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5 tips for celebrating the holidays on a budget

Why does “the most wonderful time of the year” often end up feeling so stressful? When monthly expenses are hard enough to manage through summer and fall, how can you give your family a beautiful and memorable season and still live within your means?

Here are five tips for a joyful and triumphant holiday:

1. Focus your gifting with a gift-list app

Apps like Giftster, the Christmas Gift List, and Santa’s Bag, do all the hard work by keeping track of things like expenditures, clothing sizes of gift recipients and figuring out which stores carry what you’re looking for. There are several apps on the market, and each has unique features, so be sure to compare.

2. Get back when you give

Sites like our University Marketplace and Ebates (now can help you earn significant cashback. Thousands of stores pay a commission for sending you their way, meaning each dollar you spend will also partly be a gift back to yourself.

3. Save for gifts with an online savings account

Save a portion of each paycheck in an online savings account and build yourself some wiggle room with a designated gift-giving budget. It’s not too late to sock away a little something for this season, and if you start now, you’ll be set for next year. Capital One, Ally and Discover are a few banks that offer savings products with no fees or minimum balances.

4. Consider a non-conventional holiday

Your friends and family might equally feel the financial strain of the holidays. Suggest a liberated approach to celebrating this season of love. Make the holiday about spending quality time together — with no gifts, gifts only for children, or drawing names à la “Secret Santa.” Time and money saved will mean more chances to savor the fleeting moments of the season.

5. Give the gift of time

Could someone you know use a babysitter for a night out? Or a pet sitter for a weekend trip? Or maybe you have a skill that would help others, like gardening or organizing closets. Make a fancy coupon redeemable for your gift of time — a treasure worth its weight in gold.

With a little forethought and planning, you can take the stress out of the holidays and make them genuinely memorable — even on a tight budget.

By D.D. Kullman, Associate Creative Director, University of Phoenix