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7 Unconventional Tips for Saving Money This Holiday Season (and One for Next Year)

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In just a few weeks, most of us will be spending time with our families, exchanging gifts, and eating more than we should for the second time in about a month. The holidays are certainly coming up fast!

Luckily, there is still time to save money on gifts.

There are some normal ways you can save money, like making a list, checking it twice, and actually sticking to it. What I want to give you today are some unconventional tips that you may not have thought of for saving money during the holiday gift-giving extravaganza.

Here are seven not-so-normal ways for you to save money on gift-giving this holiday season.

1. Don’t Buy Gifts

There. I said it.

But seriously, don’t buy gifts for some of the people on your list. For the past four or five years, my best friend and I (and our wives) have not been exchanging gifts. We feel there isn’t anything we really need and would rather do other things with our money.

Instead, we make sure to go out together during the holiday season. A couple years ago it was in the form of dinner at a hibachi restaurant and going to see Star Wars: The Last Jedi.

This year it’ll be hibachi again for dinner, and then Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker! We’ve even expanded over the past few years and there are five couples going this year.

It’s fun, we’re saving money on gifts, and we would be going out regardless so it works out quite nicely. It’s become our tradition!

We also cut out some gifts for my immediate family and in-laws. We continue to buy for our parents, but now we do a Secret Santa for the siblings in the family. Now, we’re only buying gifts for two family members on each side (one for my wife and one for me) instead of 14 people in total. That’s cutting out 10 people that we used to buy gifts for.

Again, we’re all adults and there isn’t really anything we need. So we save the money and put it toward something else. After all, the most important part of the holidays is spending time with your family, and we make sure to do that in spades.

2. Leave Your Credit Cards at Home…

Have you tried a cash-only budget? Essentially, a cash-only budget is where you do not allow yourself to use any type of credit cards at all. If you don’t have the money for something, you don’t get it.

If you’re like me and not really into cash-only budgets, it still might be worth trying for your Christmas gifts. In order to stick to your list and budgeted amounts, why not only take with you what you can spend? Bring cash with you and leave the plastic at home!

Admittedly this can be a little bit tricky. If you’re spending $25 on someone, it’s very easy with a credit card to pick out a gift that is $24.99 and then eat the sales tax (mmmm…sales tax).

At 8% tax, that’s $2 per person that you’re eating the sales tax for. Do that for 10 people and that’s $20 you could be saving or spending on someone else’s gift.

With cash, you have to make sure that you are either getting a gift card for $25 where there is no sales tax charged, or figuring out exactly what your threshold is with sales tax. It may be worth the extra effort to make sure you are only spending what you have budgeted.

Something to consider though, leave your credit cards at home…

3. Unless You are Using Them for Rewards

I’ve been using reward credit cards for quite a few years now. While the jury is still out on whether or not reward credit cards are worth it, the savings can be significant.

If you are already in the habit of using a reward credit card, it isn’t a stretch to use it for Christmas gifts too. The two best reward cards that I’ve seen are the Chase Freedom Unlimited and the Citi Double Cash.

The Chase Freedom Unlimited gives you unlimited 1.5% cashback on each and every dollar. If you spend $500 total on Christmas gifts, you will get $7.50 back.

The Citi Double Cash gives you 1% cashback for every dollar, but it also gives you an additional 1% when you make the payment. So, in essence, you’re getting 2% cashback. Spending $500 on this card will give you $10 back.

Now, I know that doesn’t sound like a lot of money you’re getting back in rewards, but if you have a lot of people to buy gifts for, it may be worth it. This can work especially well if you’re already using reward cards to pay for everyday expenses.


4. Open Up a New Reward Credit Card Account

Yes…I said that one too. Now before you close your browser, shut down your computer, and run for the hills because a finance blogger just told you to open a new credit card account, hear me out for a moment.

There are a few cashback credit cards out there that will give you $150 in bonus cash back points or statement credit if you spend $500 within the first three months of account opening.

Both the Chase Freedom and Chase Freedom Unlimited Cards will give you $150 in points after spending $500 within 3 months. The American Express Blue Cash Everyday Card will give you a $150 statement credit after spending $500 within 3 months.

Obviously, you can’t be a cardholder already to get the benefits.

Considering a study found that the average person will spend about $805 (2015 numbers) on Christmas gifts, $500 won’t be hard to hit. You can open up the card, use it for gifts, reap the rewards and then store the card away so you don’t use it anymore. Suddenly that $805 dollars becomes $655.

Not a bad savings!

And if you spend closer to $1,000 and don’t have a couple of the above-mentioned cards, you could open up two and save $300. However, this does take a little more discipline than just running with one card.

Again, even just one card takes discipline. Use this one wisely, but it can be a great way to save a significant chunk of change on your gifts.

5. White Elegant (White Elephant) or No-Buy Secret Santa

Now, this one will take some agreement from other members of your family or circle of friends. If you haven’t heard of a White Elephant Gift Exchange, I’ll give you a quick rundown.

Everyone wraps and brings a gift of something they have in their home that is silly, unneeded, or has outlived its usefulness. These are usually pretty worthless items and done for a laugh.

You bring your items and set them in a “pool” of other similar wrapped items. Everyone, in turn, takes a gift from the pile and opens it.

After everyone has opened it, each person gets a chance to “steal” someone else’s gift. The person whose gift was stolen may now steal from someone else as long as they haven’t had their gift stolen already. As soon as someone declines to steal someone else’s gift, the exchange is over.

Sounds like fun right? The reason why I call it the “White Elegant” Gift Exchange is because the items are of much more value compared to the silly things people tend to bring for White Elephant gifts.

Take a look around your house. Is there something that still works that someone in your family would find incredibly useful but you don’t use much anymore? Wrap it and give it away! Perhaps it’s an old necklace that is still shiny but you never wear anymore. It could be a like-new video game that is just sitting on the shelf.

If everyone agrees to not buy anything and give something that is of value from their home, you would be saving quite a bit of money.

This tip can be used to put a little more elegance into White Elephant or as a Secret Santa gift exchange.

6. Avoid the Deals

We already know that Black Friday Deals aren’t usually the best around, even though they’re touted to be just that. Deals in general, however, can be a bad thing for your bank account.


Simple. When we see a great deal, most of us tend to spend more money just to get the deal. Avoiding deals altogether will help with this.

Instead, go to the store with an idea and shop based on what you think the person would want. Then when you find something, if it’s within your budget and is on sale, perfect! Win-Win situation!

7. Make Something or Do Something

Another great way to save money is to make something for someone, especially if you’re crafty. Making something for someone will almost always be cheaper than buying the same item because you are cutting out a lot of the cost of assembling and distributing it to the store.

Maybe you can buy a cheaper frame, paint it, and then personalize it for an extra special gift. If you’re handy with wood, you could buy some wood and fashion a coffee table for someone’s living room.

This isn’t limited to crafty DIY gifts either. Baking something for someone can be just as great a gift as any, perhaps even better. One year for Christmas, we baked my mom cookies. She loved them! Let’s just say they were gone in no time. 😉

You can also do something for someone instead of buying them a gift. This is a great way to give an experience rather than a regular gift.

You could offer to shovel snow all winter for free. Cutting the lawn, deep cleaning their home, or cooking them dinner once a week for the holiday season are also great options.

These things cost little more than time so they are great for saving money.

Bonus Tip for Next Year: Start Early and Finish Early.

The part that makes this a little bit more unconventional is the “finish early” part. Other finance bloggers and I usually give tips on starting early on Christmas shopping. That way you aren’t having one month of huge gift expenses. Your bank account will be able to weather the storm of holiday expenses much easier if you start early.

Finishing early will only add to these benefits.

By finishing early, you are able to do much of your shopping in the Summer or Fall. The Summer and Fall months are when many people hold yard and garage sales. Yard and garage sales can be GREAT places to find some rather unique items for very little money. It’s a good spot for shopping!

Another added benefit of finishing early is you don’t have to worry about any ads from Black Friday, Cyber Monday, or any other time during the holiday season. These ads can entice you to spend more on Christmas (or even on yourself!) than you intend to. Finishing early will curb that temptation.

Try this one next year and let me know how it goes!

I know the holidays are coming up super quick, but there’s still time to save some money on gifts! Try some of these tips out.

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I'm Tim Jordan

I’m an author and certified financial coach who cares most about the same thing you do—getting YOU where you want to be in your financial life.
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I'm Tim Jordan

I’m an author and Certified Financial Coach who believes that everyone’s personal finances should be as unique as they are. Everything I create, write, and share is designed to help you find true financial freedom, whatever that may look like for you. 

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