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Holiday hustle: 4 ways to save on gifts


This article has been vetted by University of Phoenix's editorial advisory committee. 
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Bronson Ledbetter

Reviewed by Bronson Ledbetter, MBA, Vice President, Student Services and Financial Operations

At a glance

The rising price of Christmas shopping

Saving money can be difficult at any time of year, especially when you’re paying for tuition on top of living expenses. Factor in the holidays, however, and it’s a whole other ball game. How do we keep the Christmas season affordable without feeling like Scrooge?

Christmas shopping has rebounded in a big way after the pandemic. According to a 2023 Deloitte holiday survey, consumers plan to spend an average $1,652 making merry, and 75% of us plan to “self-gift” along the way.

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For those in search of Christmas shopping money-saving tips, however, there is hope. Many are already familiar with the advice to:

  • Set a budget and stick to it
  • Set up a secret Santa exchange among friends and family
  • Shop early and look for sales
  • Invest in an artificial tree in lieu of a live one
  • Make your own gifts

These are all good ideas, but what if you aren’t crafty, and it’s too late to shop early? Don’t despair! Here’s some Christmas shopping money advice everyone can use.

1.    Winnow your holiday gift list

When you commit to limiting your gift-giving to your inner circle, you help yourself and others. How many times has a co-worker, fellow student or casual friend given you a Christmas present you don’t really need (a mug, a candle, a scarf) or want? A gentle conversation about forgoing traditional gifts may come as a relief to the other party, who may be longing for the same thing.

And do you really need to buy a Christmas gift for your kids’ teachers, your neighbor or delivery people? If it feels more like an obligation than an opportunity, it may be a sign to cut them from your list.

Alternatively, you may choose to downsize your gifts instead of the number of people you’re giving to. There are many individuals who make our lives easier in some way, but they will likely get just as much enjoyment from a small gift card for coffee or a plate of home-baked cookies than an expensive candle or throw.

2.    Go shopping online

For busy students, you can’t beat online shopping when it comes to saving time and savoring a wide selection of options. Virtual shopping during Christmas can also help prevent impulse buys generated by attractive store displays. You can always load up your online cart, after all, and then sleep on it before clicking “Buy” the next day.

Price comparisons are also easier to make online, especially with certain browser extensions, like Honey or Rakuten, which check prices all over the internet.) Just remember to factor in shipping costs for online purchases, or bundle your buys to meet the retailer’s threshold for free shipping.

The end-of-year holiday season is also a good time to redeem all those credit card points you’ve accumulated throughout the year. You can also save money with cash-back apps that offer coupons, price breaks or redeemable points and by patronizing department stores that offer in-store rebates.

Finally, don’t overlook secondhand outlets like eBay and Poshmark as a source of unusual, vintage or designer gifts at a discount.

3.    Use credit wisely

As with any time you use credit: Be careful! Christmas debt can snowball with interest and late-payment penalties.

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If you do use credit cards, opt for one with low interest (but try to pay your balance in full when you get your statement), or use one that offers cash back or other rewards.

If you really need hard limits to avoid spending temptations, you can purchase a prepaid card for a fixed amount, like $500. Once that is spent, your shopping is done.

4.    Find alternatives to traditional Christmas gifts

I used to work at a large bank, and in place of the annual Secret Santa gift exchange, we had an ethnic potluck luncheon each year. Every employee brought in a dish representing their culture or ethnicity. It was so much fun sampling homemade dishes from my Indian, Russian, Polish, German, Chinese and Latin American co-workers.

This memory underscores a simple fact: The most cherished gift is that of time. Whether you’re hosting a game night with friends, rewatching old family movies with your kids or baking cookies with your partner, chances are those Christmas memories are what your nearest and dearest will look back on fondly. Not the snowman figurine you gave them.

Other ways to spend more quality time with loved ones are:

  • Go Christmas caroling
  • Attend concerts and plays
  • Watch tree lightings
  • Visit different neighborhoods at night to admire Christmas light displays and vote on your favorites

“Research shows that experiences like volunteerism make us happier than giving or receiving gifts,” notes Chris Conway, the director of financial literacy at University of Phoenix.

If you love animals, for example, you and your partner or family may choose to spend time during the Christmas season walking cooped-up dogs from your local animal shelter. Or, if you’re passionate about the environment, you could commit to picking up litter. Those who want to help their community, meanwhile, might spend time at a food bank or deliver hot meals to those who are elderly, sick or without nearby family.

“The key,” Conway says, “is figuring out what’s important to your family and then doing it together as a group.”

Taking this spirit of volunteerism to the holidays can also mean focusing on experiences over gifts. Conway suggests that budget-conscious families agree to forgo wrapped gifts in lieu of a special trip. “Explore what’s most meaningful to you,” she says. “If it’s not travel, consider buying another experience, like cooking lessons, which could help you save money by cooking more at home instead of eating takeout.”

Alternatively, your family could agree to buy gifts only for the children or commit to purchasing just small stocking stuffers for adults. (A homemade Christmas ornament is ideal as it can be enjoyed year after year.)

Whether you knit, paint or carve, homemade gifts are always something to treasure. And if you don’t have a gift-able talent, you can make simple coupons for services, like a home-cooked meal, dog walking or babysitting.

Remember, how much you spend on loved ones isn’t what matters most. One carefully chosen gift will make more of an impression than three or four generic ones.

And of course, the greatest gift of all is giving your time to those you love most.

How to save money at University of Phoenix

Developing financial literacy is important for success at school and beyond. Here are a few ways UOPX helps students in their educational journey.

  • Fixed tuition: Students receive one flat tuition rate from the moment they enroll until the day they graduate.
  • Generous transfer credit policies: UOPX accepts college credits from more than 5,000 accredited institutions, so students don’t have to take (or pay for) the same classes they previously completed.
  • Scholarships: Students can explore school-specific scholarship opportunities at UOPX.
  • Savings Explorer® tool: Students can find out which school or life experiences can be applied as credit toward their UOPX degree with this easy-to-use feature.
  • Employer tuition benefits: UOPX works with more than 1,500 organizations to provide affordable education to employees.
Dawn Handschuh


Dawn Handschuh has been putting pen to paper for more than 30 years, writing widely on topics related to student lending, personal finances, everyday money management and retirement planning. She makes her home in Connecticut with her husband and two energetic German shepherds.


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