It’s not even Halloween yet, but you should be thinking about Christmas. That is, you should be figuring out now how you can prepare your budget for the winter holiday season.
Consumers spent an average of $730 on gifts, food, decorations and more for the winter holidays in 2013, according to the National Retail Federation. And a survey by deal site RetailMeNot.com found that consumers plan to shell out an average of $1,500 on gifts this year. If you plan to spend within that range, there are several ways to start trimming expenses now so you can fund your holiday purchases with cash rather than credit. In fact, we came up with several cost-cutting moves that can help you save $1,000 by Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, when you can get the best deals on many of your holiday purchases. Plus, we rounded up ways you can earn extra cash to boost your savings even more.
The actual savings and earnings in the examples below will vary (especially depending on which ones will actually work for you). But they do demonstrate that it is possible to find an extra $1,000 in your budget over two months.
Ways to save
Save at the supermarket. You can cut your grocery bill in half if you stock up on nonperishable items or foods that can be frozen when they’re deeply discounted and planning meals around what’s on sale and what you already have, says Teri Gault, founder and CEO of TheGroceryGame.com. Within a month, you should be able to stock up on most sale items, then you should be able to start benefiting from the strategy by month two (see all of Gault's tips to learn more). Considering the average consumer spends about $330 a month on food at home, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, you could cut your monthly grocery spending to $115. TWO MONTHS OF SAVINGS: $115 (one month of stockpiling, then a month of reaping the savings)
Stop dining out. The average consumer spent $2,652 on food away from home in 2013, according to BLS data. That breaks down to $221 a month, on average, for restaurant meals. Rather than dine out, invite friends over for a potluck meal or BYOB happy hour. To avoid having to eat out, plan quick and easy meals you can make for the days you’re pressed for time – or make extra on the days you do have time and freeze the leftovers. TWO MONTHS OF SAVINGS: $442
Cut the cost of smart phone service. If you’re no longer locked into your service provider’s contract, resist the urge to upgrade to an iPhone 6. Instead, hang on to your current phone and switch to a prepaid wireless provider. For example, you can get unlimited talk, text and data (speeds reduced after using 3GB of data) for $45 a month from a Straight Talk prepaid plan. AT&T, by comparison, charges $95 a month for unlimited talk, unlimited text and 4GB of data for its no-annual contract plan. TWO MONTHS OF SAVINGS: $100
Look for low-cost entertainment. Consumers spent $2,482, on average, on entertainment in 2013 – so about $207 a month – according to BLS data. You don’t have to stop going out entirely, but you can cut your monthly entertainment spending in half (or more) by taking advantage of free festivals and concerts in your city, free video streaming through services such as Hulu.com and free lectures at your public library or a nearby university. TWO MONTHS OF SAVINGS: $207 (based on cutting the average monthly entertainment expenditure of $207 in half)
Reshop your auto insurance. Chances are you’re paying too much for auto insurance. A 2013 study by NerdWallet found that Americans overpay an average of $368 a year to insure their vehicles because they don’t shop around for the lowest rates. To see if you can get a better deal from another insurer, use insurance comparison sites such as InsWeb and Insurance.com or visit TrustedChoice.com to find a local independent agent who can shop for you. See Why You Should Reshop Your Auto Insurance. TWO MONTHS OF SAVINGS: $61 (based on annual savings of $368)
Ditch your gym membership. If you’re paying for a gym membership but aren’t working out, you’re not alone. According to Statistic Brain, 67% of people with gym memberships never use them. Yet, they’re shelling out $58 a month, on average, for those memberships. Even if you are using your membership, you could be exercising for free by jogging in your neighborhood or checking out a fitness DVD from your public library. TWO MONTHS OF SAVINGS: $116
TOTAL POTENTIAL SAVINGS = $1,041
For more ways to cut costs and put cash back in your wallet, see our 30 Ways to Waste Money slide show.
Ways to earn
Adjust your tax withholding. The average federal tax refund was $2,689, according to the IRS. If you usually receive a big refund, why wait until next spring to get the money you really need now? Simply file a new W-4 form with your company’s payroll office to adjust your tax withholding, and your take-home pay should rise on your next payday. To determine how many exemptions you should claim, try our easy-to-use withholding calculator. POTENTIAL EARNINGS: $448 over two months (based on the average refund)
Turn unwanted electronics into cash. Don’t leave smart phones, tablets, computers or game consoles you’re no longer using in a desk drawer or the back of a closet. You can easily cash in on your unwanted electronics -- even damaged items -- by selling them online at sites such as Gazelle.com, NextWorth.com and uSell.com. For example, uSell.com is paying about $250 for a 16 GB iPhone 5s in good condition. POTENTIAL EARNINGS: $250
Redeem rewards points. One-third of all credit card rewards -- everything from airline miles to cash back -- worth a total of $16 billion go unredeemed each year, according to a study by marketing research firm Colloquy. Per household, that averages out to $205 worth of rewards a year that aren’t redeemed. So if you have a rewards card and haven’t cashed in your points lately, act now to get money for the holidays. Swapping points for a gift card from a retailer that you plan to purchase holiday gifts from is a good way to go. POTENTIAL EARNINGS: $205
Sell stuff on consignment. Chances are you have a few pieces of furniture sitting unused in your garage, clothes you no longer wear stashed in a storage box or maybe a kitchen playset your kids no longer enjoy. Take these items to consignment stores that get a lot of traffic to get top dollar. If you sell two pieces of furniture for $100 each, you’ll earn $50 per piece after the consignment store takes its cut. POTENTIAL EARNINGS: $100
TOTAL POTENTIAL EARNINGS: $1,003
For more ways to make money, see 25 Ways to Earn Extra Cash.
Award-winning journalist, speaker, family finance expert, and author of Mom and Dad, We Need to Talk.
Cameron Huddleston wrote the daily "Kip Tips" column for Kiplinger.com. She joined Kiplinger in 2001 after graduating from American University with an MA in economic journalism.
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