Rounding it up
The holidays are always expensive, but there are ways to reduce the financial burden
With inflation going up, interest rates on the rise, and gas and food prices through the roof, there’s extra incentive to save money this year
With a little research and planning – and maybe doing things a little differently – you can save money these holidays on travel, gifts, activities, and groceries
Another year in the books (well, almost). There’s no denying that 2022 has been a difficult year. A lingering pandemic, rising interest rates, global supply chain issues, and gas and food prices through the roof because of inflation. This has been an expensive year for many.
And now we’re heading into one of the priciest times of year. Traditionally, the holidays can get costly – with extra money needed to cover travel to see family, to buy gifts, and to host or contribute to holiday parties.
There can be pressure to do or buy certain things – but holiday spending should never put you into financial trouble. Read on for five ways to save money during the holidays.
Save money on travel
With family members spread out, you might need to travel this holiday season. The usual travel options this year are both expensive: airfares are expensive, gas is expensive. So, what to do?
Start by doing your research to see if flying or driving is cheaper. If you’re flying, take into account the price of a transit or a taxi to get you to the airport, any food you might buy at the airport, everything that adds up. Similarly for driving, map out the kilometres, check the price of gas, add in any food or accommodation along the way, and see which works out best in your favour.
If you’re flying or needing to rent a car, you can ensure you’re getting the best prices by setting up booking alerts through websites and apps like Kayak, Expedia, and Google Flights. Set alerts for specific dates, routes, and destinations, and the sites will send you notifications when prices drop, so you know you’re getting a deal.
It’s also worth considering taking a train or bus. Though they take longer, the money you save may be worth the trade-off for a slower journey. And though we all want to be together on the big holiday occasions, if it makes sense for everyone to get together in January instead of December, travel prices often drop considerably after the busy period.
Finally, use your points! If you have a credit card that’s been earning points – particularly airmiles – now might be the time to use them. Explore your points situation and see if you can redeem any for holiday flights. You can also use points for online purchases and gift cards, to cut down on the money you’re spending on gifts.
Save money on gifts
The holidays shouldn’t be all about expensive gifts. That’s not exactly the spirit of the season. There are many ways to give wonderful, thoughtful, creative gifts that don’t cost an arm and a leg. Gifts don’t need to be expensive to be enjoyed.
To save money, set spending limits among your family and friends so no one goes overboard. Or, to cut down on buying a gift or multiple gifts for everyone, you can do Secret Santa or White Elephant, where everyone buys one gift for someone else for an agreed amount of money. That way everyone still gets something and you get to enjoy the game elements of the experience.
Homemade gifts are another way to save money. Bake cookies, knit something, make candles or art, print out photos and create a collage, or make something else you know your loved ones will appreciate. Services can also buy fantastic gifts – consider offering help as a gift. Offer to babysit your nieces and nephews to give your siblings a break, build or fix something for your friends, or clean and run errands for your grandparents. Make vouchers they can trade in for your services.
And make sure you’re also reducing, recycling, and reusing. Have a great book you think someone will love? Regift it and add a nice inscription. Old retro hockey shirt you no longer wear? Your niece or nephew might love that. Cards and wrapping paper can also be a huge expense. Save funds by making your own wrapping out of paper, boxes, paper shopping bags, and used wrapping paper you might have put aside during the year. Virtual greeting cards are another great cheap (or free) idea.
Save money on activities
Holiday activities, events and celebrations can seem a little less jolly as they’re nearly bankrupting you. Vendors and venues often charge a premium during the holidays. But if you do your research and choose widely there’s a lot of joy to be had in free or cheap activities everywhere. Remember to always bring snacks and drinks with you from home to avoid the temptation of buying overpriced goods.
From November through to late December, there are many Christmas-themed attractions, markets, events, and attractions that pop up in towns and cities across Canada. Some can be pricey, but many are spectacular and cheap – even free! These can be a great way to spend time with family and friends, without blowing the bank.
Many larger cities – and some smaller ones too – host lights tours with thousands of twinkling lights and elaborate decorations and these are usually free. In Vancouver, for example, the Lights at Lafarge Lake has more than 100,000 Christmas lights strung up throughout the park. The Lions Festival of Lights in Calgary boasts 1 million lights! In Halifax, Evergreen Bright is a walkable outdoor trail of lights and storefront displays. In Toronto, the Distillery Winter Market features high-glamour decorations and a 50-foot Christmas tree designed by Dior (free entry during the day and certain nights), and the holiday window display tour in The Junction has 40 augmented reality artworks.
For a special trans-Canadian activity, rally the group and take in the once-a-year CP Holiday Train. This lit-up festive freight train travels from Quebec in the east to the BC coast in the west, from November 27 to December 18. You can track its progress as it travels west across the country. Find a spot to watch it chug past or attend one of 100 or so free concerts along its route. At the concerts, CP invites donations of cash or non-perishable food, which is given to food banks.
With a little creativity and planning, you can create new traditions, have a blast, and save money by staying home.
Holiday decor doesn’t have to cost a fortune. Turn decorating into a holiday activity tradition, with craft activities for the whole family. Christmas trees can be really expensive. Like, really expensive. There are cute and fun alternatives you can make at home, like driftwood trees, wall hangings, plywood cut-outs, and more. These can be particularly exciting for kiddos if they get involved in making the decorations. Make your own front door wreath with branch clippings, twigs, material offcuts, or baubles, instead of buying one. And add colour and texture to your home by crafting strings of pompoms from wool, or cutting paper into snowflake shapes.
Save money on groceries
Inflation has driven up the prices of almost everything. Some luxury ingredients can be difficult to justify this year. There are some great options to help keep down your holiday meal costs, though.
Turkey is expensive, especially this year. Rather than buying a show-stopping huge bird which – let’s be honest – is usually way too much food anyway, opt for a smaller whole turkey, buy just a turkey breast, or sub in a cheaper meat like chicken or ham, or even opt to go meat-free. Go heavy on cheaper vegetable sides to bulk out the meal. And use a servings calculator to work out how much food to prepare to ensure you’re not over budgeting. You could also try a potluck with family and friends, so the financial load is shared – and the bonus of a potluck is that no one will be stuck in the kitchen all day so everyone can spend more time enjoying each other’s company.
It’s important to always maximize your savings from grocery stores. Most major grocers have points programs, so you need to be registered and accumulating points which you can redeem as discounts towards your groceries. Check out apps and sites like Flipp and Red Flag Deals which source vouchers and codes for grocery savings. And plan ahead – if it’s cheaper to buy now and freeze, then that can be a sensible choice.
Save by using cash or a prepaid card
A great way to track your spending – and ensure you’re not overspending – is to only spend cash (or a cash alternative, like a prepaid card). The trick is to set aside only the amount of money you’re going to spend. Once that money is spent, your shopping is complete.
While taking out cash is easy enough, there are drawbacks. Cash is not necessarily secure (imagine losing your Christmas cash before buying all your necessities!) and with cash you can’t shop online. A reloadable prepaid card is a good alternative. It acts much like cash – in that you can only spend what you’ve made available – but it’s safer and you can use it for online shopping to boot.
With the KOHO prepaid Mastercard you’re only ever spending the money you add to it, so you can’t overspend and you can’t go into debt. With a KOHO prepaid Mastercard you get 1% cash back on groceries and transportation and up to 10% cash back with preferred partners. Additionally, there are no monthly fees and no minimum account balance requirements.
Final thoughts on how to save money during the holidays
It’s a cliche here to say you should “make a list and check it twice”. But, well, to help curb your spending you really do need to make a list. And you need to be checking regularly, not just twice. If you’re not sticking to your plans, spending can get away from you. Make a budget – listing out the money you want to spend on gifts per person, groceries, decorations, travel, and entertainment – and stick to that budget.
By using these money saving holiday hacks, you can take some of the financial stress out of the holidays. Spend sensibly, make memories with family and friends, and enjoy a debt-free holiday period.
Sam Boyer spends, invests, budgets, and writes. He enjoys writing about things he wishes he’d learned earlier — like spending, investing, and budgeting. A journalist originally from New Zealand, Sam has written extensively about consumer affairs, insurance, travel, health, and crime.