A couple are shopping and smiling as they look into a window together. The two are wearing winter clothes. Both are wearing scarves and are shopping indoors in a mall-like setting.

11 Ways To Save Money This Holiday Season

The holiday season is here, and for many, it means the season of spending — but it doesn’t have to mean overspending. Check out our financial tips to enjoy budget-friendly holidays.

Stacey Black headshot

Stacey Black (She/Her/Hers)
BECU Lead Financial Educator
Published Dec 1, 2023 in: Budgeting

Read time: 5 minutes
As inflation continues to increase costs, you might find your budget covers less of the wish list items for your friends and families.

Try these tips to keep your holiday spending in check and only buy what you can afford:

1. Assess Your Savings

Do a deep dive into your essential expenses and determine how much money is available for holiday spending.


2. Review Your Current Debt and Available Credit

Before you pull out your credit cards to cover your holiday shopping costs, pause to consider how much you can really afford to spend. Be honest with yourself about how much debt you can pay off in a reasonable amount of time. Set holiday spending limits and stick to them.

This is an illustration that portray a person look at a computer and identifying their finances. One the computer are charts, a bank icon, a money icon and a graph. The individual in the illustration is wearing a beanie and a red sweater. They are sitting at a desk, facing the computer. Next to them is a mug and pencil holder. They are also sitting in front of a window and there are snowflakes outside.
Take a close look at your savings and essential expenses before you calculate your holiday budget.

3. Make a List of People You're Giving Gifts To 

Go into the holidays with a clear idea of who you're shopping for to ensure you are being intentional with your budget. Gifts are sure to be among your biggest expenses during the holiday season, so prepare ahead of time. Make a list of each family member and friend you are planning to give a gift to. Estimate how much you think you'll spend on each person. Compare the total to your spending limit and be ready to adjust. The more detailed your holiday budget, the better off you will be once the shopping has begun. 

This illustration portrays a couple looking at a whiteboard and pointing at it. On the whiteboard are names. The images suggests that they are planning holiday shopping for the names of the people on the board. There are icons that have money assets and gift assets. The man is wearing a Santa hat with a yellow jacket, and the woman is wearing a red sweater.
Take time to make a gift list and estimate your spending. Be prepared to adjust if the total goes over your budget.

4. Give Fun Experiences Instead of Physical Gifts

With inflation taking a toll on tangible items, take the opportunity to give an experience or activity instead of a physical gift. Whether the fun is outside, like snowshoeing in the mountains, or inside and cozy, like a paint-and-sip class, it's sure to create amazing memories.

This illustration portrays a woman painting reindeer. Above the paintings are three stockings that have gift cards and small packages in them. She is holding a paint tray.
Reduce costs by giving a fun activity, gift card or homemade gift. If you decide to go the DIY route, remember to plan for the cost of materials.

5. Consider Gift Cards

Another great way to combat inflation is with gift cards. They can keep the cost of gifts down by staying true to the budget, and you won't have to worry about taxes or shopping around for the best price; it's a win-win on both sides.

BECU is partnering with Black Black Friday this year: You can buy a $50 pre-paid card for only $40, or $100 gift card for only $80 and shop locally for a greater value while the promotion lasts.

6. Identify Travel Expenses

One large expense of the holiday season is often traveling. Whether via airplane, car or train, most people spend more during the busiest travel time of the year. Add up all your costs, including accommodations, gas, rental cars, ride shares and holiday and winter activities, so you have a realistic view of your spending ahead of time.

This illustration portrays a person sitting on a couch with a cat. There is a thought bubble above the persons head. In the thought bubble are travel icons such as a plane, car, money and credit card. The illustration suggests that the person is budgeting for travel expenses.
If you're planning to travel, plan ahead and add up all your costs, including gas, rental cars, ride shares and activities.

7. Plan for Last-Minute Gifts

Surprise expenses are sure to arise, like getting invited to a last-minute holiday party, or an unexpected guest joining the family for celebrations. Allot a section of your budget for last-minute gifts. If you don't end up needing it, roll over the money to next year's holiday budget and start strong — or use the money to pay off credit card debt

8. Search for the Best Prices

Many retailers (including travel companies) advertise special promotions and deals to celebrate and encourage holiday spending. But beware. Not all deals will save you money. Compare prices and search for places that price match to get the lowest price and best value. Search for promo codes that can reduce online shopping and even food delivery costs. There are several websites that track these deals. Check out CouponCabinRetailMeNot and SlickDeals.

This is an illustration of two women shopping outside. They are walking past a brick building that has a "sale" sign on it. They have shopping bags in their hands. There are two snowy trees in the distance. The building has holiday lights strung across the top of the building.
Compare prices and search for stores that price match to get the lowest price and best value.

9. Account for Costs of Homemade Gifts

While getting crafty can definitely save you money, DIY gifts still come with a cost. Add up your expenses for materials and think about the value of your time.

10. Include Charitable Giving in Your Budget

Charitable giving this time of year is a great way to give back and support your community in a big way. Make sure to add your donation amount to your holiday expense budget for future use. Even better: Include charitable giving in your year-round budget.

11. Watch Out for Scams

While a lot of retailers and online shops offer enticing promotions this time of year, beware of copycat sites and phishing scams that can put your personal information at risk.

Plan for Next Year

Once the holidays have ended, take a look at your budget and start preparing for the next holiday season. Adding the holiday expense category to your monthly budget in 2024 will ease preparations next November.

Consider opening a separate savings account or BECU Envelope and contributing to it every month to save for the holidays all year. You can set up direct deposit or automatic transfer to the account. By the time the next holiday shopping season arrives, you will already have the money you need.

With these tips, you'll be well on your way to the best holiday season yet. Preparing your holiday budget ahead of time will help you spend with intention and keep you on track toward your financial goals.

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Stacey Black headshot

Stacey Black (She/Her/Hers)
BECU Lead Financial Educator

For nearly 30 years, Stacey has taught adults, college students, teens and children through the BECU Financial Education program.