Consumers may be feeling the pressure to start their holiday shopping early. But buying gifts now probably isn’t such a good idea because many items will cost much less when they’re marked down in November and December. Consider, instead, getting a head start on your holiday savings. That is, by setting aside money over the next two months, either by spending less or earning more, you can save up to $1,000 or more to finance your holiday gift giving with cash rather than credit.
To help you reach your holiday savings goal, we’ve come up with several cost-cutting moves -- as well as several ways you can pull in extra cash. The actual savings and earnings in the examples below will vary (especially depending on which ones you can implement). But they do demonstrate that it is possible to find an extra $1,000 in your budget over two months.
Ways to save
Drop your land line. If you're paying $44 a month (AT&T's current rate for unlimited long-distance calling) for home phone service but rely mainly on your cell phone, eliminate this monthly expense. And to avoid having to pay more to get unlimited minutes for your cell phone, consider using a free Internet calling service to make calls from home. See How to Make Calls for Free for more information about these services. TWO MONTHS OF SAVINGS: $88
Cut the cost of smart phone service. If you’re no longer locked into your service provider’s two-year contract (the standard contract typically required when you purchase a smart phone), consider switching to a prepaid wireless provider. For example, you can get unlimited talk, text and data for $45 a month from Straight Talk Wireless, a prepaid carrier owned by TracFone that uses America's largest networks. AT&T, on the other hand, charges $109.99 a month for an individual plan with unlimited talk, text and 300 MB of data. So you can save nearly $65 a month by switching. TWO MONTHS OF SAVINGS: $130
Increase your home insurance deductible. You can cut the cost of your monthly premium by raising your deductible. I shaved $300 off my annual homeowners insurance premium by boosting my deductible from $1,000 to $2,000 a couple of years ago. That equates to a savings of $25 a month. To learn more about the money-saving benefits of boosting your deductible, see An Easy Way to Save on Homeowners Insurance. TWO MONTHS OF SAVINGS: $50
Brown bag it. That $5 deli sandwich you regularly buy for lunch might seem like a good deal. But if you do the math, you’ll find that you’re spending $25 a week (at least). You could buy a pound of deli meat for about $6 and a loaf of bread for about $2 or $3 and make sandwiches for a week for a little less than $10 -- saving you about $15 a week. TWO MONTHS OF SAVINGS = $120
Drive less. If you have a bike, consider leaving your car in the garage for the next two months and cycling to work. Half of the working population in the U.S. commutes five miles or less to work. So if your round trip is 10 miles, you can save $4.55 a day by biking rather than driving, according to our How Much Can I Save Bicycling to Work? calculator. TWO MONTHS OF SAVINGS = $182
Quit your vices. Easier said than done, right? By why wait until the New Year to resolve to get healthier? If you quit smoking or drinking now, you could save a lot over the next two months. Considering that the average cost of a pack of cigarettes is about $6, you could save $54 by Black Friday if you have a pack-a-week habit and a whopping $378 if you have a pack-a-day habit. If you cut out your nightly glass of wine or bottle of beer, you could easily save $10 a week or more (depending on the quality of booze you buy). Over the nearly nine weeks until Black Friday, you would save at least $90. See Six Healthy Habits That Will Save You Money for more on the financial benefits of quitting your vices. TWO MONTHS OF SAVINGS = $306 (for a moderate smoker and drinker)
Cut the cable cord. If you’re a TV junkie, this might be a tough money-saving move to make. But the savings can be significant. The average cable bill is $62 a month, according to the Federal Communications Commission. So consider cutting the cord and watching TV shows for free online or renting DVDs for $1 a night from Redbox kiosks. See Cut Your Cable Cord for cable TV alternatives. Or stop watching TV altogether and spend your free time looking for more ways to save money or trying the money-earning strategies listed below. TWO MONTHS OF SAVINGS = $124
TOTAL POTENTIAL SAVINGS = $1,000
For more ways to cut costs and put cash back in your wallet, see our 28 Ways to Waste Money slide show.
Ways to earn
Adjust your tax withholding. This is an easy way most people can earn more money. More than 100 million people received a tax refund in 2013, and the average refund was $2,651, according to the IRS. That means all those people are letting Uncle Sam hang on to too much of their money throughout the year. If you’re among those who got a refund, keep that money for yourself (or gifts for others) by filing a new W-4 with your employer to adjust your tax withholding. To find out how many exemptions you should be claiming, try our Easy-To-Use Tax Withholding Calculator. The changes will go into effect on your next paycheck. TWO MONTHS OF EARNINGS = $442 (based on the average refund)
Sell your stuff on consignment. Look around your house and in your closet – there’s bound to be stuff you no longer use or clothing you haven’t worn in years. You can turn these items into cash quickly without the hassle of selling them yourself by taking them to a consignment store. Look for upscale consignment stores that get a lot of traffic if you want top dollar for clothing, furniture, linens, china, glassware or artwork. Expect to split the profit 50/50 with the store. I recently made over $300 selling furniture and home accessories at consignment stores. See How to Sell Clothes on Consignment and What to Sell – and Not Sell – at Consignment Shops for tips. TWO MONTHS OF EARNINGS = $300
Participate in clinical trials. Put extra cash in your pocket by becoming a human guinea pig. Compensation depends on the nature of the trial and the amount of time involved, but payment can range from as little as $25 for a couple of hours of your time to thousands of dollars for longer-term commitments. You can research medical studies that might be recruiting participants at ClinicalTrials.gov (opens in new tab), a database run by the National Institutes of Health. Search by location to identify local trials. TWO MONTHS OF EARNINGS = $25 and up per trial
Get paid for your opinions. In-person focus groups run by marketing research firms such as Delve (opens in new tab) can pay $50 to $200 for your time. But its facilities are only in a handful of cities. Online and phone surveys offer another way to receive compensation for your opinions no matter where you live. Survey participants with firms such as Harris Interactive (opens in new tab) and Schlesinger Associates (opens in new tab) can rack up rewards points redeemable for gift cards, which you can use to do your holiday shopping. Plus, with every Harris Poll you complete, you’ll have a chance to enter a $10,000 sweepstakes. TWO MONTHS OF EARNINGS = $50 (minimum for a focus group; gift card amounts vary)
Join a street team. This is a way for young adults who are outgoing and articulate to earn some fast cash. Street teams promote products, films, albums, events and more by handing out samples, interacting with people on the street, or dressing as mascots. To get a job earning up to $25 an hour, sign up with a company such as Street Team Promotion (opens in new tab), which handles promotions in big cities nationwide. Make sure that the company has a contract that specifies when you’ll get paid. A more traditional way to earn cash for the holidays is to get a seasonal job. Retailers, restaurants, hotels and shipping and delivery companies often hire extra workers during the busy holiday season. Hourly rates will vary. Look for seasonal jobs at job-search sites such as CareerBuilder.com (opens in new tab) and Monster.com (opens in new tab), and check with local temp agencies and CraigsList. TWO MONTHS OF EARNINGS = $200 (working four hours per month on a street team)
TOTAL POTENTIAL EARNINGS = $1,017
For more ideas, see 11 More Ways to Get Extra Cash.
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