that can add up to significant savings once you've made a few purchases. You can even consider applying for a new credit card that offers rewards on purchases and a sign-on bonus (via NerdWallet). These cards offer worthwhile benefits, as long as you use them responsibly.

Creatively decrease your spending

The other side of the coin when it comes to your budget is assessing your spending. Pay special attention to subscription services, even if you don't think you use many. Nearly a third of consumers underestimate their subscription spending by $100 or more per month, as reported by CNBC. If you typically receive subscription beauty and grocery boxes or subscribe to several streaming services, consider canceling some of them for a few months leading up to December. Depending on how many you typically pay for each month, this alone could free up enough money to cover your entire gift list.

If you still need more wiggle room, look for other optional expenses you can temporarily cut out or reduce, like take-out, delivery, dining out, and ordering coffee. According to Your Money Vehicle, the average American spends about $3,000 each year on dining out alone. Consider making the sacrifice of packing your lunches, cooking dinner, and making coffee at home for a couple of months to expand your gift-giving possibilities.