By Joanne Bankston, Ph.D.
State Extension Specialist for Family Economics and Management Coordinator, Family and Consumer Sciences
Kentucky State University, College of Agriculture, Food Science, and Sustainable Systems
Are you tired of starting the new year with a pile of debt that remains from holiday
shopping? Perhaps you are looking for ways to reduce the stress associated with shopping
during the holiday season and paying for gifts, greeting cards, postage, gift wrap,
decorations, food, drink, travel, long distance phone calls, and other items. Here
are a few suggestions for stretching your holiday dollar and managing your money and resources throughout the season and into the new year.
Some tips will help you use resources along with money to create gifts and decorations
for a festive occasion. Other tips will encourage you to purchase items and services
made by Americans or locally produced. Finally, “go green” for the holidays by reducing, reusing, and recycling. Consider numerous ways of celebrating a happy, eventful holiday season without overspending
and by practicing principles that will save money and the environment.
Decide how much you can spend. Set a holiday budget and work within it. This should include all items such as gifts,
decorations, travel expenses, cards, and other things that are often forgotten. Discuss
the budget with family members. If you are experiencing hard financial times as a
result of a layoff, job loss, illness, divorce, and/or other difficulties, have a
family meeting, and discuss the situation. Family members, including children, will
often reduce their lists and expectations when they know that the family is working
together to get through difficult times. Look for community resources such as the
Angel Tree and food pantries that may be available for assistance.
- Make a list to begin building your holiday budget. Monthly bills should be paid before
you spend for the holidays. List the names of everyone who you plan to buy a gift. List the amount you can spend
for each person. If you don’t have enough money to cover everyone, cut the names and/
or the amounts. You might also substitute a homemade gift or provide a service if
you have to cut your list. Don’t forget other items such as food, decorations, travel,
etc. that must come from the total budget. List the items and amounts. Keep all items
within your total budgeted amount.
- Consider cash and credit. Think about establishing a holiday savings account to cover expenses during the holiday
season. If you have piled up lots of debt in previous years, consider a cash-only holiday. Take money from a credit union or bank or use a debit card. Budget the money,
and when the money is spent, stop buying. When using a debit card keep accurate records
to avoid fees for overdrawing your account. Record all debit card purchases in your
check register and deduct the amount from the balance. If you use online banking,
check your account frequently. When using credit, charge only the amount that you can safely repay in a few months. If you have multiple credit cards, limit your charges to one card with the lowest
interest rate and fees. This will provide a clear picture of your spending and make
it easier to pay bills. If you have a card that offers rewards, use the rewards to
get gifts, to share frequent flyer points, or use other special features. Remember
to keep receipts for all purchases and transactions.
- Shopping American. When possible, make an extra e?ort to find items made by Americans or locally Here
are a few ideas. Give a gift certificate from a local hair salon or barber. Support
owner-run restaurants, local crafts people, bakeries, and hardware stores in your
hometown. Support a play or ballet in your local community. These ideas and others
will encourage small businesses and help to keep them afloat while providing jobs
for persons in the local community.
- Shopping Tips. Shop early. Compare price, quality, and warranties. Get information by reading labels
and hand-tags. Watch for sales. Check newspaper ads and flyers, and use coupons. When
you find a gift that is a great buy (such as bath and shower products, photo albums,
or any useful item), and extra money is available, purchase more than one as an extra
gift or to use later. Shop at stores that are in close proximity to one another to
save time and gas. Get gift receipts, and understand the rules for returning items.
Shopping online can save time and leg work, however, understand shipping charges and the rules for
returning. Allow ample time to receive the items prior to the holidays. Don’t forget
to check out coupon code websites.
- Food shopping. Take advantage of grocery store sales, and plan holiday meals around items that are
on sale. If extra money and storage space are available, stock up on non-perishable
- Greeting cards. Holiday greeting cards and postage can become quite costly if you are watching your
budget. Consider these ideas. Prune your list. Only send cards to out-of-town family
and friends you are not likely to see during the holidays. Make your own greeting
cards using blank cards and special stencils and stamps. Buy holiday greeting cards
at discount stores. Send e-Cards and E-mail messages, and skip card mailing altogether.
- Decorations. The best time to buy holiday decorations is after the holiday when they have been
reduced 50-75%. Or better yet, look for ways to make decorations or use the items
you already have. Properly stored decorations can be used from year-to-year. To change
the atmosphere, use decorations in a different room than the room where they were
displayed the last holiday season. To make new decorations, look around your house
for items (pine cones, artificial fruit and nuts, ornaments, candles, silver bowls
and other containers, hurricanes, etc.) that can be used to create a wreath, centerpiece,
or decorate a tree. Use your imagination and talent to create a wonderful holiday
atmosphere without spending a lot of money.
- Entertainment. Social gatherings are sometimes the highlight of the holiday season. Consider co-hosting
an event with another family member or co-worker to consolidate time, effort and expense.
Evaluate the necessity of a meal. Consider appetizers or snacks instead. Also, consider
having a potluck dinner (where everyone brings a dish) as opposed to a lavish buffet.
This way, everyone participates in the preparation and celebration of the holiday
meal. Look for free entertainment. Many communities over family movie nights, musical
performances and activities at local parks, museums, or community centers.
- Travel. Visiting family and friends can be an expensive part of holiday plans. Shop early
for the best airfares. When estimating travel expense, include gasoline and car maintenance
when driving and airfare when flying, as well as lodging, meals, and unexpected expenses.
If travel becomes too expensive, consider celebrating at home.
- Gifts and Gift-giving. The best gifts don’t always have the biggest price they are fun, useful, and chosen
with the recipient in mind. Using your talent and skill to create gifts from your
sewing room, craft corner, kitchen, or garden adds a special touch of love. A gift
of time is the most precious gift. Why not start a gift shelf in your home? As you
shop throughout the year and find great items on sale or create hand crafted items,
place them on a shelf. Use these items when you need a special gift, or to give for
a holiday occasion. Consider the following ideas to save money on gifts.
- Holiday food gifts from the kitchen. Holiday food gifts are very special gifts that can be created in the kitchen, packaged
in inexpensive cardboard boxes or elaborate containers, such as a crystal dish, and
shared with friends and family. Homemade cookies, cakes, candies, pickles, party mixes,
jellies and jams are some of the popular foods that can be included. Use other clever
ideas to prepare food gifts.
- Specially created gifts. A CD of several artists, framed photographs, quilts, afghans, tree ornaments, and
holiday decorations are examples of specially created, hand-crafted gifts that o?er
great meaning to friends and family members.
- Gift cards and gift memberships. Gift cards allow a person to purchase something that they want. Get a gift receipt,
and understand the rules of the card regarding expiration dates, replacement cards,
and fees. The credit card law enacted in 2010 allows money on a gift card to be good
for at least 5 years from the date of purchase. Card fees must be clearly disclosed.
(Note: These rules do not apply to reloadable prepaid cards not intended for gift-
giving, such as MasterCard and Visa). Consider gift memberships. An AAA membership
card for emergency road service, or health club certificate can provide a useful service
to someone who is not a member.
- Gift Exchange. Reduce the number of gifts you have to purchase by drawing names and playing games
to exchange gifts. Barter. Trade something you own for something you want with a friend
or family member.
- Gifts that Matter. Consider thoughtful gifts that can make life easier for the elderly and persons with
special health issues that limit mobility. Prepare a special meal and provide conversation.
Help with chores such as picking up prescriptions, grocery shopping, and changing
light bulbs. Stockpile basic items such as paper products, cleaning supplies, and
other bulk items. Organize closets and shelves in the home. Decorate a person’s home
for the holidays. Write notes of gratitude praising a sick person for things they
have done or share special memories that can boost the morale of someone that is home
bound or less mobile.
Saving Money by Consuming Less and “Going Green”
Observe the principles of “green” living during the holiday season by Reducing, Reusing, Recycling, Composting, and Buying Recycled. By following these guidelines we can reduce waste, and reduce the carbon footprint
by lowering greenhouse gas emissions. These tips are particularly important as we
fight climate change, and they also help to save money.
- When shopping, bring your own reusable tote
- Give eco-friendly gifts like reusable tote bags, rechargeable batteries, a bike, energy
and water- saving devices
- When you get new appliances, clothes, and other household items give the old things
to charity to be reused.
- Recycle cardboard boxes, peanuts or other Styrofoam packing that comes with gifts.
- Reuse, and recycle holiday greeting cards, old wrapping paper, gift bags and gift
boxes. Buy recycled greeting cards.
- Reuse holiday decorations. Use natural ornaments such as pine cones, shells, dried
flowers, and berries.
- Use cloth napkins, stainless steel silverware, and glass or ceramic cups and plates
for holiday dinner parties rather than disposable paper, Styrofoam, or plastic.
- Compost kitchen food scraps from holiday dinners. For yard waste composting, compost
fruit and vegetable waste not meat or grease
- Recycle Christmas trees for compost and landscaping materials.
Source: New York State Department of Environmental Conservation
Other “Green” Tips and Tips for Consuming Less
- Explore and use locally-grown foods to avoid the environmental impact of trucking
foods from long distances. This also supports the local economy and efforts to buy
- Serve and use locally crafted wines and beers, and choose larger containers to minimize
- Avoid wasting food. Cook what will be consumed. Use leftovers and send some home
with guests. Freeze other leftovers to enjoy later.
- Combine cooking. Avoid heating a large oven several times a day for small amounts.
Plan cooking to use the oven all at once. Cook small amounts in a toaster oven.
- Use energy-efficient light bulbs to save money. Today energy-efficient light bulbs
are available that could save you about $50.00 per year in energy costs when you replace
15 traditional incandescent bulbs in your home. Energy-effecient light bulbs include:
halogen incandescents, compact florescent lamps (CFLs), and light emitting diodes
(LEDs). Energy efficient light bulbs save you money by typically using about 25%-80%
less energy than traditional incandescents, and can last 3-25 times longer. The initial
price of energy efficient bulbs is typically higher than traditional incandescents,
but cost less to operate over the life of the bulb and last significantly longer.
(Source U.S. Department of Energy)
- Give back and give the gift of a better world. Remember the less fortunate. Donate
or volunteer with an organization that prepares holiday meals for others. Make a donation
in honor of a loved one. Choose a cause that addresses an issue that you and your
loved ones care about.
A realistic and affordable plan for spending your money and your time should always
be at the center of your holiday plans. Make a plan and carry it out. Follow principles
of “green” living by reducing, reusing and recycling. Search for and purchase some
items that are made in America. Make your holidays a time for living, laughing, loving,
sharing, caring, and learning. These are the things that money can’t buy, but they
make life more precious, full, and abundant.
Bankston, J. (2003). Managing your money and your resources for the holiday season. (Holiday Survival Guide). University of Kentucky, Cooperative Extension Service.
Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System. (2010, April 30). What you need
to know: New rules for gift cards. Retrieved June 14, 2011 from http://www.federalreserve.gov/consumerinfo/wyntk_giftcards.htm
Miller, K., & Bailey, C. (2008, November – December).
Gifts that matter. StrokeSmart.
New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. (2007, December). Green up your holidays by reducing, reusing, recycling, composting, and buying recycled. Retrieved October 16, 2009 from http://www.dec.ny.gov/environmentdec
Pawlik-Kienlen, L. (2008, Nov. 19). Saving money over the holidays. Retrieved Oct. 16, 2009, from psychology.suite.com/article.cfm/saving_money_over_the_
US Department of Energy. (2014, July 28). How Energy E?cient Light Bulbs Compare with
Traditional Incandescents. Retrieved September 8, 2014 from http://energy.gov/energysaver/articles/how-energy-efficient-light-bulbs-compare-traditional-incandescents
Graphics: Liquid Library
Graphic Design by Diane Murphy, Graphic Designer, External Relations and Development,
Kentucky State University
Agriculture, Food Science, and Sustainable Systems
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