Oh joy of joys, the holiday season has arrived! The season of pumpkin lattes, holiday jingles, and cheap tinsel is officially here. However magical, holiday season is an expensive time, filled with awkward family gatherings and long, long shopping lists. However, there are ways to survive the holiday season with your budget in tact. So before you dive head first into holiday hysteria, consider these 5 holiday spending tips to survive, and save money, this season.

1. Make sure you’re getting the best deal

With attractive discounts and a festive atmosphere, it can be hard not to fall victim to unwise purchases during the holiday season. Turns out, young adults spend the most during the festive season, with nearly half planning to spend more than last year, according to the National Retail Federation. Remember: Not all sales are created equal, so double check you’re getting the best deal and download a price comparison shopping app like ShopSavvy.

We also tend to fall for the word ‘free.’ Retailers use it excessively during holiday season and on days like Black Friday. Something happens in our brains when we see the word “free!” and we tend to overbuy to satisfy our need for ‘free.’ It’s irrational, and that purchase will probably end up being something you don’t need and never use. Here’s a good rule of thumb: If you would’ve paid the same amount whether or not ‘free’ was offered, great. But skip it if A) the offer requires you to spend more than you planned or B) the deal is part of a ‘buy two get one free,’ ‘three for the price of one,’ etc. type of offer.

 

2. Potluck holiday meals

There’s a ton of pressure around holiday meals. Even if you’re super excited to show off your Martha Stewart-esq dishes, all that fancy food can get expensive. Why not introduce a new holiday tradition and ask friends to bring a homemade dish with them. Make a fun game out of guessing who brought which dish, while you delight in devouring food you didn’t slave over.

And for those of you thinking, “let me just make a reservation at my favorite eatery…” consider this: Cathy Erway, author of The Art of Eating In, conducted an experiment of her own: she went out for every meal for a week to compare how her expenses looked when she ate out versus when she ate in. Turns out, she spent over $300 a week when she ate out, and only $30 a week when she ate in. So if you eliminate the option of going out, that’s 10x more money you can have towards your homemade, potluck holiday meal.

 

 

3. Shop online

A smart way to remove yourself from enticing holiday sales is to stay at home and browse the world wide web. Online shopping is an excellent and controlled way to keep a handle on your spending (because, let’s be real: it’s so hard to save money when the buy one, get one free sweaters are just so cute!) while still taking advantage of all the seasonal discounts. You’ll also be saving precious time, gas money, and you can even send gifts directly to the recipient, saving on shipping costs!

Here too, you’ll need to beware of your inner FOMO. Popups on your browser of “For a limited time only” and “Maximum 1 per customer” is lingo used by retailers to create the illusion of ‘scarcity’ when it comes to their items, because it creates a feeling of psychological arousal. If we see something’s scarce, we feel a slight high, and we want it. It’s the oldest trick in the book. James Mourey, author of Urge, backs that up. He says presenting an item as scarce, or a deal as limited,  gets shoppers thinking irrationally,  even if they know they could get that same item at a better price elsewhere.

4. Make a no-presents pact

Honestly, does cousin Toby really need another pair of novelty socks? Shopping for holiday gifts can get out of control and causes needless stress, not to mention the expensive price-tag. Encourage a no-presents pact this year and enjoy throwing away your gift list. If you really don’t want to forgo the gift-giving tradition, consider a crafty homemade gift for a personal touch.

5. Invest in experiences rather than gifts

The holiday season doesn’t need to be expensive to be memorable. Embrace some new holiday traditions, like a tour of the neighborhood holiday lights, or a holiday themed movie night for friends. Scour the web for inexpensive deals on experiences in your city, or check out sites like Tinggly where you can purchase an inspiring ‘experience box’ for a loved one.

We often confuse happiness (a new gift!) with meaningfulness (long-lasting experiences). While happiness and meaning often feed off each other, pursuing a happy life actually looks very different than seeking a meaningful life. This isn’t to say we should choose happiness or meaningfulness, but rather seek out a happy and balanced harmony of both. Give the gift of experiences to your loved ones- it’ll add much more than a fleeting happy moment.

 

‘Tis the season

The holiday season should be a magical time to connect with friends and family — but it’s so easy to get caught up in the spending frenzy during the holidays, especially when marketing campaigns are all geared to helping you empty your wallet. Introduce a few smart money-saving tips this year to avoid a hefty credit card bill come January 1.   

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