Nothing drains your wallet like the holiday season.  There are of course gifts, holiday feasts, holiday parties to attend, decorating the house, booking travel arrangements, and on and on.  Here are some easy tips to help you spend less and give more this year.  I hope it helps you and if you have more tips please feel free to share.

  1. Shop with your eyes shut at Aldi – Aldi is a supermarket diamond in the rough.  I can’t tell you how many years I’ve driven right passed it, barely noticing its existence.  The building admittedly looks drab and the sign is not really bright.  Nothing about its appearance screams shop here, but if you do I promise you won’t be sorry.  The selection is far smaller, but on the plus side so are the prices.  If I told you that you could walk out of the grocery store with twice as much food for half as much money would you do it?  The food packaging is nothing spectacular and 95% are Aldi brands you’ve never heard of before, but try shopping with your eyes shut (ok not literally) but suspend your need to search for those brand names you’ve been trained to buy.  In other words, stop looking at the brand and look instead at the item.  Don’t expect to find Wonder bread, but look at the price of $1 a loaf at Aldi and you can see the real value.  I regularly save a ton of money on staple items like cereal (never more than $1.99 a box, 4 cup packages of cheese – $2.99, milk – $2.99 a gallon, bread – $.99 a loaf, juice from concentrate – $.99 just to name a few.)An unexpected bonus of shopping at Aldi is you can find some brand name toys and household items that make great gifts.  You never know what you’ll find- Christmas lights, cappuccino makers, steam mops.  Great gifts do not have to cost a fortune.  If you are doing a lot of cooking and baking for the holidays, Aldi has the ingredients you need for less.  Two tips to remember are – ALWAYS bring a quarter and reusable bags.  One of the ways they keep their costs down is to not hire people to return carts to the corral outside the store.  You put your quarter in the cart and get it back when you return your cart when you’re done.  Also, they don’t bag your stuff and don’t provide free bags.  They do sell bags for .05 a piece, but if you bring your reusable bags from home it’s simpler.  You can also collect empty boxes throughout the store to load up your groceries.  They have super fast checkers, but you bag your own stuff at a long counter.  I actually find myself less aggravated with shopping because I can put things where I want them and my reusable bags carry more and save several trips bringing things in from the car since other grocery stores usually pack plastic bags so lightly because they fear ripping.  Not to mention its better for the planet and reduces clutter in my house.
  2. Volunteer as a family – How does this save you money?  Well not only do charities need an extra helping hand this time of year, but it keeps you out of the malls and gives your family some perspective.  It gives you a chance to help people who have less and perhaps your children will pare down their Christmas lists afterwards or at the very least stop adding new items.  If you can’t find a charity to help, look around in your neighborhood.  There’s always someone who could use a helping hand like an elderly or disabled neighbor, an overwhelmed mom who could really use a day out.  Giving of yourself can be simple and remind you about how lucky most of us already are, without the plethora of gifts under the tree.
  3. Shop Strategically – Ok, for those who love shopping out there repeat after me – Shopping is not a leisure activity.  Don’t shop to de-stress or just for fun.  If you do, you wind up paying way more than you should.   In many ways I shop like I’m on a mission – to get what I need at a good price and then get the heck out of there as quickly as possible.  There are whole studies out there about mood music in shopping malls and strategically placed treats.  Why you ask?  Because the longer they can keep you in the stores, the more money you spend.  Check your prices twice, once when you’re choosing an item and again at the register.  Often times registers and cashiers make mistakes and a sale price doesn’t ring up properly.  Such is the case when my husband and I went to Toys ‘R Us a few weeks ago.  Four rounds of price checks ended up saving about $30 in incorrect charges.  Also, if a toy comes with a free bonus item and you can’t find it on the shelf ask for help.  If they don’t have it, ask if they can give you a similar item with the same price or see if they can give you a rain check.  Use coupons only on items you would have bought anyway.  I made my husband put back an item he wanted to buy because it was on clearance.  Clearance or not, if my son or daughter isn’t going to play with it, it’s a waste of money period.  Also, use your store rewards cards.  Many times you’ll earn coupons for future purchases.  I plan to use the $21 in coupons I earned on my Toys ‘R Us rewards card to buy presents after the holidays for family I won’t be seeing during the holiday season.
  4. &  5. Limit Gift Giving and Give of Yourself – I know this is both obvious and yet easier said than done.  The bottom line is that times are tough for almost everyone nowadays and we simply can’t buy gifts for everyone so set some real limits before you start.  A few years ago my sister-in-laws and I decided to only buy gifts for the kids.  Giving each couple in your family a gift really starts to add up and the more family you have the harder it is to foot the bill for all that gift giving.  If you really want to give them something, give of yourself, your time and your talent.  If you love to knit or sew, bake or craft almost anything can become a homemade gift from the heart.  Even just a coupon for mowing their lawn in the spring or babysitting can be a very thoughtful gift.  Co-workers in my opinion don’t really need store-bought gifts.  How about some homemade cookies and a card?  Or if you really like the coupon thing –how about an IOU for fixing the paper jam in the copier next time it happens to them because if you work in an office, nobody likes searching all those drawers of paper looking for the jam.

    Cash in Your Credit Card Rewards –If you have a credit card with reward points, now is the time to redeem them for gifts or gift cards for the holidays.  They usually have free shipping so even one present bought with rewards you’ve earned means more money in your pocket for something else.  A word of caution: Try not to pay for presents on credit card.  Nothing takes the joy out of the season like realizing you still owe money on your credit card for presents you bought last year.Stay tuned for more tips and please feel free to share your own.