Genius Holiday Hacks To Save Serious $$$

Fact: This season is expensive. There’s no getting around the fact that, no matter how careful you are with your money, you’re likely going to spend more than you anticipate. From buying that emergency snack at the airport when your flight is delayed forever to holiday get-togethers to that obligatory White Elephant gift you have to bring to your office party, the expenses will add up. But once you accept that, it’s easier to find ways to seriously cut costs.

We spoke with experts to hear their tips for how to pick out presents for under $5, how to have a festive holiday party that you won't be paying off through January, and how to avoid that oh-so-hard-to-resist temptation to do some "one for you, one for me" purchasing. Click through for some serious $$$-saving strategies.

Thrift Stores Are The New Mall
Thrift stores can be great places to find inexpensive decorations and the perfect outfit for those ugly-sweater parties, not to mention a resource for one-of-a-kind gifts. And you can’t beat the bargains: At Savers, a chain of thrift stores throughout the United States and Canada, 96% of items are priced under $10.
Go To The Dollar Store
The best place to buy wrapping paper and holiday ornaments is the dollar store, says Patrice Williams, author of Looking Fly on a Dime. Bringing baked goods to a party? Grab inexpensive serving platters to make your homemade gift look more upscale than a flimsy paper plate or plastic container would.
Download Honey
This Chrome extension searches and applies online discount codes so you can easily get the best deals.
Never Pay Full Price For A Gift Card
File this under awesome holiday hack: Buying gift cards online through a discount site like Gift Card Granny or Cardpool makes it easy to give big on a budget. And you can either give the gift card or use it to buy personalized presents from your favorite stores for a fraction of the price.
Avoid Shipping Costs
December 16 is Free Shipping Day, when participating retailers waive shipping fees, often with no minimum purchase. Another trick: Roadie is a new delivery service where people already driving somewhere do door-to-door delivery (and your stuff is insured, so you don’t have to worry about it going missing).
Get The Best $10 Red
Instead of grabbing the cheapest wine on display without considering the quality, download Vivino. All you have to do is screenshot the label and you get back info on ratings and pairings, so you can bring the best cheap bottle for that annual holiday shindig.
Make A Message In A Bottle
“My friends and I all give gifts, but one year I was seriously broke. Instead of putting presents on my credit card, I bought inexpensive vintage bottles at a thrift store, then wrote a note about how much I loved my friends. I rolled up the note, put it in a bottle, and gave them out. They were big hits!” says a user on social media site Yik Yak. The point: Even if you’re not creative, a DIY gift is possible and can make a big impact.
Plan For The Unexpected
Here’s the thing: No matter how carefully you plan your spending, you will have something random come up this season, says Rachel Cruze, personal-finance expert and author of Love Your Life, Not Theirs. Make sure you factor in a “miscellaneous expenses” bucket when you’re planning how much to spend this season to insure that you won’t have a last-minute surprise.
Skip The Gift Wrap
“The markup on wrapping paper and accessories (ribbons, bows, etc.) is at its highest starting in November — a whopping 300% more than the identical products mid-summer,” says Mike Catania, cofounder of Promotion Code, a site that features promotion codes across retailers. “Rather than wasting money on paper that's going to be torn up, leave newspapers to fade in the sun and tie packages with bundling twine. The whiter you fade the paper and the tighter you're wrapping corners, the better the old-time-Christmas feel, and you can wrap a family's worth of gifts for under $5.”
Stack Online Codes
“Many stores offer promotion codes for their online customers, and finding a working code can make a consumer feel like they've struck a great deal. Rather than stopping at one successful code, a lot of merchants will allow the input of multiple codes, even though they don't explicitly say so on the site,” says Catania.
Make A List
Getting organized can help you save money, reminds etiquette expert April Masini, who advises people on how to avoid tricky money situations. “Have someone look over your list to make sure you haven’t missed anyone.” And don’t follow a boozy brunch with holiday shopping, she advises: “You’ll just spend more money on impulse purchases.”
Get Social
Follow your favorite brands on social media so you’ll be the first to know of a sale, says Jon Lal, CEO and founder of cash-back and coupon site BeFrugal. On Facebook, like the brand’s page and opt to “see first” so they come up on your newsfeed. On Instagram, turn on post notifications. You can always turn them off after you’ve finished all your holiday shopping.
Sign Up For Sale Text Alerts
A lot of major retailers, such as Bed Bath & Beyond and Payless, offer promo codes via text, says Trae Bodge, smart-shopping expert for sale site Yroo.com. Annoying at other times of the year, but absolutely worth it for the holidays.
Order Groceries Online
Planning a party? “If you've never shopped online for groceries before, the Christmas season is a great time to start,” suggests a rep for home-cleaning service Helpling. “Many supermarkets offer discounts of up to 20% off for your first online grocery order, as long as you spend their usual minimum of $40 to $60. These offers can be doubled up with coupons, free-delivery deals, and ‘three for the price of two’ offers. And if you've been ordering your groceries online for a while now, consider swapping supermarkets to take advantage of new customer offers.”
Keep Your Receipts
“You need your receipt for returns, exchanges, and most especially for price-matching!” reminds Jamie Novak, organizing expert and author of Keep This Toss That. Have a single spot where you stash your paper receipts so you can find them should you need them. If they are paperless receipts, add a "tag" or move them to a single folder for easy access.
Clean Your Pad
Sounds random, but you may actually have what you need wedged deep in your closet. So before you buy anything, take a look around. And get creative when decorating for a party: “I was going to buy risers for the table so my food trays would be at varying levels. Turns out a few stacks of books in varying heights underneath the tablecloth gave me the same effect!” says Novak.
Pack Snacks
Yes, the drive-through latte is so tempting when you’ve got a billion errands to run. Since we tend to spend more time in our cars and in stores this time of year, Novak recommends toting a lunch bag with a few munchies. “Hot cocoa in a travel mug and some cookies or some single-serve snacks can save you lots of time and money!” she says.
Embrace A Basic Look
“Basic white paper goods, tablecloths, and even wrapping paper are usually much less expensive than their fancy decorative counterparts. Go for mostly basic white plates and napkins, then sprinkle in an accent color to jazz it up,” says Novak. “Plus, a bonus savings is you can use these items all year round by simply swapping out the accent color to match the occasion.”
Go Low-Key On NYE
Instead of buying a pricey open-bar ticket (and even pricier outfit), opt for a sleepover hangout with your favorites. Book a cabin or cottage, or host at your home. “For New Year’s, we decided instead of going all out and purchasing tickets for a big party, we will be going to the country and invited some of our close friends. We are putting together an intimate dinner, and [will] get in some quality time versus the hangovers and ringing ears,” says Heather Grabin, founder of publicity and marketing firm AichG.
Undo The Gift Set
A quick and dirty way to give for less: Buy the gift set and individually gift the items. “You could even pick up a large box of individually wrapped chocolates from a warehouse store, where they are sold for less, and wrap them in holiday-printed cellophane bags with a pretty bow to give as hostess gifts or to coworkers without breaking the bank,” suggests financial expert Andrea Woroch.
Use A Basket Instead Of A Cart
Random and easy way to save: Instead of loading up your shopping cart, grab a basket, suggests Woroch. “The bigger the cart, the less full it feels and the more compelled you are to fill it with things you likely don’t need. The heavy and more full the basket gets, the more aware you will become of the contents, and [it'll] help you realize there are things you don’t need.”
Have A 24-Hour Rule
“Rein in your spending by analyzing potential purchases carefully," says Woroch. “Whenever you find yourself picking up something you didn’t plan to, give yourself 24 hours to think it over before making the purchase. If there’s something that’s on sale that you’re worried about selling out, or a one-day-only deal that may pass you, give yourself until the end of your shopping trip so you have enough time to think over the purchase. Walk away from the item and don’t put it in your cart. Oftentimes that urge to buy will pass, and you will realize you can live without it! Same goes with online shopping.”
Shop Through Your Credit Card Mall
This is a section of your credit card’s website where they partner with major retailers and let you pay with points or with plastic. If you pay with plastic, you earn more points than you may have if you’d bought the item somewhere else, says Roman Shteyn, CEO of travel-savings site RewardExpert.
DIY A Signature Cocktail
Hosting a holiday party? Sounds like more work, but experts say that you’ll actually save money in the long run if you look up a few easy cocktail recipes. And, of course, asking friends to bring booze can always help stretch the festivities without overspending.
Watch Out For Self-Gifting
According to the National Retail Federation, people buy themselves nearly $140 in presents during the holiday season. “If possible, work a little wiggle room into your budget for a must-have splurge, but keep it frugal; and when you see must-haves for yourself, keep a list and let other people know what you want,” says Kendal Perez, savings expert for Coupon Sherpa.
Volunteer
Seriously have no money? The old-fashioned “I owe you” book can be a major hit, says Michael Thiemann, CEO of personal-finance company Zebit. For example, if your friends or siblings have young kids, they may appreciate a night of babysitting in January way more than another candle or scarf.
Traveling? Make Savings Simple
“While en route to your destination, use apps to help you cut costs on food, fuel, and other services,” suggests Woroch. “GasBuddy helps roadtrippers navigate to the cheapest fuel prices in their area, while LoungeBuddy helps the airport-bound find free or one-time-fee lounges in which to kill time between flights.”
Buy Framed Photos Of Your Squad
Most photo sites have 20% off promotions at this time of year. Take advantage of the deal to actually print out some of those photos you’ve got on your phone. Pick out a pretty, inexpensive frame, and voilà, you’ve got a meaningful gift for a fraction of the price.
Random Present? Save It For Next Year
Whether it’s a random ornament, a bottle of booze, or a pair of holiday-themed socks that you received but don’t love, keep the tags on for gift options for 2017. One trick: Make sure you put a label on the gift saying whom it’s from so you avoid regifting to the same person.
Wait Until After Christmas
Having a gift exchange with your friends? Instead of doing it before the holidays, when everyone’s schedule is likely to be swamped anyway, save the date for the week before New Year's Day. Everyone’s still in the holiday spirit, and you can save big on gifts through sales. Yes, it’s sneaky. But it’s so worth it.