12 holiday savings tips

Budgeting by values

Cash in on these fun and simple savings ideas so you can focus more on enjoying the holiday season. 

It’s a great feeling when the halls are decked and you’re still on budget. And it’s an even better feeling when you know your holiday spending aligns with what you care about. As you come together to celebrate and share care this season, you can take some extra joy in knowing you’re in control of your money.

Find out how you can spend less this holiday season with these ideas for 12 days of holiday savings. 

1. Create a holiday budget and check it twice.

In 2023, holiday shoppers anticipate spending $786 on gifts, $510 on travel, and $234 on entertainment.Disclosure 1 How do you prepare for all of that holiday spending? Since gold rings and swans a-swimming can add up quickly, start by creating a budget based on your unique values, which can help you keep your spending in check and save for the holidays.

Download Super Budget Spreadsheet (XLSX)

Pro tip: Enter your holiday budget in the “Christmas” field on the “Occasional Expenses” tab.

Your budget should include details about the gifts you plan to buy, travel expenses, food costs, decorations, and any plans for charitable donations. Once your budget aligns with what matters most to you, it can help you spend in caring ways during the holidays. 

graphic with text Expected holiday spending: Gifts - $786; Travel - $510; Entertainment - $234

2. Be open and honest about gift giving.

A great way to stay on budget for the holidays is to be honest about what you can afford—and know that if you need to cut back on spending this year, that’s OK.

“Holidays can tend to be out of control,” says Bright Dickson, co-host of the Money and Mindset podcast. “Advocate for what your needs are around gift giving this holiday season. It’s a way of defining the space.”

She also says to be mindful of urges to “stress spend”—where you may feel pressure or an urge to buy something that’s not covered in your budget as a way of relieving stress. Check in with yourself and think mindfully before making any impulse purchases that could get in the way of caring for more important financial goals.

3. Get creative with your decorations this holiday season.

Trim expensive holiday decor and installations from your budget by going DIY. Invite friends and family over and make a weekend of getting crafty. Search DIY hashtags on social media for holiday craft ideas and inspiration.

When buying decorations, look to invest in items you can reuse for years to come to keep the cost of your decor down. For those big-ticket decorations, consider waiting to buy them in January, when holiday decorations are likely to be the most discounted—you may score a deal and then have them for the next holiday season. Think about the energy cost of your light display, too, and twinkle efficiently. Opt for LED light strands, which last longer, can be reused for years, and use up to 70% less energy than conventional bulbs.Disclosure 2

4. Skip store credit cards.

You’re at the checkout and are offered a one-time discount of 20% if you open a store credit card. Savings are savings, right? Maybe not. These cards can carry high interest rates and pricey fees—plus, they can enable overspending when the urge strikes to get just one more present.

Read more: 5 common credit score mistakes you can easily avoid

Opening a new credit card can also take points off your credit score. But if your score is in a good place (aim for 720 or higher) and you’re interested in getting a new credit card to cash in on rewards, consider cards that offer points or cash back on everyday expenses. You can accumulate rewards throughout the year, then use them as part of your next holiday budget.

Signing up for email or text promotions from your favorite retailers during the holidays can be another way to score discounts on things you were already planning to buy. But if you wind up getting too many emails that tempt you to overspend, don’t feel bad for hitting that “unsubscribe” button.

5. Make smart substitutions.

Is there anything better than the smell of fresh cookies baking during the holidays? With cooking being a part of many holiday traditions and grocery prices rising, you may be spending a good portion of your budget on food. Think about substitutions that can help make your menu more affordable. If you can, choose recipes you can make with items you’ve already got in your pantry—or find ways to replace missing ingredients with items you have on hand. (Pro tip: Need buttermilk? You can combine regular milk with lemon juice or vinegar instead to save yourself a trip to the store.)

Factor in smaller gatherings too, and adjust recipes to reduce food waste. Consider opting for a roasted chicken instead of a whole turkey.

6. Shop smart.

Start by doing some research. Look online to compare the cost of the same item at different retailers. If your first choice isn’t available, check for comparable gift alternatives.

A few other ways to find discounts and deals include:

Remember, not all discounts are created equal. Some retailers may inflate prices and then mark down products to simulate a sale. And even when something is on sale, check the unit price on your grocery store price tags to avoid falling victim to “shrinkflation.”

If one of your values is supporting your local community, searching for gifts from local and small businesses may feel good, too.

7. Share the host hat.

Some of us live for holiday hosting. By the time the bar is stocked and the charcuterie board designed, you might think to yourself, “Did I really need to buy eight types of fancy cheese?” Save on your holiday party by buddying up with a co-host. Splitting costs and hosting duties can help give your bank account a break.

Another tip is to host a seasonal potluck. Create the atmosphere for a smaller number of friends and family to gather, and let everyone pitch in. If you’ve been invited to a potluck, bring a dish that’s within your budget.

8. Be present.

Save presents for the kids and show the adults in your life care by giving your uninterrupted presence.

Make yourself available for playing games, building snowmen, watching movies, or volunteering together. Being present can also mean a good catch-up video call or playing a virtual game with friends or family who can’t be there in person.

When connecting this way, be sure to set time aside for just that, so there aren’t distractions pulling your attention away. Spending time and attention—not money—can make for healthier relationships and a lighter season.

9. Put a twist on your Holiday gift lists.

Focus on core family members and close friends for your holiday gift list. If that list is still too long for your budget, propose a holiday gift exchange, Secret Santa style. Draw names from a hat and give one meaningful present to one person. Plan to exchange gifts over cider and hot cocoa.

10. Think outside the perfectly wrapped box.

Making memories together can often bring more lasting joy than store-bought items. Consider gifting an experience rather than a tangible item. Free or inexpensive ideas include planning a Christmas scavenger hunt for the kids in your family or taking loved ones for a hike or picnic at one of your favorite outdoor spots. Or, you can gift experiences within a predetermined budget—like gifting tickets for a pottery class or a day at the museum. If you have a bigger budget, you could consider even bigger experiences—like renting a beach house over the summer for your whole family.

11. Consider other ways to give.

Doing something for someone else during the holiday season is a great way to show you care. It doesn’t have to involve money. Small gestures like writing a letter to a veteran, walking dogs at a local animal shelter, or simply giving someone a compliment go a long way. Many organizations may be hosting holiday supply drives or other donation events so they can continue their missions.

If you do want to spend, give to a cause that’s close to your heart or—even better—close to home. Being an active part of making your community better is sure to inspire cheer.

12. Treat yourself responsibly.

While caring for others this holiday season, practice some self-care, too. Give yourself a gift—even if it’s something small. If you’re buying something big for yourself, consider if you’ll use, cherish, or remember the present come February, March, or beyond. It’s a good practice to treat yourself as long as you’re staying within your budget and caring for your financial and mental health.

Want to be even more prepared for holiday shopping next year? Starting now, save a little each week or month for the next holiday season. The sooner you start setting money aside for it, the better you can feel going into the holiday season.

Next steps:

  • Get more confident about your gift budget by reading up on how much you should spend on gifts.
  • If you’re planning to open a new credit card as part of your holiday spending strategy, consider taking advantage of these credit card options from Truist.
  • Explore ways to gift more intentionally this holiday season.

This content does not constitute legal, tax, accounting, financial, or investment advice. You are encouraged to consult with competent legal, tax, accounting, financial, or investment professionals based on your specific circumstances. We do not make any warranties as to accuracy or completeness of this information, do not endorse any third-party companies, products, or services described here, and take no liability for your use of this information.