Home > Personal Finance > How a Financial Adviser Plans Her Holiday Spending

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I am frequently asked for suggestions on saving money over the holidays, so I thought I’d share some ideas that have helped me.

First of all, November and December are always very busy months for me. Although I know the best way to save on holiday spending is to plan ahead and start early — this is easier said than done. Regardless of when I get started, I always make a list of gifts to be purchased and the amount I’m planning to spend for each gift. Before setting foot into a store, I go online to get ideas and compare prices. When I buy gifts on the Internet, I consolidate my shopping to meet the minimum amount required to get free shipping.

Shopping tactics can be helpful when you want to save, but there are many more ways to keep your spending in check over the holidays, too.

Gift-Giving Strategies

In the past, I frequently found myself at a loss on what Christmas gifts to buy for relatives I didn’t see very often. It seemed like such a waste of time and money to continue buying gifts that family members didn’t want or need. To resolve this dilemma, I suggested that we draw names rather than buy something for everyone in our family. By drawing names, we were able to do some research and buy a very nice gift for the one person whose name we had drawn. I’ve found that this reduces the stress and money associated with buying gifts for your entire extended family.

Another option for reducing the number of holiday gifts to be purchased is to organize a gift exchange. My version of a gift exchange has everyone bring an anonymous wrapped gift and draw a number. Everyone gets a turn selecting a gift in the order of the number they have drawn. Each person can either select a gift from the pile of wrapped gifts or can “steal” gifts that have already been opened. I have a large group of girlfriends and rather than buy holiday gifts for everyone, we do a gift exchange. We have a potluck where everyone brings a white elephant gift, a favorite used book, and a bottle of wine, all of which are wrapped.  To ease the pressure, anyone can opt out if they decide not to participate in all or part of the gift exchange.

Celebrating Without Going Broke

During the holidays we are invited to attend a lot of parties. Most of the parties I attend involve bringing an appetizer and a bottle of wine. I’ve been able to save money by purchasing a case of wine from a discount liquor store ahead of time, rather than running to the most convenient liquor store at the last minute and paying full price. Additionally, I have been able to save by taking a few minutes to prepare an appetizer, rather than buying something at the deli. It’s a lot cheaper to slice some vegetables or bake a frozen appetizer than to buy something already prepared. The key is to plan ahead and devote a little extra time to save a lot of money.

Over the holidays we tend to go out to restaurants more often. We want to celebrate with our friends, co-workers and family and we frequently have out-of-town visitors. I look for opportunities to save money on eating out. I seek out restaurants with half-price bottles of wine, happy hour specials, or two-for-one meals. When I choose a nice restaurant, I like to sit at the bar where I can order a chef-prepared meal at a reduced price. Additionally, I frequently save money by sharing a meal or eating a snack before going out so I can get by with ordering something light. The holiday season seems to squeeze everyone’s budget, so most of my friends and family welcome the opportunity to save.

Don’t lose sight of the true joy of the holiday season: Connecting with friends and family. Don’t feel obligated to buy expensive gifts and splurge on expensive restaurants. I have some very special holiday memories of sharing stories over a $3 glass of happy hour chardonnay.

Image: Jochen Sand

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