Feature

10 ways to make the holidays better — without breaking the bank

Who said the holidays had to be expensive?

Get a referral
"If you're not sure what to get someone who has everything, search for a gadget or book they already own and love on Amazon. Then, check out the 'Customers also bought ... ' section at the bottom of the page. The Amazon cyborg knows what your brother would love to get this year!"

—Tim Ferriss, host of "The Tim Ferriss Experiment"

Pay half-price
"Rather than agonizing over what to get my younger sister each Christmas, we wait until after the holidays have passed and have a 'Sisters' Shopping Day.' We decide on a budget, then head to the mall and treat the other to the gift of her choice. It cuts down on stress, creates built — in bonding time and we snag great deals because of post — holiday sales. Our best haul? A sterling silver ring for my sis and a (heavily discounted) suede jacket for me!"

—Jacqui Kenyon, LearnVest editorial assistant

Rethink poinsettias
"Rather than spend money on decorations, make your fruits and vegetables do double duty as table adornments. For example, lemons and limes in a glass bowl can be a festive centerpiece, as well as a functional ingredient in food and drinks. Additionally, when you cut your tree branches, hold on to the excess trimmings — boughs gathered in a vase can create the perfect holiday touch."

-Brett Bronte, director of special events for Hollywood POP, a N.Y.-based party and event planning firm

Cash in
"Out of the $48 billion in credit card points cardholders rake in each year, about $16 billion go unredeemed. If you have a rewards card with points building up, you can turn them into gifts — from iPhone accessories and clothing to gift cards for family and friends.

"If you don't have a surplus of points and a gift card is the best option for the impossible-to-shop-for person in your life, use a site like Gift Card Granny, a marketplace where people sell their unwanted gift cards, in order to snag up to 30 percent off the card's value."

-Andrea Woroch, consumer savings expert

Do less
"When my children were younger, I used to host a Hanukkah party every year, complete with a scavenger hunt, dreidel playing, and potato pancakes. Now that they're teenagers, I've replaced the big shindig with a small family dinner. They don't seem to miss it at all, and we enjoy the time together during what used to be a chaotic time of the year."

-Barbara Reich, organizational expert and author of Secrets of an Organized Mom

Divide and conquer
"If you're the type to brave the mall for holiday deals, team up with a friend to save time. Make your lists ahead of time, store by store. One person waits in line while the other grabs what's on the list."

-Lilliana Vazquez, style expert and author of The Cheap Chica's Guide to Style: Secrets to Shopping Cheap and Looking Chic

Only spend $20
"My significant other, Rogelio, and I spend a big chunk of our holiday budget traveling around the country to visit family, so we don't want to feel pressured to spend too much on gifts for each other. For the past two years, we've celebrated '$20 Holidays' — we each have to come up with something creative that comes in under $20.

"Last year, I gave him a 'Relax Package' that included slippers I made myself and some nice massage oil — since I was the masseuse, the massage he got was free! For my gift, Rogelio cooked us dinner, took me to a light show at a nearby botanical garden, snagged an awesome Groupon for bowling, and called in a favor from a friend who runs a car service.

"We had so much fun that we now do $20 date nights every few months, and they're some of the best dates we've ever had. These gifts end up being much more thoughtful than the more traditional things we've purchased for each other in the past."

-Kelly Ryan, communications and tourism manager

Host a twofer
"Every Thanksgiving weekend, my husband and I hold a tree-trimming party with our families. Not only do we get everyone together before the big Christmas rush — we also get help from our parents decorating our Christmas tree and our apartment!"

-Danielle Mayo, LearnVest audience development manager

Splurge on pre-sliced
"We've made it a fall tradition to go apple — picking with the kids and stock the freezer with homemade applesauce to use at Hanukkah. Also, when I'm cooking for a crowd, I take advantage of pre-cut sweet potatoes, mushrooms, and onions. It may be a bit more expensive than buying whole produce and chopping it up myself, but time is money!"

-Edith Beer, LearnVest software engineer

Create a running gift registry
"Since having my daughter, I always get asked what she would like for her birthday or Christmas. It's hard to remember what she may have wanted or needed throughout the year, so I start wish lists on various online shopping sites and add items as I think of them.

Then when birthdays and Christmas rolls around, I share my wish lists with those who ask. This helps eliminate wasted effort and money because the giver is giving something that is truly needed and wanted. I also maintain separate wish lists for items that I may want to gift to other people."

-Robyn Chang, full-time mom

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