If you can't stomach the thought of canceling Christmas altogether but you need to cut back on spending, don't despair: There are still creative ways you can reduce the average $993.69 (without travel) or $1,954.19 (with travel) that most Americans shell out for the holiday season. Best of all, you can do it without looking like the family cheapskate. The key to actually saving money is to start by deciding that you'll stick to a budget. Let that agreed-upon spending limit help you make choices about where and how you will use your holiday dollars. After you've decided what you'd like to limit your holiday spending to, it's time to get financially crafty. Here are just a few ways that you can trim your Christmas bills and still keep the holiday spirit.
- Find It Free (or Nearly)
Websites publicizing free goodies abound. Through locally-based sites like Craigslist and Freecycle, you can find items within driving distance for cheap or free - or check out sites like The Bargainist to get brand-name goods for free straight from the manufacturers. Don't forget to use sites like MyRetailCodes.com or FreeShipping.org, which offer online coupons to lower the checkout price. If you can't find free shipping or online coupons for your items, check the retail outlet or manufacturer's website for special coupon offers when you sign up for their email or newsletter list. In just a few minutes, you can land a major shopping coup - and your gift recipients don't ever need to know.
- Check for Cross-Promotions
Businesses often team up to increase their visibility and gain a greater share of consumer spending. Check to see if companies or manufacturers that you typically buy from are offering cross-promotional discounts with marketing partners.
- Buy in Bulk
Yes, it's a nice idea to select individualized gifts for each of your co-workers, children's teachers or clients, but that can be time-consuming … and expensive. Instead of hand-chosen items for each person on your list, why not buy something in bulk that you know many people on your list will enjoy, such as iTunes gift cards or movie tickets? You can get a pack of five Regal Cinema movie tickets at Costco (Nasdaq:COST) for just $39.99 - compared to $10 per ticket (minimum per adult) if you bought them at the box office. That's a $2.50 savings per ticket. Or choose a package of six $15 iTunes gift cards for your colleagues (or kids). Two quick purchases and you've bagged 11 gifts - and major savings.
- Get Smart About Snail Mail
While hand-written cards are a nice touch, once you add up the cost of the cards, postage and enclosed photograph you can easily wind up paying more than $2 apiece. If you have a mailing list of just 40 people that's easily $80 and up! Instead of dropping the tradition altogether, stay in touch for less by sending an e-card for the holidays. Brand name sites like American Greetings, Hallmark and Blue Mountain cards offer both free and inexpensively-priced e-cards. If you can't cut the Christmas card tradition, shop sites like Tinyprints.com or Samsclub.com, which let you create personalized cards online and incorporate your photo to save you $1 per card or more, cutting the average holiday greeting budget by more than half. Don't forget to make sure you're ordering cards that take standard postage and be sure to look for free shipping offers and early order discount codes.
- Mail in Advance
Send gifts well ahead of the holiday date so that you're not forced to pay for more expensive overnight or two-day shipping. How much could you save? It costs just $4.95 to mail a one-pound package using the Post Office's standard parcel post rate (to a location up to 1,800+ miles away) but that amount skyrockets to $25.15 if you need to use express (overnight) mail instead. Mailing ahead of time would save you more than $20 on that one package alone! If you're mailing a number of gifts to one area (i.e. you live in L.A. but your family all lives in Louisville), let your loved ones know you're packing all your goodies up and shipping to one address. Instead of paying $70.75 to ship five seven-pound packages (at $14.15 apiece), you could cut that bill almost in half (to $38.61) by shipping just one 35-pound package to a central location.
- Cut Where It Won't Count
If you've always opted for higher-end (read: pricey) wrapping papers, bows, ribbons and gift bags, switch to buying the same products at discount or dollar stores. How much can you save? Gift wrap and bags at a dollar store are - well, you guessed it, $1 - compared to an average of $3.49 at a department or big-box store. If you buy eight rolls of paper and eight bags, you will have saved nearly $40.
- Use Your Points
If you don't have a plan for using the points you have accumulated on your credit card, cash them in to get gifts for free, or at steep discounts. For example, with the American Express Membership Reward program, you can get a Fisher-Price Go Diego Go Tough Trike for a little one on your list at a discounted $25 ($5 cheaper than Wal-Mart) or 5,000 points; a Columbia Creek Mesh Fishing Jacket is nearly 50% less through Amex's Membership Rewards program at just $31.99, or 6,398 points. (For more insight, see Credit Card Perks You Never Knew You Had.)