5 Tips to Save Money and Stay Out of Debt This Holiday Season

(Updated 11-28-2016; previously published 12-13-2013)

According to a National Retail Federation (NRF) survey, American consumers plan to spend an average of $935.58 this holiday shopping season!  Retail sales around the holidays (excluding autos, gas and restaurants) are also expected to increase a solid 3.6 percent to $655.8 billion.

An unfortunate reality is that debt this time of the year is becoming about as common as Christmas trees and turkey dinners. It’s important to remember that you do not have to break your budget to show your loved ones how much you care. Here are five tips to help you enjoy the holiday cheer without going into debt.   

Tip 1 Develop a budget and stick to it

Decide how much you can afford to spend this year. Gifts, travel expenses, and holiday meals are the top three budget categories, but remember to include things like gift wrap, postage, and the holiday tips you may give to people such as your doorman, babysitter, and mail carrier.

It’s recommended that you spend no more than 1.5% of your household annual income on holiday gifts and entertainment. Try this online holiday budget planner to determine what you should be spending. With your budget established, create a list of everyone you wish to buy a gift for and decide how much you will spend on each person. Then track how much you spend once you start shopping.

Tip 2 – Start early and stay organized

The holiday season can be hectic, and for many, the less time they have to shop the more likely they over spend just to check a name off their list.

  • Shopping early lets you take advantage of sales and seasonal pricing trends.
  • Starting early spreads out your spending and may help you avoid using credit cards.
  • Sticking to the gift list can help you avoid drifting from store to store purchasing multiple gifts for some, and nothing for others.

Tip 3 – Entertain on a budget

Hosting a party or holiday dinner is a great way to bring folks together over the holidays, but these meals can be expensive. The good news is that it is possible to serve a bountiful meal on a budget. It just takes some planning and forethought.

  • Check grocery store circulars and stock up on non-perishable staples when on sale.
  • Shop the top and bottom shelves; more expensive items tend to be in the middle.
  • Buy generic brandsyour guests will never know the difference!

Consider hosting a potluck holiday dinner. This way, you'll only be responsible for the cost and preparation of one aspect of the meal. Extend the idea to beverages and invite guests to bring a favorite wine or beer that pairs well with their contribution. A potluck done right is tasteful and a brilliant way to save money.

Tip 4 – Don’t wait for last minute travel deals

Unlike the numerous sales that run between Thanksgiving and New Year's Day, airfare and hotels tend to be less expensive the further you book from the holiday. Once you know your plans, start shopping for the best prices for your airline ticket or hotel room.

  • Search travel sites like Expedia.com, Travelocity.com, and Kayak.com for the best flight and hotel deals.
  • Smaller carriers including Southwest, JetBlue, and regional airlines don’t post airfares on discount websites so visit their websites directly.
  • If you’re traveling with a larger party, book in smaller groups and you may be able to get some of the seats at a lower rate.

Take advantage of travel deals offered from BaZing, a discount program offered with Elite Checking from Lakeland Bank. BaZing’s network includes more than 300,000 national and local merchants. If you’re an Elite Checking account holder, download the BaZing mobile app which lets you redeem local coupons and online deals right from your phone. The app searches for retailers near you and shows all the discounts in your area.

Tip 5 – Some tips about tipping

Recognizing someone with a tip who provides you with a valuable service is a nice way to say thank you. How much should you give? There's no one "right" amount for everyone, but here are some recommendations from Emily Post for holiday tipping.

Determining how much to tip will depend on how long you've used someone's services, how important the service is to you, the quality of the service you've received, and where you live. If money is tight, homemade gifts with a handwritten note of thanks are always appreciated.

Celebrating the season doesn’t have to make a huge dent in your savings or leave you starting the New Year in a mound of debt. Follow these money saving tips from Lakeland Bank to enjoy the holidays on a responsible budget. And don’t forget to take advantage of the rewards your Elite Checking account has to offer!

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