I am 100% average. When it comes to the average American, he or she spends $906 a year on Christmas. If my Google Sheet lieth not, I’m about to be able to say samesies.
You read that right. I’m a personal finance blogger.
Who practices frugality.
And mindful spending.
And toys around with minimalism.
And is still set to buy a whole lot of presents this year.
But here’s the catch. While I’m set to dole out about $900 worth of gifts, I’m not actually coughing up that much cash. Here’s how:
Ask to Opt Out
The most important thing that we’ve done is to make sure that we let family and friends know that we are fine with not exchanging gifts. So very, very fine. This is the second year in a row that my best friend and I have decided to forgo gifts in favor of grabbing lunch or coffee or pedicures together. Admittedly, hers were great gifts. But great gift, good gift, or bad gift, I’m still willing to opt out.
Of course, this notion doesn’t sit well with everyone, so we have some backup strategies. For instance, now that we have a kiddo, we have told other relatives that they shouldn’t feel obligated to buy us anything. In fact, on my side of the family, once someone spawns an offspring, the gifting baton is automatically passed. So we’re hoping to spread that around some more.
Additionally, we’re big fans of grab bags. If you have to exchange gifts with a certain circle of relatives or friends, this is an outstanding way to shrink many gift-giving obligations into one. Bonus points if you do what we do with my relatives and go in on the experience as a couple. While we aren’t opting out entirely, we are certainly reducing the number of presents under the tree that we will both give and receive.
Save All Year
There are dozens of ways to do this. Just ask Pinterest. The 52-week challenge or reverse 52-week challenge are two fairly painless methods to sock away about $1000 to deck the halls each year.
We prefer a simpler strategy. Each month, we set aside at least $200 into a short-term savings fun. This fund is used for gift giving, among other things, throughout the year. That way, we don’t have to sweat the idea of a birthday present in July or a wedding in September either.
In addition to setting aside a bit of money from every paycheck into a short-term spending fund, I squirrel away all of my dollars and points from credit card rewards all year. This year, I had over $400 to spend on my Discover card alone. That cashback couples nicely with the end-of-year bonus categories and online shopping portals. The best thing is that it doesn’t really come out of my pocket because it isn’t something that we anticipate or budget for like a paycheck.
I believe in Black Friday. I believe in Cyber Monday. I also believe that there are dozens of other opportunities to spend wisely throughout the holiday season and year round. Not only do I shop sales and use price comparison tools like Camel Camel Camel, I try to get clever with when I spend.
If I’m set to buy something at Kohl’s, I’ll roll my Kohl’s cash into my next gift. If Target has a gift card promotion, I’ll look to score than and then apply the gift card to the next purchase. If I can’t earn any points at Walgreens, I’ll look for opportunities to spend the points that I’ve earned throughout the year. This year, Santa’s sleigh is filled with over $50 in treats—think popcorn tins and boxes of tea—that came straight from my Walgreens card, not my pocket.
While not every story offers some kind of promotional offer or rewards program, most of them are connected with Ebates or shopping apps like Ibotta. It may not save me a ton of jingle, but any spending that I can minimize is something that I’m all for.
Be Part of a Larger Plan
This is the first year that I’ve worked hard to gift experiences and consumables above all else. Not only do I hope that this sets the tone for the gifts that we receive—if we don’t just get coal and wood—I also think that people actually prefer these kinds of gifts even if they don’t know it yet.
The problem is, though, that a lot of experiences are really expensive. In the past, I never would have considered gifting something if it wasn’t the whole kit and caboodle. Now, I realize just how silly that idea was. I’m not Santa Claus. I’m not Oprah. I’m not a millionaire (yet). So I’m not giving out vacations. But I can buy Southwest gift cards that people can put toward their vacation. The same is true for gift certificates that can be applied to dinners out, manicures, highlights, and more. Even if I’m not responsible for highlighting my mom’s entire head or painting every toe on my aunt’s foot, by gifting them with $25 or $50 toward the experience, I’m showing them that I know what they really enjoy and reminding them to take time for themselves.
Buy the Dang Presents
I cannot stress this enough. It’s OK to buy presents. If you can buy gifts without jeopardizing your financial goals and your personal beliefs, get on it, little elves. While it is entirely true that the holiday season—or any time of year!—should not be driven by consumerism, there is no need for harsh criticism or guilt, either. In the words that Christmastime legend Mr. Scrooge, “Keep Christmas in your way, and let me keep it in mine.”
So Tell Me…How do you save on gifts?