John Gower is a writer for NerdWallet.com, a consumer finance comparison website.

The holiday season is on the horizon, so it’s time to start preparing. If you’re concerned about going over budget this year, it’s important to plan ahead. That means saving money on everything you need this holiday season, which may require a little creativity and strategic thinking. Here are ideas we came up with:


Gift Spending

Buying presents for everyone on your list is not only stressful, it’s also quite pricey. However, there are many ways to save money on gifts, and avoid spending money you really don’t have, including:

  • Comparison Shop Online: Before heading out to the mall, get online and comparison shop for the items on your list. This will help you to find the store with the cheapest price, so you don’t pay more than necessary for any item.
  • Make Homemade Gifts: Instead of giving store-bought gifts to everyone on your list, give out some thoughtful handmade items. You don’t have to be super crafty to pull this off either ─ websites like Real Simple and Martha Stewart Living are filled with inexpensive, fabulous gift ideas that are also very easy to make.
  • Start a Gift Exchange: Instead of buying gifts for each person in a large family or a big group of friends, have everyone put their names in a hat and let each person draw a name. This way everyone gets one nice gift and no one goes broke.
  • Buy Gifts with a Debit Card or Cash: If you do have a list of people to buy presents for, avoid using credit cards when possible. Pay for gifts with a regular debit card or cash to make sure you don’t go beyond your means even when it’s the season of giving.
Holiday Decorations

The holiday season is all about traditions, so there’s no reason to buy new decorations each year. Use what you already have to make sentimental decorations that are unique to your family:

  • Buy Artificial: Instead of spending money on a live Christmas tree and real poinsettias, purchase artificial ones. Many of these models look so realistic these days people may not even be able to tell they’re fake!
  • Wrap Hanging Pictures: Instead of buying elaborate holiday wall décor, simply wrap your existing frames in wrapping paper from the dollar store. It’s a fun, festive, and inexpensive way to literally deck your halls for the season.
  • Replace Light Bulbs: While you may not want to put the effort into replacing burned out bulbs on a string of lights, it can save you a lot of money over time. Buy a box of replacement lights and you’ll be able to keep the same strands for many years.
Travel Expenses

Getting out of town can be a fantastic way to spend the holidays. However, many people have this same idea, so traveling during this time of the year can be very pricey. Save money this holiday season by:

  • Booking Early: Making advance reservations for flights, hotel rooms, and rental cars can save you hundreds, maybe even thousands of dollars. Popular destinations are a hot commodity to begin with, but as the holidays approach they become even more in demand, driving prices higher.
  • Considering Alternative Lodging: Instead of staying in a traditional hotel room, consider renting an alternate space, such as someone’s house. Many people offer their homes up for rent on websites like Airbnb when they’re out of town, which you can get for the fraction of the price of a hotel room. You’ll also get a full kitchen with most rentals, so you can save money on eating out.
  • Using Flexible Dates: Being flexible with your travel dates can save you a great deal of money. It’s far more expensive to travel on some days during the holidays than others, which you can check on the TSA’s page about significant travel days. If your travel dates aren't set in stone, book your flight on a cheaper day and time slot to get deep discounts.
Food

If you’re hosting family at your home this holiday season, you’re probably already thinking about the food you’ll prepare for your guests. You may also be wondering how much groceries will cost you. Consider these cost cutting methods:

  • Restaurants: If you know you’re going to have a house full of finicky eaters with special diets, you might actually save money by making a reservation at a local restaurant, instead of having to prepare an overload of dishes.
  • Coupons: Despite what some may think, coupon clipping isn't dead. You’d be surprised at how much money you can save with a few valuable deals on big-ticket food items. However, don’t forget to check out prices at competing grocery stores to make sure that coupon is truly as valuable as it seems.
  • Potluck: Assign each guest an item to bring to your holiday celebration. Not only will this save money, it will give you some extra time to enjoy the party.
Meet the challenge of saving money head on this holiday season! If done properly, cutting costs doesn't have to take any of the fun out of the celebration.