4 Ways to Save Money During the Holidays
By Holly Mangan, Guest Columnist
This time of the year I feel like I'm at the beginning of a sprinter's race, and the announcer says "Ready? Set? Go…into debt."
Christmas gifts, festivities with friends and family, and celebrating New Year's Eve all too often translate into massive credit card debt once the holidays are over. But this season, debt doesn't have to be inevitable. There are ways to save on just about every expense you'll face. In addition to scouring stores and the Internet for the best deals, consider tweaking your approach to better afford the whole shebang.
1. Save on restaurant meals. Be smart when dining out with friends or family. In lieu of an appetizer, enjoy the bread or other finger foods provided gratis. However, if an appetizer particularly appeals, order it as your entrée to save money. Furthermore, if you and your family order water instead of soda, you can save hundreds of dollars over the course of the year.
Of course, the biggest restaurant expense is alcohol. While the right wine or beer can make a meal great, that pleasure comes at a substantial price. You don't have to forgo your drink of choice, but your bill will be more manageable if you limit yourself to one drink. Another option (especially if your dinner party is large) is to bring your own bottle of wine to a restaurant that is amenable. Always call in advance to ask about the corkage fee.
2. Save on party expenses. If you're playing host or hostess this year, give your guests the opportunity to showcase their culinary skills or share a favorite family recipe. In other words, make it a potluck event. You'll save on food costs, prep time and cleanup.
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 classy, tasteful and a brilliant way to save money.
3. Save on decoration costs. If you typically eschew discount stores, it's time to broaden your horizons. At discount retailers, for example, you can find quality holiday decor and greeting cards at less than half the price of what you'd spend on the same thing elsewhere. Try a dollar store for wrapping supplies. You don't have to sacrifice quality to save on price -- you just need to know where to look.
On the other hand, nothing says "holiday" like homemade. For a festive night in with friends or family, throw a craft party to create homemade holiday decorations and greeting cards. Search online for ideas and create a list of supplies. Gather what you already have on-hand, and before you visit a craft store for the remainder, check the selection at the dollar store.
4. Save on entertainment. Most forms of holiday entertainment are expensive. But you do have one great option that is always free. Whether or not you take part, undoubtedly you know of one or more neighborhoods where everyone goes all out decorating their homes. It's likely that you drive through these neighborhoods each year to get a look at the latest and greatest in LED lighting and nativity scenes. This year, get everyone bundled up, bring a thermos for warm drinks and make the outing last by walking the streets instead of driving them.
Otherwise, look for free holiday concerts and other low- or no-cost events. Most towns and large cities have a plethora of offerings, and you can find these online or in the entertainment pages of your local newspaper. And always search for discounts before you purchase tickets. For example, if you go to the movies on Christmas day, search for discount theater gift cards at a site such as Plastic Jungle, or visit daily deal sites such as Groupon to find tickets for less.
When it comes down to it, the holidays are about enjoying yourself and having fun with friends and family -- and not about saving money, which is why this time of year is often so expensive. But it doesn't have to be. With a little ingenuity and a positive outlook, you can save oodles without sacrificing an ounce of quality or fun.
What other ways can you think of to save money during the holidays?
Holly Mangan is the managing editor of Money Crashers Personal Finance, a site that shares tips and tricks related to smart shopping, frugality, investing and careers.